Marco Kasper rose in draft conversations throughout his entire draft year, but even his biggest supporters were surprised that he ultimately went eighth overall in the 2022 Draft to the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings had a well-documented need at center going into the draft so they clearly believed that Kasper would be a good fit for them, and they also believed he had more offense to give in the SHL.
Kasper is an incredibly hard worker, often creating plays from nothing through sheer force of will. He was quite successful as a teenager playing against men in one of the world’s best professional hockey leagues, with over 100 SHL games to his name before his 19th birthday. Kasper may never be the flashiest or highest scoring player, but his work ethic and constant motion will make him an excellent piece of the next great Red Wings team.
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After making the transition to North America and joining the Grand Rapids Griffins full time this season, Kasper had a really slow start. He looked a bit timid and his timing was just a bit off. It wasn’t anything big enough to cause panic necessarily but it was certainly noteworthy to see one of Detroit’s top prospects struggling in the AHL. However, Kasper has really hit his stride recently, and looks like the difference maker I expected him to be in the AHL.
Kasper is a two-way center who plays with a ton of energy and patience, which earned him a consistent role as the second/third line center for Rögle in the SHL despite being just 18 for the majority of last season. He was able to earn and hold down that spot because of his remarkably mature, mistake-free game which is incredibly uncommon for teenagers. Kasper is great in board battles and constantly makes plays in the middle of the ice which makes him look like a future puck-hound in the NHL.
He finished his final SHL season with 23 points in 52 games, the second highest total among all U20 players (behind only Leo Carlsson). That was a much higher point total than most people expected from him and that’s not even counting the nine points he scored in 10 Champions League games for Rögle.
Kasper signed an entry-level deal with the Red Wings following the conclusion of Rögle’s SHL playoff run last season, and even got into his first NHL game before being sidelined for the remainder of the year with a broken patella (kneecap). He was overshadowed a bit in training camp this Fall by Nate Danielson and has spent the entire year since in the AHL.
Early Struggles This Season
The first couple of months of Kasper’s season were rather disappointing. Whether his lack of his usual confidence and tenacity were due to his injury recovery, the difficult adjustment to the North American game, or a combination of the two, the first 20 games or so of his season were not encouraging.
He scored just one point in his first 10 AHL games, an abysmal scoring rate for a recent top-10 pick in the NHL Draft. Kasper’s scoring began to increase a bit as he became more comfortable on the ice, with a total of nine points after his first 27 games. Certainly not the type of scoring anyone was hoping to see from him, but a major improvement going from a 0.1 points-per-game rate (PPG) to 0.33.
Recent Play and New Confidence
While that improvement was more than welcome, it was nothing compared to the complete turnaround we’ve seen from Kasper ever since returning from the Christmas break. In the Griffins’ 13 games since that break, Kasper has scored four goals and 12 points, bringing his season totals to six goals and 20 points in 39 games at the time of writing.
After beginning the season on seven point pace through 10 games, Kasper is now on pace to score 38 points in his first AHL season. If you told me before the season that he’d score roughly 40 points in his AHL debut, I would have been pleasantly surprised so the fact that he’s on pace to reach that despite his slow start is even more impressive.
Hockey is quicker in North America than it is in Europe simply because players have less time to react and make plays on the smaller ice surface. That can be tough for young players to adjust to and that really seemed to be the case for Kasper. We know he works hard and makes a ton of smart plays, but he was being forced to make his decisions much quicker and that was causing him to make errors more often than he was used to in the SHL.
As Kasper has adjusted to the speed with which he needs to make his decisions, it’s clear that he’s playing with a ton more confidence at this point, knowing he can handle the speed of his opponents while still making a good play. The Griffins have also been on a really good run since the holiday break, with a 10-2-1 record over the same 13 games. While he certainly hasn’t been the only hot player for them lately, the Griffins’ recent success is certainly due in part to Kasper’s development and adjustment to the North American game.
Expectations Going Forward
I think it’s fair to expect that Kasper’s true talent level at this point is closer to what we’ve seen from him in the past few weeks rather than what we saw in October. With that in mind, I’d love to see him hit the 40 point mark this year, which would represent a really solid offensive season given the slow start.
Given the level of success the Red Wings have seen lately, there’s certainly no guarantee Kasper makes the opening night lineup for the 2024-25 season so I think it’s reasonable to expect to see him back with the Griffins for most of next season as well where I think he’ll be able to push for 50-60 points if all goes well. If he’s scoring at that rate next year and continues to be a formidable forechecker and physical player, then he will certainly give himself a great chance to be one of Detroit’s first call-ups when they need depth in their bottom-six.
Kasper has done a great job of adjusting to the North American style of hockey in the past month or so, and that’s a huge relief for Red Wings fans everywhere. His work ethic and tenacious puck battling are finally paying off, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s getting a lot more generous puck bounces. Although I don’t think he’ll be an opening night lineup contender in Detroit next Fall, Kasper has certainly reasserted himself as a key piece of the Red Wings’ future with his recent play.