Two years ago, The Hockey News compared a young Swedish prospect by the name of Fabian Brunnstrom to Ottawa Senators' star Daniel Alfredsson.
What they meant to say was this: it's really impressive that this then 23-year-old star was producing such impressive numbers after jumping straight to the SEL from Swedish Division 1 (which is the 3rd highest division in Sweden). What a lot of people read was this: there is a superstar free agent Swedish prospect who is going to be the next Alfredsson.
The next few months became nothing but chaos. Nearly every team in the league admitted to actively pursuing Brunnstrom. Naturally, because Detroit tends to like those Swedish types (really?), Hockeytown became the #1 destination for Brunnstrom on the rumor charts. His courtship took several months, leading a lot of impatient fans to believe that Brunnstrom was a bit of a prima donna who just like the limelight, when in actuality, these same people would not have heard of him were it not for the one article The Hockey News chose to run.
And that's not a slight to THN -- I read every word of their publication every week, and I have for years. But it was one seemingly harmless comment from them that set off one of the most publicized free agent chases in recent NHL history, and for what?
Forty points. Two years and forty points for Brunnstrom. Obviously, Fabian went with Dallas over Detroit, citing a chance to play in the NHL right away (always take the dollars over proper development, folks). He had a decent rookie season, producing 17 goals, but has managed just two this year and was reportedly actively being shopped midseason. He's been a fairly regular omission from the Stars' lineup.
Less than a week later, Detroit signed The Tonight Show with Ville Leino. Despite the fact that Leino had several successful seasons in Finland under his belt and was the reigning MVP of the league, instead of just one decent year in Sweden, nobody made a big deal about the chase for Leino. Rightfully so, possibly, because Leino hasn't accomplished all that much more than Brunnstrom in the NHL -- although he has appeared a little more frequently on the highlight reels.
This year, we begin the chase anew. The new hot prospect is Norway's own Mats Zuccarello Aasen. It was actually said before this season that Detroit might be interested in the diminutive Norwegian scoring sensation. MZA hasn't been on the seen very long, with this being his first full season in the SEL after 39 games last year, preceded by a career developing in Norway (most top prospects make the jump to a more competitive Sweden sooner than that). But after a relatively impressive run in the Olympics with Norway, not to mention
Detroit is still said to be hot on his trail, but there's a catch: MZA is looking for a one-way contract, reports mLive courtesy of Swedish and Norwegian news outlets. With a fairly crowded forward picture already for next year, not to mention the failures of Brunnstrom and Leino still fresh in their minds, it's tough to imagine Detroit caving and offering a one-way deal to a player who has never played in North America.
MZA's skill is undeniable. Despite his hilariously disadvantaged size at 5'7, 161, he's got great puck skills and a nose for the net, fearless in front of bigger defenders (read: everybody) and high traffic areas. He's got good speed and he sees the game very well. But that size means he's no lock for the NHL -- he's going to need to work for it. And that's something that makes Detroit fans all too hesitant about, having just seen Leino shipped away from being a talented player that never quite fit right in the system.
I'll be more than happy to take him, but I'd prefer seeing him a bit in Grand Rapids before we burn a roster spot on him. Who knows, his agent could just be playing the hype game -- what better team to rumor a young prospect to than Detroit. It makes every other team automatically think, "man, if Detroit wants this guy he might be something special."
Statistical report comes after the jump, alongside a quick look at the chances for two Wings' prospects to capture college hockey's most prestigious individual honor.
The Hobey Baker
Detroit has never had a prospect win the Hobey Baker, and since I've been following prospects, they haven't had anything close to a nominee. This year, of the short list of ten players -- two are future Red Wings. Hopefully this comes as no surprise to anyone who has read this feature all season long. And the two (of ten) nominees are...
Brendan Smith, defense, University of Wisconsin
What he is: Smith is a tremendously gifted offensive defenseman and one of the best skaters in all of college hockey. His success comes with the puck, as he loves to quarterback the play and produce offense. Defense has always been the flaw in his game, but Wisconsin has a great reputation for producing NHL defenseman and Smith's game has undergone some serious changes for the better.
