Willie Coetzee making free agent splash

The life of a junior-aged hockey player is unlike that of any other profession. Most likely, if you're at the junior level it means you've succeeded and likely dominated youth ranks all the way up to 15 or 16. You're used to standing out and being one of the best on the ice. Then you take that leap to major junior hockey and all of a sudden you're just one among hundreds of guys who are used to the same thing. And you've only got two years to sort it out and make your bid for a professional career. Otherwise you fall behind the curve and need to work even harder to get noticed as you get older.

For these reasons, it makes sense that some players fall through the cracks -- not every NHL star was rated highly for the draft, or taken at all for that matter. You don't need to tell Red Wings fans that, with their ability to find the Datsyuks, Zetterbergs, Franzens, and Holmstroms in the late rounds.

The story of this season has been the role players. The completely unranked Darren Helm, the undrafted free agent Brett Lebda, the waiver claim Drew Miller, the buyout Patrick Eaves.

Willie Coetzee is hoping to be the next name in that impressive group. Draft eligible this past June, Coetzee had a solid year on a struggling Red Deer Rebels team. His teammate and frequent linemate Landon Ferraro was drafted 32nd overall by Detroit, but Coetzee wasn't picked. That meant, as a late 1990-born player, he would only have two more seasons of WHL hockey to impress an NHL team, or else be forced to start his professional career without an NHL contract -- a path that has produced few NHL players.

But Coetzee made the most of the first opportunity he was presented. Detroit invited him to their training camp, armed with a few extra contracts. Coetzee made his mark. Within a few months, he went from going undrafted to sharing the ice with childhood idols like Nick Lidstrom. Shortly after camp, in the two week window where NHL teams can sign undrafted free agent players (that would otherwise re-enter the draft), Coetzee signed an entry-level contract.

And he hasn't stopped there. Coetzee rocketed to the top of the WHL scoring charts early on and has stuck there ever since. He's currently tied for 8th with 61 points in 47 games -- more points than any other Detroit prospect in the system. Rather than trying to radically change his game to get noticed, Coetzee stuck to what he does best and it paid off. Instead of being behind the curve after not being drafted, Coetzee is now ahead of the curve. He has what every drafted player is striving to earn -- an entry-level contract.

Thanks to Casey, yet again, I was privileged enough to have a chat with Coetzee. We spoke about his season, his style of play, and how he dealt with the draft and then the Wings' camp. That, plus the return of the Friday Prospects statistical report after the jump.

WIM: Since we're heading into the last stretch of the WHL schedule, with Red Deer in 7th place, how do you feel your season is going so far?

COETZEE: I think we're having a good season. We could be having a better one, but we have a good chance to make the playoffs this year and do well. I think our season's going pretty well so far.

WIM: And how do you feel about your play, in particular?

COETZEE: I think it's good -- it's better than last year. I just think I'm more mature in the league now, and I've got more experience. I've got good linemates to play with now, some good players. I think our team doing well is helping a lot, it's helping with my game too.

WIM: You're on pace to more than double your offensive numbers from last season. What do you think is the biggest difference in your game to lead to such an offensive increase?

COETZEE: It's my defensive game that really helped this year. Being more defensively sound helps me with my offensive game, I get the puck more than I used to. I think my strength has increased. The people I'm playing with are helping a lot, as well. I think I'm a more mature player in the league now, and it's been a good year for me.

WIM: For Wings fans who haven't seen you play, could you describe your style?

COETZEE: I'm an offensive player. I'm a skilled player, I'm fast. I have a good shot. I'm getting better defensively now, and I think I have good awareness on the ice.

WIM: What do you feel you might need to work on to get to the next level?

COETZEE: I still think my defensive game has to improve a lot more. Maybe more strength, because in the pros there aren't any little guys anymore, it's all men. I have to make sure I'm at a top notch level to play there one day. I think the defensive game comes on as well. Once I have those things, I think I'll be ready.

WIM: How valuable do you think the coaching is from a former Red Wing and someone who's been through the system in Jesse Wallin to prepare you for that next step?

COETZEE: He really knows what he's talking about because he's been through it. That's why he's working on my defensive game. I think Detroit's main thing with their players is they're all good defensively. You'll get the puck more and your offensive ability will come through. I know Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are really good in their own end, and I think it really helps them produce more. That's what he's really trying to hammer in my head this season.

WIM: Moving onto the draft, what was it like going through your first time around? Were you in any contact with Detroit or any other team leading up to the draft?

COETZEE: I had no contact with anybody. Going through the rounds, I didn't really expect to get drafted. It didn't really bother me. When Detroit called me after their summer camp, it was pretty exciting for me to get called up to their camp. I just wanted to impress them as much as I could.

