Friday Prospects -- The '06 Draft

After a brief tour around the collegiate ranks, this week's Friday Prospects is back to the farm as we profile three players taken by Detroit in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft -- potentially one of their best of the decade.

The 2006 draft saw Detroit with their first round pick for the second straight season -- only because they couldn't trade their '05 first round pick at the trade deadline, as they had been doing since the 2000 draft, because of the lockout. However, Detroit when Detroit's pick rolled around they saw an opportunity to make some noise. Detroit said they had a bunch of players left on their list that they had ranked in the first round, so they had no problem swapping the 29th overall pick (the University of Michigan's Chris Summers) to Phoenix for picks #41 and #47, giving them three picks in the second round of the draft.

One of these players, Shawn Matthias, was dealt to Florida in the Todd Bertuzzi deal, just before he hit it big as one of the best prospects not in the NHL. Two other selections, Daniel Larsson (3rd round) and Logan Pyett (7th round) are in Grand Rapids with the three '06 picks being profiled today. The lone 2006 pick without an NHL contract right now, Nick Oslund, is still a junior in college at St. Cloud state. To have six NHL contracts out of seven players selected is incredibly difficult to do. While only Matthias has seen NHL time so far, in time the '06 draft could end up being one of Detroit's most profitable.

This week focuses on three skilled forwards selected by Detroit in that draft.

Also, since I just realized it's rather hard to find these articles, I hope this handy little archive might help you track down your favorite prospects:

October 2 -- Ville Leino, Jonathan Ericsson, Darren Helm, Jimmy Howard
October 9
-- Joakim Andersson, Jesper Samuelsson, Adam Almqvist
October 16
-- Landon Ferraro, Tomas Tatar, Andrej Nestrasil
October 23
-- Daniel Larsson, Thomas McCollum, Jordan Pearce
October 30
-- Brent Raedeke, Brian Lashoff, Willie Coetzee
November 6
-- Jakub Kindl, Mattias Ritola, Evan McGrath
November 13
-- Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, Max Nicastro
November 20
-- Bryan Rufenach, Julien Cayer, Nick Oslund

Cory Emmerton, C, 21, 6'0, 188 lbs, drafted 2nd round, 2006 -- With their first of two acquired picks from Phoenix, the Wings' selected Cory Emmerton out of the OHL. Ranked as a mid to late first round pick for most of the season, Emmerton somehow slipped out of the first round of the draft despite 90 points in 66 games.

Poised to be one of the top scorers in the OHL in his third season in the OHL, a broken ankle sidelined Emmerton's quick start and limited him to just 40 games on the season, where he put up 66 points. He returned for the last few games of the season and the playoffs (seven points, five games), but the injury definitely slowed his start to his final OHL season. Detroit expected Emmerton to keep up his rapid OHL pace, but a slow start and a midseason battle with mono led to Emmerton putting up his lowest totals since his OHL rookie year, with 61 points in 54 games.

Still, when 61 points in 54 games is a disappointment, it speaks to the level of talent in the player. Detroit didn't think twice about signing Emmerton to a contract and putting him in Grand Rapids for the 2008-09 season. Emmerton struggled for minutes as most rookies do, but really showed his ability in the second half of the season, putting up 35 points in 69 games. This, despite mostly third or fourth line minutes with some rare powerplay time.

With the graduations of Leino, Helm, and Abdelkader up front, Emmerton was slotted into a huge role to start this season. After an unproductive start, Emmerton is now tied for the prospects lead in AHL scoring, with five goals and ten points on the season. His game has evolved as a whole from a dynamic playmaking centerman to a reliable two-way player. His hockey sense is still elite, so he has the potential to crack the Wings' second line down the road. But in Grand Rapids, his powerplay time is limited, while he is one of the team's top penalty killers. The Wings continue to be very high on Emmerton, so it shouldn't be too long of a wait until he get a taste at the NHL.

--

Dick Axelsson, LW, 22, 6'3, 192, drafted 2nd round, 2006 -- Imagine how high Detroit must have been on Dick Axelsson at the 2006 draft. Obviously, Detroit has tremendous success drafting in the late rounds. Axelsson went undrafted in 2005 draft, and of the 370 skaters ranked by the Central Scouting Bureau, his name did not appear. Despite this, while most teams were still chipping away at the top of the rankings, Detroit took Axelsson with the 62nd overall pick. They clearly knew something; why not the 3rd round?

It's not a surprise that Axelsson went undrafted in 2005, as he only had 16 points in 31 games with Huddinge's U20 team. Top prospects hover around the point-per-game clip in that league, and most are owned by SEL teams -- not like Huddinge, a team in second-tier Sweden. The following year, he stated his case. He split the season between Huddinge in third-tier Sweden (they'd been relegated) and their U20 team. With the U20 team, he put up 34 points in 28 games, alongside 157 penalty minutes (not uncommon, as in this league, you get 25 minutes for fighting -- 5 for fighting, 20 minute game misconduct). In third-tier Sweden, he had no trouble dominating -- 17 goals, two assists in 23 games. He was selected by Detroit in June.

