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Four Red Wings Make Top 50 Prospects List

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Dylan Larkin: Stud
Dylan Larkin: Stud
Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Last week, Cory Pronman published his top 50 NHL prospects list on ESPN Insider and he put four Red Wings prospects on the list. Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Joe Hicketts, and Axel Holmstrom all made the top 50 cut, and Pronman's assessment is pretty spot on. You may be surprised to find Dylan Larkin ahead of Mantha on the list, but based on their individual progression so far, I think it's deserved.

The Rankings

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#16: Dylan Larkin

"Since being drafted in June, Larkin has done nothing short of dominate. He's been arguably the top drafted freshman in college hockey, and had a fantastic WJC for Team USA. His speed is elite, and at a level you don't usually see for such a big, strong forward. He's not super dynamic in terms of puck skills, but he understands how to create chances and plays good defense, too." - Cory Pronman

Even before his stunning World Juniors performance, Larkin was blowing away expectations at the University of Michigan. Larkin is currently 2nd on his team in scoring with 25 points (8G 17A) in 18 games and he's tied for 2nd on the team in power play goals with 4. Larkin has played every game for Michigan expect the two he missed while playing for Team USA in the World Juniors, and for a freshman to play in every game shows how valuable he is and how much his coach trusts and values him. He's had eight multi-point games so far this season, and last weekend he tallied a career high five points in a game, scoring two goals and 3 assists in a 10-6 victory over Ohio State. Larkin is centering Michigan's 2nd line and playing both power play and penalty kill, and is trusted in any situation. Every player learns and develops at a different rate, and so far Dylan Larkin's feet aren't the only thing about him that's fast. How about this fun fact. Prior to joining U of M, Larkin played two years in the UHSL, and right now he's one point away from tying his career high, in 8 fewer games played, while doing it at the college level. Larkin has been nothing short of incredibly impressive so far this year and he's deservedly garnered a lot of praise. If you enjoyed Mantha Mania, you're really going to love Larkin Lunacy! It's still early in his career so there's no reason to pile on lofty expectations, but so far he's been more than impressive. Heck, he's the Big-10 1st star or the week this week, was the 2nd star of the week last week, and was the 2nd star of the week back in October. People are taking notice already.

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#28: Anthony Mantha

"Mantha hasn't gotten off to a poor start to his first pro season, but there have certainly been a few bumps along the way. He can be so fun to watch because he's incredibly quick for a 6-5 forward, with a high skill level and the shot and IQ to know how to finish. He's taken a penalty in 13 of his first 21 AHL games, and his work off the puck still isn't great. Mantha has a ton of upside -- he scored 57 goals in 57 QMJHL games last season -- but Detroit fans will need to be patient." - Cory Pronman

There were a lot of people adamantly screaming at the top of their lungs for Mantha to be on the Wings out of training camp this year (before he broke his leg, obviously) and with how well he did in Juniors, sometimes it's easy to forget that the QMJHL is worlds different from the AHL, much less the NHL. So far in Grand Rapids, Mantha has 12 points (6G 6A) in 27 games and a staggering 45 PIMs; he's 3rd on the team in penalty minutes, behind only Brennan Evans and Chris Bruton, the team's "fighters". Watching Mantha in Grand Rapids this season has been disappointing, despite my expectations that he'd go through the same growing pains most other junior players do. Even taking his early injury into consideration, the way he plays the game makes it clear he has a lot to learn before he's ready for the NHL. As Pronman points out, Mantha's going to need patients. Mantha started to show improvement when he was playing with Andreas Athanasiou, but when AA went down with a broken jaw, Mantha took a step back. His biggest downfall is that he hangs out around the perimeter far too much, doesn't use his size and skill to get the puck and create opportunities for himself, and far too often is invisible on the ice. These are all things that can be fixed, it's just going to take him the time and effort. What he is good at is making people want to punch his face in because he'll do things like get his stick between their legs away from the puck. He's been involved in more scrums in 27 games in Grand Rapids than I think any other player has. The problem with doing things away from the play to try to get under people's skin, is that he often gets caught doing it, and those things he's doing are penalties. I don't expect Mantha to be in the call-up discussion at all this season, and we'll see where he is next year, but it's important to keep realistic expectation on him and realize that even with a lot of skill, he still has a lot of work to do.

