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Friday Prospects -- Long shots

We’re getting down to it, folks. The cream of the prospect crop has already been profiled. You’re likely (hopefully?) starting to get used to seeing certain names in the "Who’s Hot?" section. You know that Brendan Smith is among Hobey hopefuls. You know Gustav Nyquist is scoring at hilarious rates. You know Tomas Tatar is the best prospect in hockey that nobody is talking about. You know Detroit is set in goal for the next decade.

So you’d expect the remaining prospects to maybe… be a little dull? Understandable. Every team has a couple of "those" prospects. Prospects to fill out the roster, prospects in the "long shot" category of every depth chart you see.  Not everyone has superstar potential.

Well, not Detroit’s. What would it mean to you if I said that this week we’re profiling a former QMJHL MVP, a 70+ point scoring defenseman, and a gold medal winning Canadian blueliner? Is it a little more exciting now? Are you just itching to click that "Read More" button? Yes? No? What if I were to tell you that the draft position of these three players was… undrafted, undrafted, and second-to-last? Is that a little better? Oh yeah, now you want to read more.

This week, we look at three Grand Rapids Griffins trying to work their way up the depth chart.

Francis Pare, RW, 22, 5’10, 188 lbs, signed in April 2009 – 100+ points. Three straight point-per-game seasons. Most valuable player of a major junior hockey league. Tied a Grand Rapids record for rookie goals. And did all of this before ever becoming property of an NHL team.

Pare is trying to become the next player to make every team in the NHL pay. He wants them to pay for glancing over him – for thinking he was too small or too slow to make an impact in the NHL. If he was 6’3, or had blinding speed – without a doubt, he would have been a high draft pick and would probably have had a taste at the NHL already. But he doesn’t. He’s undersized and he’s too slow to be a center at the professional level, but he’s got that hockey sense that every scout looks for.

Pare played four full seasons in the QMJHL, three (plus five games as a 16-year-old) in Shawinigan, and one in Chicoutimi. In his draft year, his numbers were unimpressive – 47 points in 70 games. However, the following season he atoned for that, and made a strong case for himself to be a draft pick his second time around, with 74 points in 55 games. Still, not drafted. So he did it again, with 73 points in 68 games. Still, no NHL team for Pare.

Then, in his final QMJHL season as a 20-year-old player, Pare exploded for 102 points in 69 games, and a +41 rating on a team with only five players in the double digit plus category. He was named the league MVP. And all he got for his efforts was a contract from the Grand Rapids Griffins. He made the most of this opportunity, too, combining with Griffins-contracted Francis Lemieux and Detroit prospect Evan McGrath to be one of the hottest lines in the league. Pare tied (with Justin Abdelkader) the Griffins record for rookie goal scoring, finishing third in overall team scoring.

And finally, Pare was rewarded with an NHL contract, from the Detroit Red Wings, no less. Pare is off to a slow start this season, with nine points on the year – and his first goal of the year coming just this week on a penalty shot. But he was battling injury early on and has started to produce again more over the past few weeks. With the emergence of prospects like Jan Mursak and Tomas Tatar, Pare is facing an uphill battle as he tries to regain big ice time. But he’s just one of those players who has succeeded at every level despite the supposed knocks on his game. He’ll get a taste at the NHL eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later.


Logan Pyett, D, 21, 5’10, 200 lbs, drafted 7th round, 2006 – I’ve talked about the 2006 draft a few times, how it’s shaping up to be one of Detroit’s best of the decade. The only pick so far to have a taste at the NHL – the one being the traded Shawn Matthias – but they have a handful of prospects having strong seasons in the AHL in Daniel Larsson, Cory Emmerton, Jan Mursak, and Dick Axelsson.

And Detroit’s last pick of that draft, almost the last overall, was an undersized defenseman from the WHL in Pyett. Pyett played in Regina with 10 goals and 45 points in 71 games during his draft year. He gave Detroit some instant hope after they showed enough faith in him to draft him, exploding for 62 points in 71 games the following season. In a WHL league known more for the "farm boy" stereotype that results in many strong players standing around the six and a half foot range, Pyett really held his own defensively and became one of the top offensive blueliners in the league.

