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Friday Prospects -- The Sleepers

Welcome to the fifth week of Winging it in Motown's new feature, Friday Prospects. I've described what this feature is in the other posts, so if you don't know yet... then you don't read WIM enough. Here are the archives:


10/2 -- Helm, Leino, Ericsson, Howard

10/9 -- Andersson, Samuelsson, Almqvist

10/16 -- Ferraro, Tatar, Nestrasil

10/23 -- Larsson, McCollum, Pearce


Today's feature is very specific. Detroit has made a living off of players that other teams have given up on. Pavel Datsyuk passed through two drafts before Detroit took him in the 6th round. Johan Franzen was 24 when Detroit drafted him – you can't even draft players older than 22 anymore. Tomas Holmstrom, Niklas Kronwall, and Nicklas Lidstrom all passed through at least one draft before Detroit snapped them up. Dan Cleary, Brett Lebda, Jason Williams, and Patrick Eaves (hopefully he'll look impressive in this company) were all young players that Detroit took a chance on through free agency that have found a home in the NHL.


The common theme here is Detroit has taken a lot of chances on players that other teams have given up on, and found success. Today's profiles look at three players that Detroit has signed through pre-season tryouts after they were all passed over in the draft.



All three of these players were signed by Detroit less than three months after they were draft eligible. This is a clear indication that, if Detroit had more draft picks, they would have taken them late. So far, they've gotten immediate payoffs on of all three.



Brent Raedeke, C, 19, 6'0, 197 lbs, signed in September 2008 – Detroit made six picks in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, only missing a 2nd round pick from the trade that brought in Brad Stuart. However, they invited a plethora of intriguing prospects to the prospects camp in September, and Raedeke was the lone forward that came out with a contract.


Raedeke was definitely a player worth keeping an eye on, even if he didn't have all that impressive of a draft season. He played for the expansion Edmonton Oil Kings, who suffered through a disastrous first season. Raedeke put up 31 points in 72 games – poor by major junior standards. But when you consider he was tied for fifth in team scoring and was only eight points behind the team leader, it's not too bad of a season.


Detroit hosts a July prospects strength and conditioning camp, where they basically look at all of their recently drafted players and compare them against a few prospects drafted in the two seasons before that. It's nothing too professional – college prospects pay their own way so they don't show up too often, and Detroit really only invites some local prospects, nobody too highly touted. But they invited Raedeke to this camp, and then again to their September Traverse City tournament team.. Detroit took advantage of a two-week window to sign players passed over in the draft, but not officially free agents yet, and signed Raedeke following camp.


Raedeke is an excellent skater with a solid work ethic, thought to be a player who could potentially contribute down the road on the next generation of The Grind Line. The key for him was to prove that he is a legitimate NHL prospect by contributing more to his major junior team – in the mold of, for example, the unranked Darren Helm, who put up 79 points after his draft eligible junior season, albeit on a much deeper team than Raedeke. Raedeke put up a respectable 55 points in 70 games as a second-year player, finishing third in team scoring. He joined the Griffins following his junior season, but did not make much of an impact.


This season, Raedeke returns for a third junior season where he is serving as captain for the Oil Kings. He is off to a red hot start, leading the team with 18 points in 17 games. He will most likely turn professional following this season. It's a big risk for Detroit in signing 18-year-old players to guaranteed three-year contracts once they turn 20 like Raedeke. Fortunately, the less-than-productive Raedeke has turned around his offensive input since his draft-eligible season. While his offensive totals won't concern Detroit too much, good junior numbers will translate to confidence that will only help him through his professional transition.



Brian Lashoff, 19, D, 6'3, 204 lbs, signed in September 2008 – Once upon a time, a player named Matt Lashoff was thought to be the next big two-way defenseman, selected by Boston in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Thus far, Matt hasn't panned out in the NHL, just as his brother Brian didn't show much consistency in his first draft-eligible season. However, a team called the Detroit Red Wings invited him to their prospect's camp, and Brian earned an NHL contract just three months after every NHL team passed him over in seven consecutive rounds.


In his draft season, Brian scored 20 points in 50 games, on a team that boasted a deep enough blueline that limited him to second or third pairing minutes, with not much special teams time. He wasn't expected to be drafted, but as a mobile blueliner with decent size, there was a decent chance that some team would take a chance on him. No team did, but one team did him one better – by signing him to an NHL contract at the age of 18.


Too young to play in the AHL, obviously, Lashoff returned to the OHL with the Barrie Colts. He got off to a decent start with added minutes and responsibility, with 13 points in 25 games. Barrie then pulled off a blockbuster trade that saw Lashoff traded to the bottom-feeding Kingston Frontenacs. Playing immediately in all situations for Kingston, including major special teams minutes, he played well. The highlight of his season came when he joined Grand Rapids on a tryout and cracked the top six, immediately becoming an offensive force. A concussion ended his playoff run early, but caused Griffins fans to yearn for the days where he would be a regular.


Now considered one of the top defensive prospects in the system, Lashoff has translated his professional confidence into a final season in major junior hockey, where he is the captain for the Frontenacs. He hasn't exploded to quite the start some expected, given his AHL production, with only eight points in 14 games. At the same time, he isn't a player who will score a bunch of points at the professional level – his skillset is tailored more to that of a bottom pairing defenseman. Given Detroit's current woes at that slot, it might not be too long until the once undrafted rearguard is wearing the winged wheel.



