Welcome to the third installment of Friday Prospects. This is a weekly look around the wonderful hockey world, profiling three semi-randomly chosen Red Wings prospects to be detailed and analyzed, so you, the fine Winging it in Motown viewer, can have a better grasp of where exactly the Darren Helms and Jonathan Ericssons of the world come from when they randomly dominate for Detroit.
A friend will say "where the hell did he come from?" and you'll snobbishly say "well, Helm was unranked during his draft year after rising out of the Manitoba junior ranks, then he led the Medicine Hat Tigers to a Memorial Cup appearance and even played for the Canadian under-20 team" and your friend will look at you weird and after a few moments of awkward hockey nerd tension you'll be glad that you read my feature on WIM. Because I've been there, and I'm here for you.
This week, we look back to the draft in June to see how Detroit's top picks are faring.
It was no secret that Detroit was coveting offense in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The system is currently pretty deep on talented netminders as well as a bunch of two-way/grinder hybrids that they hope will be the next generation of The Grind Line (Helm's off to a good start, Abdelkader could be too, but he might have more offensive promise). They don't have many true offensive talents, not any real surefire ones anyway, so they looked at the 2009 Draft -- potentially one of the deepest in recent memory -- to fill the holes in the system. Detroit walked away boasting three players they claimed they had ranked in the first round. It may be a while before you hear about these guys in Detroit, but you'll hear of them.
Landon Ferraro, C, 18, 6'0, 171 lbs, drafted 2nd round, 2009 -- If you told me two years ago that the Wings would draft Landon Ferraro with their first pick in 2009, I probably would have cried. That's not a slight to him at all, it's because of the fact that around 2007, Ferraro was considered a top 5 pick for this draft and that would have meant the Wings would have to really suck to get him.
The son of 400 NHL goal scorer and current hockey analyst Ray Ferraro, Landon never had to struggle to get exposure. He was the 2nd overall pick in the 2006 WHL Bantam Draft, and quickly moved into the WHL. Unfortunately, his stock slipped a little bit as his offensive totals weren't nearly where they were predicted to be. That wasn't a problem though, as his Red Deer team was holding him back more than anything. His 37 goals were good for 21.5% of his team's total. That would equate to roughly 63 on a 295-goal-scoring team like last year's Red Wings, so there's no question he can put the puck in the net.
But what makes Ferraro an appropriate choice to be a Red Wing in addition to his scoring ability, is his work ethic, leadership skills, and blazing speed. He's considered more of an offensive player at this point (as if his coach [former Wing Jesse Wallin, for the record] would have told him any different on a team as weak as Red Deer last year), but he has the tools to be a dynamic two-way player who could center the 2nd or 3rd line down the road.
Ferraro is back in Detroit, however, but for all the wrong reasons. I noted last week that he was off to a slow start with two points in five games. It turns out he's got the knee injury bug, and he's back in Detroit for treatment. There hasn't been any word on the severity of it so far, but it seems he suffered it in pre-season and was able to play five games, so hopefully he won't miss too much time. I wouldn't worry about rushing him back, though, he's already viewed highly in Detroit's eyes.
Tomas Tatar, LW, 19, 5'10, 179 lbs, drafted 2nd round, 2009 -- Once upon a time, I was watching the under- 20 World Junior Championships. I was watching Slovakia, for some reason. I was most likely trying to catch a glimpse of Richard Panik, along with every other wannabe hockey scout. Panik (who was drafted by Tampa Bay) was a player with a lot of skill who had been compared to Marian Hossa. Even though Detroit hasn't had a lot of success drafting Slovakian players, I still felt compelled to keep an eye on them.
During that game, I met Tomas Tatar. Tatar stole the show with his electric and high-energy game, great hockey sense, and ability to score clutch goals in bulk. I was so intrigued that I watched a few more Slovakian games, and each time, Tatar outperformed the more highly touted Panik. Tatar returned to the anonymity of the Slovakian professional ranks, but was drafted 60th overall by Detroit.
