Hey look, I made it through my first week at WIM without getting canned. Good news for me I suppose, but for all of you that means you're subjected to more of my prospect drivel. Good!
If you're just joining us, basically what this feature does is profile a handful of Red Wings prospects each week. For now I'm going the theme route, but sooner or later I'll run out of ideas and it'll be more of a grab bag. Basically, the point of this is to familiarize all you fine (and I mean fine) readers with Red Wings prospects. I spend a good chunk of my free time collecting any information I can on these guys, so I use this to help others follow along as well. Others that may have jobs, families, or hobbies preventing them from following the way I do.
Last week I looked at this year's graduating class, the four prospects that will see no time in Grand Rapids this season: Ville Leino, Darren Helm, Jonathan Ericsson, and Jimmy Howard. If you missed that, make sure to check it out right here.
This week will be decidedly more Swedish than last week.
All four of these prospects are spread out throughout Sweden. As we're all aware that Detroit has had a little bit of success cultivating Swedish talent (understatement of the century), it's time to start thinking about where the next Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, or Jonathan Ericsson is coming from.
Joakim Andersson, C, 20, 6'2, 205 lbs, drafted 3rd round, 2007 -- Unlike most of the Swedes Detroit likes to target, Andersson didn't come from the depths of the beer leagues, and in fact, was quite well-known. Andersson was viewed as a late first round pick or a very early second, but he slipped all the way to 88th overall where Detroit picked him up.
Andersson was regarded as a two-way center, but his stock was high because he posted good numbers in the Swedish Junior League during his draft year, 46 points in 41 games. He even made his SEL debut for Frolunda late in the season, and he played 22 games internationally with Sweden's under-18 team -- definitely a little more exposure than is common for the players who end up with the Wings.
Frolunda decided that Andersson's skillset was more suited to play against men, so rather than let him tear apart the junior league, he was loaned to Boras HC in the Swedish Allsvenskan. Basically, if you don't know how the Swedish League works, the Elitserien (SEL) is the best and the Allsvenskan (SWE-2) is the league under it. But it's not quite like the AHL, because every year the best Allsvenskan teams play the worst Elitserien teams in the Kvalserien, which is just a short tournament that puts the winning teams in the SEL and the losers down to SWE-2. But if good teams somehow choke and get relegated to SWE-2, it's pretty common to see players with a release clause, so they join another SEL team instead of playing in SWE-2, making it quite difficult for teams to get promoted right away. But it is common to see SEL teams loan out players to SWE-2, which is where Andersson spent 2007-08, recording 23 points.
Andersson was able to crack Frolunda's lineup as a regular late in the season an into a short playoff run. This led to him finally being an SEL regular last season. He started quite slow on the team's fourth line, and was loaned out to Boras again for a few games when the team was really struggling, but that helped Andersson to refocus and come back to claim a bigger role on the team. He finished with 12 points in 49 games. The highlight of his season came as he represented Sweden for the second straight year at the World Junior Championships. He was looked at as a secondary performer, but he came through as one of Sweden's most important players, scoring a point-per-game. Not satisfied with that, Andersson then joined Grand Rapids as they made their playoff push and forced himself into the lineup as a regular.
Andersson could definitely hack it in the AHL if he needed to, but Detroit elected to give him one more season in the SEL. He'll most likely sign a contract this summer and begin his professional career. He's a strong checking line player with some solid offensive instincts and good playmaking ability. The weakness to his game has always been skating -- he is an ugly skater. But he's come a long way since he was drafted, his speed has really improved and his weird stride is not a problem. Andersson will likely hold a full-time job in Frolunda all this season, and he's started the year off strong with 4 points in 7 games.
Jesper Samuelsson, C, 21, 6'0, 179 lbs, drafted 7th round, 2008 -- You couldn't get much more obscure than Jesper Samuelsson, when the Wings selected him with the final pick in 2008. I was following the draft online and it took a good ten minutes for the final pick to get up on the board. The reason, apparently, was that the NHL wasn't sure if the guy existed. I feel like that's something the Wings would do, try to draft a player that doesn't exist just so the NHL would look bad. However, they wouldn't be the first to do so.
