After sputtering a few years ago, the Red Wings’ pipeline is once again flush with talent

1989-90; The last season the Detroit red Wings missed the playoffs. The subsequent 1990-91 campaign marked not only the beginning of the epic consecutive playoff appearance streak, but also the rookie season of soon-to-be-Hall-of-Famer, Nicklas Lidstrom. This streak has seen a two decade Hall of Fame career play out over its lifetime and then some. Making this feat all the more unfathomable is the much documented element of almost never being able to rejuvenate the franchise's core via upper echelon picks in the draft.


The highest selection Ken Holland, Jimmy Devellano & Jim Nill ever had to work with since 1991 was 19th overall in 2005, when they took Jakub Kindl. That was their only pick inside the NHL Entry draft's top 20 picks since June 1991! Moreover, between 2000 and 2005, Detroit didn't even use one solitary first round pick whatsoever; during which they remained among the league's elite, flipping them for added veteran depth run after run.


It goes without saying that Detroit's scouting system, development philosophy, patience and aggressiveness in free agency has enabled the RedWings to beat the odds over the past two and a half decades. In fact, Hakan Andersson, the Director of European Scouting for the Winged Wheel is far and away the world's most famous hockey scout. His impeccable ability to continually find hidden gems in the bowels of Europe's top leagues and successfully project them as NHLer's such as Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen has made him a legend at his craft.


Detroit upper brass' motto has been to reload every few years rather than rebuild. However, following the 2009-10 season, two years removed from their last of successive Stanley Cup Final appearance, much ado had been made by media that the well may have finally run dry. Their top affiliate club, Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League, missed the playoffs, finishing second last in the conference. Their entire roster was void of a legitimate potential star forward worthy of promotion, with the likes of Pat Rissmiller, Jeremy Williams, Mattias Ritola and Francis Pare, all among their top five scorers — None of whom projected to be future full time NHL-ers. Most were journeyman, outlining the wilting organizational depth and prospect pool to draw from.


Not to be fazed by this two-year lackluster (by Red Wings standards) run, once again Mr. Anderson and Jim Nill managed to yet again rejuvenate the club's prospect cupboards without the luxury of high-end picks. The Red Wings have raised their prospect system back to top three status, with the Grand Rapids Griffins winning the Calder Cup last Spring, filled with young, future NHL-level talent. The Griffins lead their division once again this season with an even stronger squad than last year.


Keep an eye out for these future NHL stars:


Gustav Nyquist

Already having played parts of two years with the big club, Nyquist led the Griffins in scoring last season despite being up with the Red Wings for 22 games plus playoffs. In those 14 playoff games, where he played somewhat sparingly, he still managed two goals and three assists, fitting right in as a future top six gem. Despite being drafted in 2008, five years of development later and having excelled at all levels, Nyquist still finds himself back in the baby Wings fold (he was the only option who didn’t have to clear waivers). He is once again leading a talented team during their title defense. Nyquist is a very skilled puck possession skater with an eye for threading the needle and finding teammates in traffic. He should get a recall at some point soon.


Tomas Tatar

Tatar was the heart and soul of the Griffins offense during their 2013 Calder Cup Title run with Nyquist away, manning duties in the NHL playoffs until rejoining Grand Rapids late in the conference finals. Although he's now graduated to the big club, after being the top cumulative scorer for Grand Rapids since 2009, Tatar still finds himself getting limited minutes (12:10 Average TOI per game) if he even is dressed at all.


He has been a healthy scratch eight times already in 18 contests, although he has notched a few points in recent appearances. His short-term potential is likely as a third-line scorer and will get more opportunities as injuries occur. However, barring roster trimming and injuries, it won't be until next season at the earliest where he will be given enough opportunity to put together a true breakout year. He will stick with the big club though, as he'd have to clear waivers to return to Grand Rapids. When he has cracked the lineup he's been plugged in on all lines, as Mike Babcock has been searching for chemistry.




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Teemu Pulkkinen

The talented Finn, drafted in 2010, spent a further three seasons honing his skills in Finland before finally being summoned at the end of the 2012-13 Finnish Elite League campaign. He was inserted into Grand Rapids' lineup down the stretch and into the playoffs. He struggled initially to adapt to the small surface and to do so in high intensity playoff games, resulting in half a dozen nights spent in the press box. However, he accounted himself well as time marched on, notching five points in the later rounds. It appears he's now all the better for that experience, translating it into a fantastic start to his first full season at the AHL level; almost at a point-per-game pace with 11 in 13 games thus far. He's establishing himself as a clear cut top line player at the American League level and likely projects as a third liner on the pro club down the road.


