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Prospects Watch

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No, that's not a tri-code for the Los Angeles Lakers. It's an acronym created and tweeted by Yahoo Sports' and former Detroit Free Press writer Nick Cotsonika. It means Life After Lidstrom. As much as we don't want to believe it and really do wish Nicklas Lidstrom was a robot and could play forever, the fact remains that sooner or later The Perfect Human is going to retire. It might be this summer. It might be next summer. It might be three years from now. Lidstrom might not even know at this moment. TPH is still one of the top defensemen in the game and he'll likely continue to play as long as he can compete at a high level.

But what happens when the greatest European player of all-time does retire? I can tell you that it won't be what happened last night to the Red Wings. Let's face it, the Wings didn't show up last night and played like crap (especially defensively). There was a ton of panic and concern that all of the sudden the Wings would forget how to play without their Perfect Leader. I'll tell you right now, that's not going to happen. Not as long as the Illitchs, Ken Holland and Mike Babcock are in charge of this organ-i-zation. The team might not be as great defensively as they've been in the past, but they're not going to be as bad as we saw last night. No Lidstrom means money to spend. Holland isn't going to sit on his hands and do nothing when he does go.

We don't know what Holland will do in free agency or in trades, but what we do know is there is some talent seasoning in the minors and preparing for their chance to wear the Winged Wheel. Some are defensemen some are forwards, all of them have some sort of potential. After the jump, I take a look at some of the Wings prospects and which guys have potential to make an impact in the next decade and in Life After Lidstrom.

Ready for the Next Level

Brendan Smith, Defense
Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)

Height: 6’2’’ Weight: 198 lbs. Shoots: Left

Hockey's Future Red Wings Central The Production Line
Rankings 1 1 3

37 8 15 23 +5 53

I'm sure you're not surprised to see Mr. Smith on this list. At this point, we all know what this kids potential is. He's not going to step right in and be the next Lidstrom, but his ceiling is very high. The Wings draft him in the first round of the 2007 draft and let him develop at the college level at Wisconsin. He became an AHL All-Star last year in his rookie season. Last season, he dealt with some injuries and average a points every two games. This season he's ahead of that average and is on pace to cut his penalty minutes down. Smith had a cup of coffee with Detroit earlier this year (I still have his NHL debut saved on my DVR) and was impressive in his three games. He still has some work to do defensively and will need some time to adjust when he's up full time next season, but he showed that he has the instincts and the talent to play at an elite level.

Gustav Nyquist, Left Wing
Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)

Height: 5’11’’ Weight: 185 lbs. Shoots: Left

Hockey's Future Red Wings Central The Production Line
Rankings 3 2 1

39 12 28 40 EVEN 14

Nyquist has played five games this year with the Wings and registers one assist. The 22-year-old Swede came over to the States and took the college route to the NHL. He dominated the Hockey East conference while playing for Jimmy Howard’s alma mater Maine. His final two years at Maine he had 61 points in 36 games and 51 points in 36 games. He led all Hockey East players. It’s been more of the same in his first year with Grand Rapids. The kid has 37 points in 37 games and was named an AHL All-Star this year. He’s going to make the main roster next season. He’ll most likely start out on the 3rd or 4th lines because that’s how the Red Wings system works, but he has all the potential in the world to be a top six forward.

Tomas Tatar, Left Wing
Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)

Height: 5’10’’ Weight: 186 lbs. Shoots: Left

Hockey's Future Red Wings Central The Production Line
Rankings 2 5 2

43 12 20 32 +2 33

A former second round pick of the Wings, Tatar has the potential to be a top six forward. It seems like he’s dropped in most prospect rankings, but I think that’s more due to the Wings acquiring better prospects and not so much him failing to perform well. He’s not a point per game player, but the ability to produce offensively is no doubt there. His speed is one of his best attributes. He’s the not the biggest guy and won’t out-muscle other players, but he’ll definitely use his speed to gain the advantage in the offensive zone. I was at the Joe for his NHL debut on New Year’s Eve 2010 against the Islanders. Of course, the Wings lost the game as they never beat the Isles, but Tatar did notch his first career goal in his first game. He scored the game tying in the 3rd period and I remember him skating along the glass after the goal and grabbing the Wings logo on his sweater and pimping the Winged Wheel. The kid has a fun attitude and he works hard. Unless he’s part of a trade, he’ll be a Wing next year and could development into a real solid player.

Potential Stardom

Tomas Jurco, Right Wing
Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

Height: 6’2’’ Weight: 193 lbs. Shoots: Left

Hockey's Future Red Wings Central The Production Line
Rankings 5 6 4

36 25 29 55 +33 27

I’m calling it now. He’s the next stud. When Datsyuk is a second line center and Hank is spending the last few years of his deal on the third line, Jurco could be the go-to guy this team leans on. The kid is a YouTube sensation and he’s getting better on the ice too. He’s averaging just under a point and a half per game this year in the Q. Last season he was producing at under a point per game rate. He’s eligible to play in juniors again next season, but he was one of the last cuts from training camp last fall. Most prospects his age are some of the first cut from camp and set back to their juniors teams. Jurco stuck around and saw some extended time in the preseason. It will be interesting if the Wings sign him and send him to the Griffins next year. He could be one of the few prospects to reach the main roster sooner rather than later.