But Jesper, the finest Samuelsson the Wings have ever owned, is very real. And the parallels between him and other successful Wings draft picks were slap-you-in-the-face obvious. Samuelsson played for the same club as Jonathan Ericsson in Vita Hasten -- the league below the Allsvenskan (though there is no relegation anymore, it's just a high-level men's league). The league is rarely scouted because many young players would rather play in the Swedish Junior League. Samuelsson was drafted 211th overall, Henrik Zetterberg was drafted 210th. Both played in Swedish Division-1 (SWE-3) during their draft year. Both played for Timra in the SEL, and were drafted at nearly the same size..
However, that's where most of the comparisons stopped. Samuelsson joined Timra, making a near-impossible jump from SWE-3 to the SEL, which was an impressive feat in itself. However, the team was pretty stacked and Samuelsson was inexperienced, so he did not see much ice time. He only recorded 3 points in 40 games, and was loaned out to Sundsvall in the Allsvenskan when he was slumping. He's back in Timra this year, and has one assist in seven games.
Samuelsson's weakness when he was drafted was that he was very skinny. When they examined him after the draft, they found out his was lactose intolerant so that was a big reason why he didn't put on any weight. They set him up with a whole new training regime to help him put on weight, and he put on 9 pounds over the offseason. Still, he'll need to get a little bit bigger to become an impact player in the SEL. The Wings do like his playmaking ability, as he's a composed and creative player with good skating ability. With no transfer agreement, there is no deadline to sign Samuelsson. The Wings will likely give him as much time in the SEL as they can and hope he's a late bloomer.
Adam Almqvist, D, 18, 5'10, 165 pound, drafted 7th round, 2009 -- The Wings made Almqvist their only Swedish selection in 2009, as the trend of the draft for most teams seemed to be to draft any and all Swedes before Detroit could, and many went very high. However, teams may have forgotten to look at the Swedish Junior League's highest scoring defenseman, Adam Almqvist. Almqvist had 36 points in 41 games.
A possible reason scouts didn't line up to see him was that he was listed at 148 pounds up until he was drafted. But the explanation for this was clear. The Swedes weigh in before the season and before international tournaments. Most Swedish players who get drafted play some tournaments for the Swedish under-18 team. Almqvist did, but they let him go in the middle of the season. So his weight was considered inaccurate, and changed to 165 before this season. Still too light, but much better.
Almqvist is off to a lights-out start back with the HV-71 under-20 team. He has an incredible 20 points in 6 games, and yes, he's still a defenseman. He leads the entire Swedish U20 league, and he's on a pace to smash the all-time points record. While extremely impressive, the league is pretty high scoring. One-time Detroit prospect Jari Tolsa once set a points record for the league, but has gone on to 10 professional seasons in Sweden and Finland and only has a career high of 28 points, something that he hasn't come close to touching in the past few years.
So it doesn't mean all that much, but you certainly can't say it means nothing. The Wings drafted Almqvist because they like his hockey sense and playmaking ability, and I'd say his numbers indicate that is right on. He still needs to get bigger and add a little bit of a physical element, and he's not exactly the kind of speedy, agile skater you might assume he is for a player of his size. He's a project; but this is certainly a more promising start than anyone could have imagined.
Who's Hot: Grand Rapids rookie Dick Axelsson had a goal and an assist in his first AHL game ... Thomas McCollum got the win in his first professional start, surrendering one goal ... Willie Coetzee is off to a much better start than his linemate Landon Ferraro, with 12 points in 8 games.
Who's Cold: Ferraro still only has 2 points on the season ... Stephen Johnston has 5 points in 7 games but will need to do more to earn a contract.
Notes: After the Wings returned from Sweden, they sent Daniel Larsson to Grand Rapids and Jordan Pearce to Toledo in the ECHL ... Toledo starts their season next weekend ... Justin Abdelkader was sent to the AHL after Detroit signed Brad May ... Tomas Tatar and Sebastien Piche were the two Detroit prospects scratched for Grand Rapids season opener ... Both will be in this weekend ... Tatar being a scratch doesn't count toward the 9 games he can play before he burns a year off his contract ... He will need to get onto a scoring line to avoid being sent to the OHL, where he would play for Plymouth.