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#31: Joe Hicketts

"Before I started the first of many versions of this ranking, the first question I pondered was, "where do I slot little Joe Hicketts?" He's a 5-8 defenseman who went undrafted just six months ago, and up through September was not even in an NHL organization. Now, he's a top 50 prospect. I can see the pitchforks already."

"Here's the reasoning: The best players in a draft class tend to be the best players in an age group. From last year at two under-18 tournaments, to playing well in an injury-shortened season, dominating the WHL this season and playing well as an under-age player at the WJC, Hicketts has shown himself to be one of the very best 1996 birth dates. He's a very good skater, with above-average skill and shooting abilities, and despite his size, he was the only Canadian defenseman to be used regularly on both the power play and penalty kill at the WJC. He's very effective defensively, despite his size."

"The main counter-argument will be the size issue, and whether he can continue to be effective against the best (and biggest) players in the world. That is incorporated in this ranking, it just doesn't kill him because frankly, the size issue is somewhat overvalued in player evaluations. Small defensemen can play and play well in the NHL if they have a dynamic skill set. Hicketts certainly fits that description." - Cory Pronman

Hickett's journey from undrafted and doubted, to camp invitee and free agent signing by the Red Wings, to making the World Juniors team this year has been a really fun one to watch. Keeping in mind he's a defenseman, Hicketts is 3rd on his team in points, 30th in WHL scoring, 2nd in WHL scoring among defensemen, 3rd in WHL power play assists, and 9th in WHL shorthanded goals. A lot of people have underestimated him because he's only 5'8" 175#, but he's a stout, strong, kid whose size doesn't hold him back. Last summer in the Prospect Tournament he was playing against some very large players and he handled himself very well. He's quick, smart, skilled, and he doesn't play like a small player. For size reference,  he's only 3" shorter and 8# lighter than Teemu Pulkkinen, and 2" shorter and 10# lighter than Tomas Tatar. Size isn't everything and I think HIcketts has all the skills to be a very effective player at higher levels, despite his shorter stature.  I don't put much stock in a player's size, especially since I've seen so many "undersized" players come to Detroit and prove you don't have to be big to be good.

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#34: Axel Holmstrom

"Picked in the seventh round, 196th overall in the 2014 draft, Holmstrom has played so well this season in the SHL and at the WJC as an under-age player that I could not reasonably justify keeping him out of the top 50. He's a highly skilled center with a good frame, impressive two-way hockey sense and can be given heavy usage in all situations. His skating is the only flag for me right now, as he lacks explosiveness and is overall below average in that area." - Cory Pronman

Young Homer started the season on the Under 20 Skelleftea team, but was quickly promoted to the big boy Skelleftea team, where he's the youngest player at just 18. Axel is a skilled grinder who plays with some snarl and can surprise you with some nice skill plays. As Pronman says, he plays power play, kills penalties, and is already proving to be a well rounded player. He's not a terrible skater, so for an 18 year old kid to be slightly below average isn't a concern for me. He has the chance to get better, and hey, not everyone can be a great skater, some have to settle for adequate. We'll see what his skating future holds later.  He's played 4th line center most of the year so far but has played 3rd line center and 2nd line center in his last 2 games since returning from the World Juniors. Young Holmstrom has the potential to be another late round gem pick by the Wings. He has 14 pts in 29 games with Skelleftea, but he's also playing against older, bigger, and more experienced players and from what I can gather, he's doing very well.

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There are 30 NHL team and the Red Wings have 4 prospects in the top 50, that's pretty impressive. But then we are talking about the Red Wings, and their drafting and player development are second to none.

Are you surprised to see any of these guys on the top 50 list?