Teemu Pulkkinen, Left Wing
Jokerit (SM-Liiga)

Height: 5’11'' Weight: 183 lbs. Shoots: Right

Hockey's Future Red Wings Central The Production Line
Rankings 4 7 7

40 14 17 31 6

In the 2010 NHL draft, the Red Wings selected a potential new set of Euro-Twins. One of the two picks was Pulkkinen. He was once one of the top ranked European players and projected to be a top 10 or 20 pick in the ‘10 draft. Injuries caused him to drop and the Red Wings have a potential steal on their hands with this 4th round pick. At 5’11’’, the Finland native is not the biggest guy, but he’s a goal scorer. He wants the puck and he’s going to shoot it. Recently, he had 6 goals and 4 assists in the World Junior championships. In a blowout of Denmark, he scored four consecutive goals in the 3rd period. He currently has 30 points in 39 games in the top men’s league in Finland.

Petr Mrazek, Goalie
Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

Height: 6’0’’ Weight: 184 lbs. Catches: Left

Hockey's Future Red Wings Central The Production Line
Rankings 14 8 11

36 22-8-4 2.82 .917% 2

Mrazek might not be the highest on many of the rankings, but after his performance at the World Juniors Championship his potential seems to be sky high. He stood on his head and stole the show with 52 saves leading the Czech Republic to a 5-2 win over the United States. He followed that up with a 43 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss to Russia in the quarterfinals. Mrazek was named the tournaments top goaltender. His first game back in the OHL he registered a shutout win. Maybe, just maybe, this 5th round pick can develop and share time with Jimmy Howard down the road before eventually taking over as the teams number one goaltender.

The Best of the Rest

Riley Sheahan, Center
Notre Dame (NCAA)

Height: 6’2’’ Weight: 202 lbs. Shoots: Left

Hockey's Future Red Wings Central The Production Line
Rankings 6 4 5

25 8 15 23 +1 16

A big power forward that can play on both ends of the ice? Sounds like a recipe for success when trying to crack the Red Wings roster. Sheahan would easily be one of the biggest forwards on the Wings. He plays at Notre Dame where they play a defensive style of hockey. By the time he gets to the Wings, he’ll be a responsible player. He started at ND as a 17-year-old freshman and is now in his junior year. As a sophomore, he had 22 points in 40 games. This season he’s picked up his offensive game and has 21 points in 23 games (7 G, 14 A). Sheahan has the potential to be a big, top six forward.

Calle Jarnkrok, Center
Brynas (SEL)

Height: 5’11’’ Weight: 170 lbs. Shoots: Right

Hockey's Future Red Wings Central The Production Line
Rankings 7 3 6

42 12 17 29 10

Jarnkrok is the other half of the potential second generation of Euro-Twins selected in the 2010 draft. The coolest park about the kid? His last name means "Iron Hook." How awesome is that? A lot of rankings have Jarnkrok rated higher than Pulkkinen. I personally like Teemu’s potential better, but that doesn’t mean that Calle is a scrub. The 20-year-old is putting up a point every two games against the top competition in the Swedish Elite League. Last season, he had three playoff goals in three games before hurting his shoulder.

Xavier Ouellet, Defense
Blainville-Broisbriand Armada (QMJHL)

Height: 6’0’’ Weight: 187 lbs. Shoots: Left

Hockey's Future Red Wings Central The Production Line
Rankings 9 13 9

46 16 27 43 56

Other than Brendan Smith, Ouellet is the only defensemen on this list. I think Ouellet has the potential to be a 2nd pair defensemen. You never know and he could surprise us all to be top two D man, but he’ll likely find himself as nice bottom four offensive-defenseman. Last year in the Q, he put up 43 points in 67 games. This season he already has 41 points in 44 games. Playing at almost a point per game as a blue liner is pretty solid.

Marek Tvrdon, Left Wing
Vancouver Giants (WHL)

Height: 6’2’’ Weight: 212 lbs. Shoots: Rights

Hockey's Future Red Wings Central The Production Line
Rankings NR 10 13

42 18 32 50 -3 30

Tvrdon is the big sleeper on this list. A serious shoulder injury and surgery caused him to miss a majority of last season. He probably would have been selected in one of the top few rounds, but he fell to the Wings in the 5th round of the 2011 draft. He’s one of those guys that could be know as the next stud Red Wings found in the late rounds of a draft. After returning from surgery last season, he had 11 points (6G, 5A) in 12 games. This year he’s putting up 1.22 points per game. Just imagine five years from now, the Wings could have a trio of 6’2’’ forwards (Jurco, Sheahan and Tvrdon) leading the way in Hockeytown.

Let's Go Red Wings.