Willie Coetzee, 18, RW, 5'10, 186, signed September 2009 – For all intents and purposes, as the 32nd overall pick, Landon Ferraro was Detroit's first round pick this past draft. They acknowledged that at pick 29, they had five or six players slated for the first round, and they were comfortable enough in landing a winner to trade down three spots and add a third round pick (Andrej Nestrasil). When they invited his linemate, Willie Coetzee, to prospect's camp that year, they couldn't have possibly imagined what would happen next.


Coetzee was well-known entering his draft year, but didn't quite get the exposure needed to be selected. Part of this was due to the fact that the Red Deer Rebels club that both Ferraro and Coetzee were on was among the weakest in the league. Adding to that, Coetzee's 18 goals and 42 points weren't nearly as impressive as Ferraro's 37 goals and 55 points. However, Coetzee's strong two-way play and all-around solid game earned him a tryout with Detroit either way, in a year when they only had a few tryout spots to give. Coetzee earned a contract after a statistically unimpressive camp, and returned to Red Deer.


Since then, everything's been backwards. While "first round" pick Landon Ferraro is still rehabbing a knee injury, Coetzee has taken the WHL over by storm. He is second in the entire league in scoring with 26 points in 15 games – on a team that's still below .500. It's uncertain how serious Ferraro's injury is, and whether or not his eventual return will hurt Coetzee's minutes. But Coetzee is clearly playing with a lot more confidence than he had last season, and is well on his way to a career year no matter what minutes he gets for the rest of the year.


The caveat to all of this is that Coetzee, the first South African-native in the Wings' organization (born there, but raised in Canada.. I'm not sure how common the surname is in South Africa, but I'm pretty sure I'm reading one of his uncle's or grandfather's poetry in one of my classes right now) is a late 1990 born opposed to a 1991 born. You need to be born by September 15 of your draft year to be drafted into the NHL. So players, for example, born in November 1990, who have been trained and raised with other players born in 1990, all draft eligible in 2008, have to wait a full extra year because they were born three months late. This has traditionally led to a lot of players overachieving with their "draft class," even though Coetzee wasn't in this group, but started producing once he had an NHL contract.


Either way, Detroit has the option of Coetzee going to the AHL (or ECHL) next year with Lashoff and Raedeke, or they could send any back to their major junior leagues for an extra year, called an overage year. Basically, what I'm trying to say is it would be more impressive if Coetzee was a true 1991-born player. Still, he's literally on pace for more than triple the amount of points he put up last season, if he keeps up his current pace and scores 124 points this season. That's unlikely, but he's still on pace for a career year and is definitely on Detroit's radar going forward.



Notes: I caught my first Griffins' game this season and was most impressed by Dick Axelsson and Tomas Tatar Travis Ehrhardt recorded his first professional fight a day later when after Brent Sutter ran Daniel LarssonLogan Pyett, who's spot on the depth chart is threatened by rookies like Ehrhardt and Sebastien Piche, picked up his first two points of the season last weekend and looked much better than last season … Tomas Tatar scored his first professional goal on Thursday. Detroit was supposed to make a decision on his future on Monday, they didn't send him back so he may be a Griffin for the year (he doesn't look out of place) … The Griffins have been battling the flu … Dick Axelsson missed the 3rd period of the game I attended as well as the following game, and Sergei Kolosov missed a game as well, but did go +3 in the two games he played ... Jakub Kindl finally recorded his first points of the season with three assists in the past four games … I reported that Jesper Samuelsson was recalled back to the SEL last week after on game in SWE-2, but I was most likely looking at inaccurate stats, as he played two games for SWE-2's Sundsvall last week, recording a goal and an assist.


Who's Hot: Griffins' captain Jamie Tardif has exploded already this season, recording his second professional hat trick on Sunday, giving him the prospect's lead in Griffin's points scoring with six point in nine games … Brendan Smith responded to a benching in Wisconsin's second game of the season with three points in the next two games, including a first star effort … Daniel Larsson has won his past three starts and has improved his embarrassing 6.56 GAA and a .795 save percentage into a very respectable 2.85 with a .916 save percentage, including a shutout … Nick Oslund recorded three points in his past two games. The 7th round pick in 2006 is well on his way to besting his career high of seven points … Andrej Nestrasil had a busy week with six points in five games while going +2.


Who's Cold: By his standards, though he still leads the league (and all non-HV 71 players) by seven points, Adam Almqvist's three points in two games just aren't quite up to the pace that has seen him (again, as a defenseman drafted in the 7th round– I can't stress that enough) score 29 points in 13 games … In real cold news, Johan "I will go back to Sweden if I don't make the NHL" Ryno only has three points in nine games in second-tier Sweden. He's behind the eight-ball already after needing a miracle to begin with to get another NHL contract … After being named the QMJHL's defensive player of the week, Gleason Fournier cooled down considerably with one assist, a -2 rating, and six penalty minutes in his last three games … Jordan Pearce has two starts in the ECHL out of his team's six games, and his second start didn't go nearly as well as the first. After letting up two goals in his first start, his stat line currently reads a 4.50 GAA and .847 save percentage.