Why he'll win: Smith has led the nation in scoring by a defenseman since one of the first weeks of the season, and he led Wisconsin (one of the top teams in the nation) in scoring for most of the season. He finished tied for 19th in the nation in scoring, and has been the only defenseman in the nation's top 50 for most of the season. Smith was considered "the" favorite to win the award early on in the season.
Why he won't win: Even though his game didn't slip off, a lot of Wisconsin fans are rallying behind the team's other nominee, Nashville prospect Blake Geoffrion. At the very least, Geoffrion's presence as one of two dominant players for Wisconsin will split some of Smith's votes. In good and bad news, Badger coach Mike Eaves (Patrick Eaves' father) runs a very tight ship. Even having a potential Hobey Baker winner like Smith on the ice, Eaves still rotated pairings so Smith didn't play nearly as much as he could have at other schools. That may have hurt his chances to have an even bigger offensive season, but you could also make the argument that he wouldn't have developed into the same player.
Gustav Nyquist, forward, University of Maine
What he is: Nyquist could very well be the most underrated prospect in the Detroit system. Despite the fact that he has produced earth-shattering numbers all season long, Nyquist is actually known for a great two-way game. He doesn't have great size, but he's Zetterberg-esque (don't get carried away -- remember THN's mistake) in the way he carries and protects the puck in addition to looking out in his own zone.
Why he'll win: Well for starters, it's slightly impressive that Nyquist led the nation in scoring with 59 points, six better than second place. You could also make the case that of the nominees, Nyquist is the most important to his team's success. Maine was pitiful last year, but Nyqust helped them to a three-way tie for 3rd place in the conference. Nyquist has been among the top scorers in the nation all season, but the heat he put on down the stretch has him looking like a good bet for the Hobey.
Why he won't win: Because he's a sophomore, sadly. You would think this is something that would be more impressive, but it's extremely rare that sophomores win and people have been bringing it up as if it's a negative for him. What also could hurt him is that he didn't win his conference's award for player of the year -- that went to free agent Bobby Butler, who is also up for the Hobey.
Both players have very real chances of getting it done. The list is whittled down to three on April 1st, with the winner being selected on the 9th.
American Hockey League
|3||Logan Pyett||Grand Rapids||68||9||19||28||+4||29
||1A, +1, 2PIM in 3GP|
|4||Travis Ehrhardt||Grand Rapids||38||0||5||5||-10||34||DNP||healthy scratch|
|5||Jakub Kindl||Grand Rapids||61||3||22||24||-10||59||1A, -1, 4PIM in 3GP|
|7||Sebastien Piche||Grand Rapids||9||0||0||0||-1||4||Playing in Toledo (ECHL)|
|8||Cory Emmerton||Grand Rapids||64||10||19||29
||-1||16||1G in 3GP|
|9||Evan McGrath||Grand Rapids||56||8
||11||19||-18||25||Loaned to Syracuse (AHL)|
|12||Dick Axelsson||Grand Rapids||17||2||3||5||+1||6||Playing in Farjestad (SEL)|
|13||Jan Mursak||Grand Rapids||67||20||15||35||+11||42||1A, 4PIM in 3GP|
|17||Francis Pare||Grand Rapids||66||13||19||32||+17||16