And Team Canada took notice. The following season, Pyett played for Canada at the World Junior Championships, the lone 7th round pick on a blueline full of mostly first rounders. Pyett saw regular ice time as Canada won the gold medal. His production in the WHL continued to be impressive. He had a career high 20 goals, along with 54 points in 62 games.

Detroit had no hesitation at all in signing him to see what he could do in the professional ranks. Unfortunately, he struggled through his first professional season. As an offensive defenseman, he didn't see much time on the powerplay, so his 14 points in 61 games came largely at even strength. Down the stretch and into the playoffs, Pyett lost his spot as a regular to Brian Lashoff, who was only in the AHL on an amateur tryout and is back in the OHL this season, too young to play in the AHL.

So Pyett definitely had to work to keep his regular spot this season. Detroit brought in two rookie defensemen, Sebastien Piche and Travis Ehrhardt, and Pyett hadn't done much to guarantee himself ice time over either of them. However, he's done just that this season. Pyett has put himself back on the map with nine points in 24 games so far, heating up with three points in his past three games.


Sebastien Piche, D, 21, 6'0, 202 lbs, signed in March 2009 -- For the last five years, Piche has earned a reputation as somewhat of a journeyman, playing for Rouyn-Noranda (twice), Lewiston, Shawinigan, and Rimouski. Along the way, he made two appearances at the Memorial Cup, in 2007 and 2009.

Piche was not much of a scorer in his first few seasons in the QMJHL, with only seven goals in his first four OHL seasons. Despite this, he was always productive in the playoffs, with 23 points in 17 games in the 07/08 playoffs after a career regular season high of just 28.

This led to a final QMJHL season that was above and beyond what anyone expected. Piche came alive with 23 goals, along with 72 points in 62 games. Piche finished second on team scoring, on one of the most stacked teams in the QMJHL. Piche logged big minutes as Rimouski hosted the Memorial Cup (along with '09 Wings pick Gleason Fournier) with his swift-skating and great puck moving ability.

Detroit signed him sometime before the Memorial Cup, and put him in Grand Rapids to start the season. So far, he hasn't got in much game action, only nine games with no points. He's been in and out of the lineup and has been assigned to Toledo twice now, just to get in a set of regular games. He's down there now, with two points in three games. He was ejected from the last game for an elbowing major. Despite his slow start this season, if his QMJHL career is any indication, he's still got plenty of time.


Notes: Brendan Smith won his second straight WCHA Defensive Player of the week, and was also Co-Offensive Player of the Week last week ... Jakub Kindl was sent back to Grand Rapids after getting in two games with Detroit ... Landon Ferraro is again injured for the second time this season, going down with the same injury that kept him out for about 10 games earlier this week ... Stephen Johnston has also missed the last two weeks of action, in a crucial contract season for him.

Who's Hot: Brendan Smith has taken his game to the next level, officially. He now sits at 24 points, tied for second in the nation in scoring, leading all defensemen, after seven (!) points in two games ... Oh yeah, and the player he's tied with is Gustav Nyquist, who had three goals in two games last week ... Jan Mursak has really come alive with six points in his past six games ... Logan Pyett has three points in his past three games ... After going -5 last week, Jamie Tardif was a +3 this week, picking up a goal and an assist ... Adam Almqvist had another goal last week, now up to 10 games played in the SEL. Willie Coetzee, Mitchell Callahan, and Andrej Nestrasil were all at a point per game last week. Coetzee has the prospect lead in scoring with 42 points in 30 games.

Who's Cold: Dick Axelsson has openly toyed with the idea of going back to Sweden, but Jim Nill made it clear this week that Axelsson must stay ... "Hat Trick Dick" has gone a few weeks without recording a point now, only five in 17 games ... Julien Cayer only has three points on the season, poor production from a sophomore on a team with very few NHL draft picks.


Handy Archive:

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
November 27
-- Cory Emmerton, Dick Axelsson, Jan Mursak
December 4
-- Gleason Fournier, Nick Jensen, Mitchell Callahan