Axelsson was a sought-after SEL commodity. After a long battle to sign him, Djurgarden got a hold of him. However, Huddinge wouldn't release him out of his previous contract, so Axelsson was held out of play for the first part of the year because he wished to play in the SEL. Eventually, it was ruled he had to finish out his contract in Huddinge, so he did, with 21 points -- and 113 PIM -- in 25 games with Huddinge, back in SWE-2.

He made his SEL debut the following year, one of the most productive rookies in the league with 25 points in 47 games. Detroit signed him in the offseason but he elected to stay one more season in the SEL before coming overseas. Axelsson was always accused of having attitude issues, and this came into play as Djurgarden suspended him indefinitely for "poor training habits," essentially kicking him off the team. With a fire lit under him, Axelsson had the last laugh, as he went on to put up 18 points in 21 games (for a total of 30 in 39 on the year) with Farjestad, going on to win the SEL championship despite a broken finger.

Nobody in the Wings' system since Henrik Zetterberg has put up SEL numbers at such a young age like Dick Axelsson. So there was a lot of optimism in him coming overseas this season, and he started on Grand Rapids' top line. However, his numbers so far are disappointing -- five points in 13 games. He's missed some time with injuries and expressed to a Swedish paper that he's a little homesick. However, unlike the Johan Rynos of the world, he appears committed to paying his dues and trying to get to the NHL. Despite his numbers, Axelsson's skill is highly apparent, and the numbers will come if he could have the same shift-to-shift consistency.

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Jan Mursak, RW, 21, 5'11, 184, drafted 6th round, 2006 -- Much, much later in the 2006 draft, Detroit selected their first Slovenian player ever in Jan Mursak. He was ranked 22nd among European skaters so he was not a total unknown, but it was hard to get a read on the type of player he was, as he was buried in the Czech U20 league, with 30 points in 43 games. The season before that, he actually played in the top Slovenian men's league and put up 45 points in 24 games. I remember the only thing I could dig up on him was that he's had a great personal web site (which has since been re-designed) that was all about how bad he wanted to play in the NHL, in great broken English.

Weeks after he was drafted by the Wings, he was drafted into the OHL by the Saginaw Spirit through the CHL Import Draft. If you're unfamiliar, junior teams can have two import (non-North American) players, so in late June every year, the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL all hold a draft together where they draft European players. Mursak had no trouble adjusting to the OHL and quickly emerged as one of Detroit's brightest prospects, putting up 80 points in 62 games on a stacked Saginaw club.

Detroit told him to get stronger, and he did that, putting on 20 pounds in between his first and second OHL seasons. This ended up being a little too much, too fast, as his elite speed was impacted. He struggled through his second OHL season. He put up 26 points in 26 games with Saginaw, before being traded to the contending Belleville Bulls. On a second-line role, he had 38 points in 31 game, helping Belleville to the OHL Finals and eventually the Memorial Cup tournament.

A lot was expected of Mursak in his first year as a pro -- perhaps too much. Mursak struggled out of the gate, finding himself, a one-dimensional, offensive player, on the fourth line with a rotation of grinders and goons. It was not complementary to his style of play, and he put up only nine points in 51 games. He was a healthy scratch frequently down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Coming into his second season, Mursak knew he would need to change his game. More of a speedy dangler to begin with, Mursak this season had really stepped up his two-way game and made himself too useful for Grand Rapids to scratch. He still isn't getting any powerplay time, but in a 3rd/4th line role, he's already put last year behind him and has five goals and an assist in 17 games. He's not afraid of physical play and can cause turnovers and scoring chances with his speed. While he once looked like a "top six or bust" type of player, Mursak is now stating a case for himself as an energy line player with some serious offensive talent, for the Wings in the not-so-distant future.

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Notes: An update on Adam Almqvist -- after four games in the SEL (no points), his parent club, HV-71, has decided to loan him to SWE-2 for the rest of the season. HV-71 is too deep for him to get the minutes he needs right now, but with 34 points in 15 games in the U20 league, he's clearly not challenged there. He has yet to make his debut, but it's said that Almqvist will spend the rest of the season with IF Troja/Ljungby (second worst team in the league) ... Sebastien Piche was recalled to Grand Rapids after two games in Toledo (two assists), and Travis Ehrhardt was sent down to play in Toledo's three games this weekend ... Jakub Kindl hurt his foot in practice this week and missed the Griffins' last game.

Who's Hot: Before he got hurt, Kindl was having his best week of the season with four points in two games, going a +3 en route to earning praise from Ken Holland ... The hottest Griffin this week was not Kindl however, as Tomas Tatar seems to have adjusted to the AHL now, putting up six points and a +5 rating in his past three games ... This blog clearly works, as two players in the "Who's Cold" section last week have got it going. Evan McGrath had two goals last week, and Gustav Nyquist had three points in two games, giving him 16 in 12 on the year (best on his team by six points ... Brendan Smith also had three points in two games ... His 13 points are 3rd in the nation among defensemen.

Who's Cold: Stephen Johnston has battled injury all season and, despite solid play, his 10 points and -3 rating in 18 games are not what he needs to earn a contract this summer ... Andrej Nestrasil is cooling off after a rabid start, his one assist in four games last week represent the worst week of his season, but he does have 30 points in 26 games ... After the getting the 'C' ignited his game to a hot start, including a hat trick, Jamie Tardif only has eight points in 18 games, despite additional ice time.

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