WIM: What was your mindset getting that invite from Detroit, knowing that they might be interested in giving you a contract?

COETZEE: My mindset was to impress them as much as possible, maybe sign a contract. I wasn't really expecting to sign one, but I was thinking if I showed them as much as I could on the ice so next year I could get invited back or maybe drafted. Getting the contract was a big bonus for me. I'm really happy that I signed with Detroit because they've been my favorite team since I was a little kid.

WIM: Have you had the chance to meet any of the players in the organization, or anyone you idolized?

COETZEE: Yeah, I got to talk to Steve Yzerman after the tournament was done in Traverse City. It's a big dream of mine to meet everybody. I met Nicklas Lidstrom, I was even playing with him. It was just a really good experience for me.

WIM: How does landing a contract change your approach to the season? Is there more pressure to live up to it, or less pressure for not having to deal with the uncertainty?

COETZEE: I think there's less pressure. After signing a contract, it's a weight off your shoulders. I feel more relaxed playing now, and I just want to make sure I can get up to that next level and impress Detroit. I don't think there's too much pressure for me right now, I'm more relaxed than I was before the draft. I knew I wouldn't have to play as good as I could to impress a team just to get drafted. I'm happy that's done now, and I think the next step is to play in Detroit one day.

WIM: Is it your goal to turn professional next season, or are you thinking about returning to Red Deer for an overage season?

COETZEE: My goal next year is to turn professional, I think that's the best step for me. If that doesn't work out, I'm obviously going to come back to Red Deer. Next year I really want to make Detroit or Grand Rapids. I'm going to work as hard as I can to finish this year, and even harder in the summer to train for their camp.

WIM: What was the biggest factor in your decision to play major junior hockey over college hockey?

COETZEE: My biggest factor was the exposure of WHL hockey. I know the BCHL gets good exposure, too, but I just think the best step for my hockey career was the WHL because it's always been the leading place to go for anyone who wants to get drafted or go on to the next level. I think it was the best decision for me. I don't regret it now. When I was younger and didn't go to school I was regretting it a bit. I'm really happy with my decision, I think the WHL is the best move for me.

--

Keep in mind, since last week's report was just an interview with Nick Jensen, this is a two-week update. Meaning that "last week" really means "last two weeks."

American Hockey League

# Name Team GP G A P +/- PIM Last week Notes
3 Logan Pyett Grand Rapids 43 5 12 17 +7 16 3A, +2, 6PIM in 5GP
4 Travis Ehrhardt Grand Rapids 24 0 4 4 -6 26 2A, -3, 4PIM in 3GP
5 Jakub Kindl Grand Rapids 36 3 16 19 -3 30 1G, 2A, +5 in 5GP
7 Sebastien Piche Grand Rapids 9 0 0 0 -1 4 Playing in Toledo (ECHL)
8 Cory Emmerton Grand Rapids 41 7
15 22
+7 14 1G, 2A, +4, 4PIM in 4GP
9 Evan McGrath Grand Rapids 40 8
6
14 -10 16 1G, 1A, +1, 4 PIM in 5GP
Two goals since 11/30
12 Dick Axelsson Grand Rapids 17 2 3 5 +1 6 Playing in Farjestad (SEL)
13 Jan Mursak Grand Rapids 42 17 8 25 +12 17 1G, -3, 5PIM in 5GP
Cooling off after hot December
17 Francis Pare Grand Rapids 41 8
15 23
+19 8 1G, 3A, +6 in 5GP
Taking over as hottest Griffin
18 Mattias Ritola Grand Rapids 37 10 9 19 -6 34 2G, 2A, 10PIM in 5GP Offense picking up after demotion
25 Jamie Tardif Grand Rapids 41 10 7 17 -8 53 2G, +2, 19PIM in 3GP
Injured
27 Tomas Tatar Grand Rapids 28 10 11 21 +11 6 2G, 2A in 5GP

28 Sergei Kolosov Grand Rapids 37 1 3 4 -1 17 1A, +3, 9PIM in 4GP Returned from injury
31 Daniel Larsson Grand Rapids 28 13 12 1 2.94 .903 1-2, GAA down, sv% up
35 Thomas McCollum Grand Rapids 18 7 7 0 3.42 .877
Promoted to Grand Rapids
36 Jordan Pearce Grand Rapids 5 1 2 0 3.82 .875 1-1, GAA up, sv% up Demoted to Toledo

 

ECHL

# Name Team GP G A PTS +/- PIM Last Week Notes
20 Travis Ehrhardt Toledo 3 1 1 2 +4 0 Playing in Grand Rapids
25 Sebastien Piche Toledo 17 3 8 11 +7 23 1G, 2A, -1 in 5GP
30 Thomas McCollum Toledo 4 2 1 0 4.48 .864 2-0, GAA down, sv% down
Playing in Grand Rapids
35 Jordan Pearce Toledo 18 8 8 1 3.52 .892


