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Top 25 Under 25: Taro Hirose’s 10 games good enough to drop in at #11.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Detroit Red Wings Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Left Wing

Height/Weight: 5’10” / 161 lbs

Shoots: Left

Birthday: June 30, 1996 (23 years old)

Birthplace: Calgary, AB, Canada

Draft: Undrafted (NCAA Free Agent; Signed March 12)

Stats

What do we like about him?

Two words: Hockey IQ. I had the privilege of covering Hirose for three years at Michigan State, and he’s been wowing me since his freshman year. It didn’t take long for him to show Red Wings fans just how smart of a player he is when he put up 7 points in his 10 games last year after being signed. Him and Athanasiou developed some nice chemistry as well, and hopefully we get to see more of that this year. Hirose’s hockey IQ is something that can’t be taught, and his vision and poise just make him one of the smartest hockey players I’ve ever seen. It’s easy to drool over hockey players when they dominate at the college/junior level, but when it’s a player’s hockey IQ, that’s a big deal. It’s rare to find prospects who know where to be, where everyone else will be and where the puck is going at such a young age. If Hirose can develop the rest of his game, which is much more attainable than developing a high hockey IQ, he could turn out to be a very good player for the Red Wings.

What needs work?

We’ll start simple, and it’s an obvious one, but he needs to get bigger and stronger. Yes his 10 game sample size was nice, but the longer he plays in the NHL, the tougher it will be to keep up at 161 pounds. Hopefully an entire offseason with an NHL team can fix that and we see him over 170 at training camp. His skating could be developed a bit more too. He does a nice job of keeping up with guys, but his acceleration and overall speed need to get better, otherwise it will be tough to keep up for an entire 82-game season. These two areas sort of go hand in hand. The stronger he gets, the quicker he should get as well. Overall, these downsides to Hirose’s game are much easier to work on now that he’s at the pro level, and hopefully we see this improvement over the course of the year.

What’s next for him?

With a roster filled with plenty of prospects trying to crack the 12 forward spots on the team, it’s tough to know for sure just where Hirose will be on Opening Day. I’d assume he makes the team right away, which is probably the general consensus among fans, but another part of me sees the Red Wings wanting him to get a bit more seasoning at the pro level before keeping him up for the long haul. Either way, there’s no doubt he will see plenty of time with the Red Wings this year, I just wonder as to when his time will start. The Red Wings could have a very nice new piece to the rebuild in the form of Taro Hirose, and if he continues to develop his game, there’s just no telling just how good of a Top 6 forward he could be.