Ryan Sproul

Ryan was a scoring machine on the blue line at the top level of Major Junior Hockey, being named to the First-Team All-Star squad last season after notching 66 points in 50 games as a high wheeling defenseman. He has rapidly ascended in the organization making a huge splash in his freshman campaign in the AHL, tied with teammate, Pulkkinen for third in team scoring. He is currently among rookie defensemen scoring leaders despite being the youngest of the lot. Sproul has the size, makeup, skill and smarts to eventually crack the top line defensive pairing in the not too distant future. He has an eye for the net and wonderful shot from the point and is not afraid to use it.


Tomas Jurco

The Slovakian kid known in some parts as 'The Magician' made his name as a Youtube Sensation three years ago as a European import plying his trade in the QMJHL. Jurco and his slick hands plied his trade with the eventual Memorial Cup Champion, Saint John SeaDogs, a stacked squad led by Jonathan Huberdeau, Charlie Coyle and others. He showed his offensive upside with 175 points in less than three seasons, transitioning very well to the North American game. However, upon taking the next step to the AHL in 2012-13, he got off to a slow start. Albeit this was owed to limited opportunities due to the lockout, with a contingent of NHL players taking up a myriad of spots. By the end of the regular seasons he had 14 goals. However, he seemed to get over the hump by playoff time where he potted eight goals and six assists on route to winning the AHL Championship. He has now parlayed that newfound confidence into an even stronger first month and a half in his freshman season where he has come into his own, producing at over a point-per-game pace. He sits second on the team in scoring behind only Nyquist.



Calle Järnkrok

The latest in a long line of Red Wings Swedish imports has now made the jump across the river, honing his craft with Detroit's top affiliate. After netting at a clip of .79 PPG during his final season in the Swedish elite league, he showed he could very possibly reach the high upside ceiling that had been forecasted of him heading into his 2010 draft year. He is very clearly a 'pass-first' guy, though he loves to hold onto the puck and can finish succinctly as well. He's now getting more comfortable in the smaller surface of the much more physical North American game, posting a healthy 0.61 PPG.


On the Periphery


Martin Frk

Martin is coming off a glittering final season of major junior hockey where he shone despite playing second fiddle behind the two headed monster of teammates, Mackinnon and Drouin. He's a raw but skilled talent nonetheless, famous for notching eight points in a single QMJHL playoff game last spring en route to helping the Halifax Mooseheads (one of the top junior teams in history) to the QMJHL and Memorial Cup Championship. Frk was also a key member for the Czech Republic in the 2013 World Junior Championship. With 84 points in only 56 games in his final season in Halifax, Frk followed that up with a spectacular 33 points in 17 playoff games. Unfortunately for him, given this age, entering training camp at 19 years old, there was simply not enough minutes for Martin to go around in the defending Calder Cup Champions' top six setup. Therefore, he was sent to the ECHL affiliate, Toledo Walleyes, to light it up and bide the time until Nyquist gets his much anticipated recall to the big club.


Anthony Mantha

Anthony may very well end up being the steal of the 2013 NHL entry draft. Haven't we heard this proclamation before in HockeyTown? At 20th overall, Mantha was coming off a fabulous 50 goal season in 'The Q' where he led the league in goal scoring. This season, now 19, Mantha is taking the league by storm, with a 10 point lead on second place in the scoring race and on pace to one-up his already gaudy totals from last season. He is a sniper's sniper who skates smartly, although not necessarily with blazing speed. His playmaking abilities are not to be dismissed either. Mantha surely should be a prominent top two line player on team Canada's world junior team squad this winter. Mantha has incredible bloodlines to boot, being the paternal grandson of Andre Pronovost, four-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Montreal Canadiens.


Once again, the Detroit Red Wings have seemingly beat the odds to nurture a healthy and bright future. The present isn't too shabby either, with a strong start by the big club, and the AHL defending champ farm club so stacked they have overflown with legitimate talent to the third tier.


~~~ Follow Anthony Lancione on Twitter @ANTHISDAMAN ~~~