NCAA

# Name Team GP G A PTS PIM Last Week Notes
7 Brendan Smith Wisconsin 21 9 21 30 28 1G, 2A, 2PIM in 2GP
8th in NCAA scoring; 1st of defensemen
7 Max Nicastro Boston U. 20 1 7 8 22 2PIM in 3GP

16 Nick Oslund St. Cloud St. 24 4 4 8 18 1G, 2 PIM in 4GP
 
81 Julien Cayer Clarkson 18 2 3 5 8 1G, 1A, 2PIM in 3GP
First points since 11/20
89 Bryan Rufenach Clarkson 21 5 11 16 39 4A in 4GP
 
89 Gustav Nyquist Maine 22 13 19 32 12 1G, 1A in 3GP
7th in NCAA scoring


Swedish Eliteserien

# Name Team GP G A PTS +/- PIM Last Week Notes
12 Dick Axelsson Farjestad 3 1 1
2 0 4 1G, 1A, 4PIM in3GP
16 Anton Axelsson Timra 37 4 6 10 -12 4 1G, -3 in 4GP
18 Joakim Andersson Frolunda 41 5 10 15 +7 32 2G, 1A, -1, 2PIM in 5GP

24 Jesper Samuelsson Timra 23 0 1 1 +0 8 -1, 2PIM in 2GP
Played in SWE-2 as well
28 Adam Almqvist HV71 21 2 6 8 +11 8 1A, +1, 4PIM in 4GP Played 24+ mins one night


Swedish Allsvenskan

# Name Team GP G A PTS +/- PIM Last Week Notes
3 Jesper Samuelsson Sundsvall 21 1 7 8 -10 0 2A, -1 in 3GP
Played in SEL as well
16 Johan Ryno AIK 31 5 8 13 +6 22 4A, +3, 2PIM in 4GP
Starting to produce
-- Adam Almqvist Troja/Ljungby 0 0 0 0 0 0 Playing with HV71 (SEL0


Swedish J20 League

# Name Team GP G A PTS +/- PIM Last Week Notes
4 Adam Almqvist HV71 15 5 29 34 +14 14 Playing with HV71 (SEL)


Kontinental Hockey League

# Name Team GP G A PTS +/- PIM Last Week Notes
21 Gennady Stolyarov HC MVD 0 0 0 0 0 0 Injured until later this month
26 Jiri Hudler Moscow Dynamo 40
14 23 37 14 4A, 2PIM in 4GP
2nd in team scoring


Ontario Hockey League

# Name Team GP G A PTS +/- PIM Last Week Notes
11 Stephen Johnston Belleville 18 6 4 10 -3 16 Traded to Windsor
-- Stephen Johnston Windsor 0 0 0 0 0 0 Acquired by Windsor Injured (returning soon)
18 Brian Lashoff Kingston 40 5 13 18 -10 53 1G, 3A, -8, 2PIM in 7GP


Western Hockey League

# Name Team GP G A PTS +/- PIM Last Week Notes
9 Brent Raedeke Edmonton 39 17 14 31 +4 60 Traded to Brandon
9 Brent Raedeke Brandon 10 4 7 11 +1 0 1G, 5A in 6GP
13 Landon Ferraro Red Deer 28 8 17 25 -7 36 2G, 5A, -5, 4PIM in 7GP
Up to 4th on team
19 Willie Coetzee Red Deer 47 20 41 61 +7 20 2G, 4A, -1, 4PIM in 6GP
8th in league scoring
24 Mitchell Callahan Kelowna 48 13 22 35 +1 114 1G, 2A, +3, 12PIM in 5GP


Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

# Name Team GP G A PTS +/- PIM Last Week Notes
11 Andrej Nestrasil Victoriaville 37 14 26 40 +0 30 1G, 1A, 6PIM in 3GP
Less TOI due to trades
14 Gleason Fournier Rimouski 37 6 25 31 +7 64 5A, -4, 8PIM in 5GP
Leads team in PIM


United States Hockey League

# Name Team GP G A PTS +/- PIM Last Week Notes
6 Nick Jensen Green Bay 28 0 12 12 +16 10 4A, +3, 2PIM in 4GP


World Junior Championships

# Name Team GP G A PTS +/- PIM Last Week Notes
10 Tomas Tatar Slovakia 6 3 2 5 +2 6 8th place finish
11 Andrej Nestrasil Czech Republic 6 1 6 7 -2 4 7th place finish
18 Brian Lashoff United States 7 0 2 2 +1 4 Gold Medal


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