||1A, +1, 2PIM in 3GP|
|18||Mattias Ritola||Grand Rapids||61||16||18||34||-6||46||1G, +1 in 3GP|
|25||Jamie Tardif||Grand Rapids||65||13||13||26||-11||74||2A, +1, 4PIM in 3GP|
|27||Tomas Tatar||Grand Rapids||48||13||14||27||+8||10||DNP|
|28||Sergei Kolosov||Grand Rapids||54||1||4||5||-7||17||1A, +1 in 3GP|
|31||Daniel Larsson||Grand Rapids||45||20||21||1||2.83
||.905||2-0, GAA down, sv% up|
|35||Thomas McCollum||Grand Rapids||27||7||14
||2||3.58||.878||0-0-1, GAA down, sv% up||Hasn't won since Dec.13|
|36||Jordan Pearce||Grand Rapids||5||1||2||0||3.82||.875||Playing in Toledo (ECHL)
|20||Travis Ehrhardt||Toledo||3||1||1||2||+4||0||Playing in Grand Rapids|
|25||Sebastien Piche||Toledo||40||5||20||25||+1||55||2A, -1, 4PIM in 2GP|
|30||Thomas McCollum||Toledo||4||2||1||0||4.48||.864||Playing in Grand Rapids|
|35||Jordan Pearce||Toledo||31||12||13||2||3.69||.888||0-0-1, GAA down, sv% up|
|7||Brendan Smith||Wisconsin||36||15||29||44||58||4A in 2GP||In WCHA tourny vs. St Cloud St.|
|7||Max Nicastro||Boston U.||36||3||12||15||26||2GP||in HE tourny vs. Maine|
|16||Nick Oslund||St. Cloud St.||39||4||5||9||22
||3GP||In WCHA tourny vs. Wisconsin|
|89||Bryan Rufenach||Clarkson||34||5||15||20||53||Season over|
|89||Gustav Nyquist||Maine||37||18||41||59||16||3A in 3GP||
in HE tourny vs. Boston U.
Swedish Eliteserien -- Regular season completed
||24||2PIM in 1GP||playoffs vs. Skelleftea (0-1)|
|16||Anton Axelsson||Timra||50||5||6||11||-19||6||1GP||playoffs vs. HV71 (0-1)|
|18||Joakim Andersson||Frolunda||55||6||12||18||+6||42||2PIM in 1GP||playoffs vs. Linkopings (1-0)|
|24||Jesper Samuelsson||Timra||23||0||1||1||+0||8||Playing in SWE-2
||1GP||playoffs vs. Timra (1-0)|
Swedish Allsvenskan -- Regular season completed
|16||Johan Ryno||AIK||47||9||11||20||+7||34||4PIM in 2GP|
|--||Adam Almqvist||Troja/Ljungby||0||0||0||0||0||0||Playing with HV71 (SEL)|
Swedish J20 League
|4||Adam Almqvist||HV71||15||5||29||34||+14||14||Playing with HV71 (SEL)|
Kontinental Hockey League
|21||Gennady Stolyarov||HC MVD||1||0||0||0||0||Finally made season debut|
|26||Jiri Hudler||Moscow Dynamo||51||19||32||51||16||Eliminated from playoffs|
Ontario Hockey League
|10||Stephen Johnston||Windsor||18||4||5||9||-3||19||1A, -1, 2PIM in 2GP||Playoffs vs. Erie (1-0)|
||Traded to Windsor
|18||Brian Lashoff||Kingston||58||6||21||27||-10||71||-1 in 3GP||Playoffs vs. Brampton (0-0)|
Western Hockey League
|9||Brent Raedeke||Edmonton||39||17||14||31||+4||60||Traded to Brandon|
||25||+12||35||1G, +2, 4PIM in 2GP
||Playoffs vs. Swift Current (1-0)|
|13||Landon Ferraro||Red Deer||53||16
||30||46||-18||55||-5, 4PIM in 2GP
||Playoffs vs. Saskatoon (0-0)|
|19||Willie Coetzee||Red Deer||72||29||52||81||+10||32||1A in 2GP||Playoffs vs. Saskatoon (0-0)|
|24||Mitchell Callahan||Kelowna||72||20||27||47||-3||165||1G, -3 in 2GP||
Playoffs vs. Everett (0-0)
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
|11||Andrej Nestrasil||Victoriaville||50||16||35||51||+4||40||1G, 1A, +2, 2PIM in 2GP||Playoffs vs. Shawinigan (0-0)|
|14||Gleason Fournier||Rimouski||58||13||37||50||+4||76||1A in 2GP||Playoffs vs. Chicoutimi (0-0)|
United States Hockey League
|6||Nick Jensen||Green Bay||47||6||19||25||+30||35||1A, +3, 2PIM in 2GP||Regular season doesn't end until 1st week of April|