And with all due respect for Ferraro, many in Detroit are more excited for Tatar at this point. Tatar lit up Traverse City in the annual prospect's tournament, and even looked strong in Detroit's real training camp, scoring a few goals against the NHL club. Headed back to Slovakia to fulfill the obligation he made when he signed his contract, he left Detroit no choice but to use a contract on him, as they desperately wanted him to stay in North America.
This left him the option of either the AHL or OHL. He desires to play in the AHL, because he likes playing against stronger, older competition, but Detroit has mentioned several times it might be good for him to absolutely light up the OHL (he would, too). His OHL rights were drafted by the Kitchener Rangers, 3rd overall, but later traded to the more local Plymouth Whalers. Tatar has started the year in Grand Rapids, but has yet to see the ice in the team's first three games. It seems likely he will be sent to Plymouth sooner rather than later, but I expect he will get some AHL time first. The concern is he doesn't gain much playing on the 4th line, so he will have to win a spot on a scoring line. But also, they're being patient, as he can play up to nine professional games before a year is burned off of his contract. They want to make sure those games all count and Tatar gets a fair shot at the AHL.
I just want to see him get into game action, wherever it is. If he plays in Grand Rapids, I can keep a closer eye on him. But if he plays in Plymouth, he'll be able to do some great things. Plymouth is off to a good start courtesy of Tyler Seguin. Seguin was considered to be first round pick material for the upcoming 2010 draft, but has started so well some think he could go first overall. Seguin has 25 points in 10 games, including three hat tricks in his past seven games. Yeah, you read that right. Plymouth has a strong club, but have no real dangerous offensive threat outside of Tatar -- he'd be welcome there.
Andrej Nestrasil, RW, 18, 6'2, 200 lbs, drafted 3rd round, 2009 -- Detroit was very happy to land Nestrasil. They traded their 29th overall pick to Tampa Bay for the 32nd (Ferraro) and the 75th, which they used on Nestrasil. Not a bad player to receive for trading down three spots. The Wings have already likened Nestrasil to Johan Franzen, not too bad of a comparison.
Nestrasil made the jump to North America last season, being drafted by the Victoriaville Tigres early in the CHL Import Draft. He started slowly, but quickly adjusted and put up 57 points as a rookie. Not bad, as import players are very, very hit or miss. Still, Detroit expects Nestrasil to break out this season as a scoring leader.
Nestrasil is a rare commodity in Detroit's system. He's got size and skill. He plays a bit like a power forward, and wasted no time getting into the corners and throwing his weight around once getting to North America. However, he also has a very smooth set of hands, with a quick shot, a good arsenal of 1-on-1 moves, and good vision to find his teammates on the ice. He has a very well-rounded game already, and Detroit is right, he absolutely should light up the QMJHL this year. He's off to a good start so far, leading his team with 13 points in 10 games.
Who's Hot: After his first two professional games, Thomas McCollum finds himself among AHL league leaders with a 1.01 GAA and a .964 save percentage .. Gleason Fournier was hurt to start the season, but has bounced back with 5 points in 3 games ... Free agent finds Brent Raedeke (t-20th with 13 points in 11 games) and Willie Coetzee (3rd with 16 in 10) find themselves among the WHL's top 20 scorers .. Gustav Nyquist kicked off his 2009 season with two of Maine's four goals in two losses to Union.
Almqvist Watch: 24 points in 8 games. He's missed the last two, for some reason. Still leads the league in scoring. He's a defenseman, for the record.
Who's Not: He's not a scorer, but with the ice time Brian Lashoff is getting in the OHL this year, I was hoping for better than 4 points in 11 games ... The Griffins offense needs to get going, the team only has 6 goals in 3 games ... Dick Axelsson and Evan McGrath are the only two prospects to have a tally so far.
Notes: Justin Abdelkader barely even got to spend time with the Griffins before he was called up following Johan Franzen's injury. It seems likely that he may be up to stay, as he's looked good ... Jesper Samuelsson was demoted from Timra (SEL) to Sundsvall (SWE-2). It may be good for him to get more minutes there for now, as he hasn't had an opportunity to play much with Timra ... Gennady Stolyarov, Detroit's lone Russian prospect, has yet to see the ice in 10 games for his new KHL club ... Brendan Smith, Max Nicastro, and Jordan Pearce are the only prospects who's seasons haven't started yet.