Keith Gave of Fox Sports Detroit posted an article this morning about the Detroit Red Wings prospects in Grand Rapids. There are more than a few points of interest that drew my ire, not because I simply disagree with them but also because the different viewpoints have organizational impacts.
It starts early:
The defense looks strong, with several players coming. But up front most of the franchise's best prospects are already in Detroit. (emphasis mine)
I'm going to be generous about the "prospect" label and stick to what the Red Wings' official site lists on the main roster and prospects pages. But it's a bit weird to consider some guys that are already in Detroit "prospects."
Some of Detroit's younger players this season were Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan, guys who spent heaps of time in Grand Rapids. Certainly the three of them lost the "prospect" label last season. Tomas Jurco walks the line between prospect and graduate, considering his age and the fact that he was a healthy scratch on occasion this season. But with 99 NHL regular season games under his belt, it's a pretty safe bet that he's no longer a "prospect," even if he still has plenty of time left to develop at age 22.
All four of those guys are listed on the main roster page. Only one of them can really even try to call himself a prospect.
There's also Landon Ferraro. He's listed on the main roster page, likely because he finished the season in Detroit. At 14 NHL games, split evenly between the regular season and playoffs, it's still possible to call him a prospect, but at age 23, his time is winding down.
What about the players on the actual "prospects" page? Well, after taking a gander over there, I have a hard time believing the Red Wings' best prospects are already in Detroit. Of course, there is the issue of "these guys aren't in the NHL yet, therefore they are inferior," but are you going to tell me that Ferraro is a better prospect than Dylan Larkin? Than Andreas Athanasiou? Than Axel Holmstrom? Tomas Jurco is certainly a skilled player, but at this point, is he better than Teemu Pulkkinen?
That doesn't even consider 2013's No. 20 overall pick Anthony Mantha, of whom Red Wings Senior Vice President and Alternate Governor Jim Devellano had some poorly calibrated words:
And one player, former No. 1 pick Anthony Mantha, has not come close to meeting expectations.
"Very, very, very disappointing," said Wings Senior Vice President Jim Devellano, who saw the Griffins play their final three games, including Sunday's 3-1 win, over the Toronto Marlies. "And I say that with a lot of sadness. Coming out of junior, we had such high hopes for him."
Yeesh. At the very least, I hope the comment was merely poorly calibrated, and that he doesn't actually believe the way he made this comment.
I would contend that Mantha's season isn't disappointing at all, and that most of it was the product of inflated expectations, but the point still remains that we are not alone in thinking this is an absurd overreaction to Mantha's first professional season. Whether you're disappointed with what actually happened or not, 15 goals and 33 points in 62 games after enduring a broken tibia is pretty damn good for a first full season with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Even if you're disappointed by the output from this season, 6-foot-5, 214-pound behemoths who have a history of putting the puck in the net don't grow on trees.
There is precedent for Mantha doing this amazing thing called "developing." Here are some stats, courtesy of his player page:
|Val-d'Or Foreurs 2011-12||63||22||29||51|
|Val-d'Or Foreurs 2012-13||67||50||39||89|
|Val-d'Or Foreurs 2013-14||57||57||63||120|
Mantha scored less than one point per game in juniors during his first full season with Val-d'Or, then he lit it up his last two seasons. I don't think it's "very, very, very disappointing" that he's running at around 0.5 points per game in Grand Rapids in his first full season. Maybe there's some concern if he spends three full seasons in Grand Rapids, but we're not at that point yet.
I may disagree with the notion that Mantha's rookie season in Grand Rapids is a disappointment, but I can still see how it would be a disappointment to some people, even someone who "had such high hopes" for him like Devellano. It's absurd, however, that all that hope would wither away with one below-expectations season. If Mantha were destined for a fast-track to NHL glory, he almost certainly would have been selected much higher than the 20th spot where Detroit picked him in 2013. And if we remember that he had a fractured tibia, it's a pretty safe bet that Mantha would have a much better go of things if he can have a full offseason healthy to train and prepare for next season. If Devellano really has "a lot of sadness" about Mantha, 29 other teams would be overjoyed to take him off the Red Wings' hands.
So there are two things to remember: 1) most of Detroit's best forward prospects aren't yet in Detroit and 2) one of their best is still Anthony Mantha.