The storied Detroit Red Wings organization is entering its fourth season since last qualifying for the NHL post-season. After a generational stampede to the dance, the Wings accepted an unfamiliar phase in which their level of competition has dwindled. Top-6 forward talent has slowly been shown the door and the organization as a whole has taken a very cautious approach to building up the foundation of what they hope to be another 20-year contender.
Since welcoming former Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman back to The Motor City this spring, the organization’s optimism has peaked. In addition to their relatively positive draft and A-grade prospects who are on the cusp of the NHL, the Wings have also fortified themselves with a block of depth prospects who should complement the pipeline well on their climb out of the NHL’s proverbial basement. They own a lion’s share of this summer’s fastest-rising prospects.
Ryan Kuffner, RW/LW, Detroit Red Wings
Dobber Rank (Top 200 Forward Prospects) 193 | August – 286 | July 287
The 23-year-old Princeton graduate managed to get himself into the Red Wings’ lineup for ten games last spring after signing with the team as an unrestricted free agent. He tallied exactly zero goals and zero assists flanking Martin Frk opposite Christopher Ehn on the Wings’ fourth line. The future for this potential late-bloomer still seems somewhat uncertain, however, especially given the team’s recent acquisition of Adam Erne from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Kuffner plays an offense-first style of game that made him a successful scorer in the ECAC, however, his reliance on strong puck skills might not be enough to get by in the NHL. At 6-1, 195 lb, his size and strength shouldn't present much of an obstacle. Despite the fact that he’s played on the right side for most of his time thus far with the Wings, Kuffner remains listed as a left wing. His year ahead will likely be split between Detroit and Grand Rapids. Placing him predominantly alongside two players with AHL-only contracts at the Traverse City tournament, it’s likely that that’s where he begins the regular season.
Nicholas Robertson, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs 175 | August – 198 | July – 199
Dobber Rank (Top 200 Forward Prospects)
If nothing else, this summer has continued to add to a relatively bleak vision for the Maple Leafs future salary commitments. While the organization has disembarked the “patience” train, and begun to raffle first-round draft picks, they continue to make savvy selections with what they have available. This year, the Buds made their first selection of the draft at 53rd overall, nabbing Peterborough forward Robertson. The youngest of the three Robertson brothers plays a skilled game above his own weight class that will make him a highly valuable asset as his junior career progresses.
The 5-9, 161-pound forward boasts flashy puck control, hairline edgework and relatively strong vision, however, the ability for those skills to translate to the NHL level is questionable. His shot is strong and accurate, but his ability to find high-danger shooting locations is lacking. The Leafs have a minor project on their hands with this selection, but a couple of years bulking up and learning to play strong systems in the Leafs’ development pipeline could amplify his already exciting skillset.
Taro Hirose, LW, Detroit Red Wings
Dobber Rank (Top 200 Forward Prospects) 49 | August – 57 | July – 62
In stark contrast to fellow Detroit prospect Kuffner, 23-year-old Hirose’s 10-game NHL audition was bursting with optimism. The Michigan State alum posted a fiery seven points and 15 shots on goal opposite Andreas Athanasiou. His consistency as a first-time player in the NHL was an impressive token that should make him a sought-after asset in fantasy drafts this month.
Recently the 160-pound forward played on the Red Wings’ prospect team top line at the Traverse City tournament. Not only were Hirose’s playmaking skills were put on display, but the Calgary native also managed to find the net on several occasions.
Deployment will play a major role in his success as an official rookie, but he’s likely to start the year in Detroit where he should be afforded a similar opportunity to last year. He and Athanasiou seemed to complement each other well in the small sample size that they were utilized together which is likely a major factor in Dobber’s 33-point projection for him.
Moritz Seider, D, Detroit Red Wings
Dobber Rank (Top 50 Defense Prospects) 41 | August – 67 | July – 68
The Wings’ semi-controversial selection at sixth overall in this summer’s entry draft is German-born defenseman Mortiz Seider. The looming 6-4, 207-pound 18-year-old shows elite poise from the blueline and makes the mature play 99 times out of 100. His defensive reliability is such that he’s able to rely on his pairing and forward linemates to create offense while he’s on the ice – occasionally earning credit on the scoresheet for his role.
Seider’s puck skills fall outside the range of a typical top-10 selection, however, his reliability and team game make up the difference on the ice. Unfortunately, as fantasy hockey goes, what’s keeping Seider inside the top-50 is his relative opportunity. As a top-10 pick, the Wings’ are sure to expect the German to take on a large role as he develops. With high deployment will come some offense, but he’s much more likely to become a minute-munching defenseman than as a highly productive one. In multi-category leagues, his stock should be viewed as significantly higher than in points-only style competition.
Joe Veleno, C, Detroit Red Wings
Dobber Rank (Top 200 Forward Prospects) 27 | August – 27 | July – 38
The former exceptional status forward from the Quebec Major Junior league is fresh off a personal best year in junior which saw him outpace what most pundits would’ve expected from him, offensively speaking. After a bleak draft campaign, Veleno returned to Drummondville with a vengeance that helped to more than double his goal scoring rate.
The 6-1 center possesses a pro skating ability and is capable of playing effectively at speeds seen exclusively inside the NHL’s top quarter percentile. While he can become predictable at times, Veleno should be able to rely on skilled wingers to have success in a top-6 role in the NHL. This year, the team can allow him ample time to adapt to the mental pace of the NHL game, however, he’ll likely eventually find himself in Grand Rapids to get acquainted at a more Red Wings’ pace of development.
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