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Prospect Watch: Setting the Table

Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Even though we’re barely past the halfway point of the season, in recent memory this time of year has meant one thing for Red Wings fans: looking ahead to next year.

Amid the current playoff drought, Detroit has frequently found itself a healthy distance out of a playoff spot more often than not come late January, with fans left to wonder how prospects are doing and what lottery picks are the most enticing fits in the team’s system.

It’s understandable then that attention this year is much more focused on the Red Wings’ current position in the standings, as the prospect of a playoff chase is piquing the appetites of fans of a team that was most often projected to still miss by a healthy margin.

But when you look at the composition of the team, you may realize its prospects are more important than ever. As a whole, Detroit’s improvement over the last two seasons can be credited more to savvy free agent and trade acquisitions, rather than the draft capital attained as a product of the last seven springs being without meaningful hockey. And while that’s disappointing, those are the cards that were dealt. Rebuilds are not easy. Mistakes are costly.

The Red Wings are certainly not without meaningful pieces from those years, though, and I think it’s clear from the construction of the current roster that – while playoffs would be a nice bonus this year – it means relatively little in terms of how the rebuild is going. Most of the veterans acquired in recent years have been added on reasonable contracts, with the hopes that players to be covered below will eventually push them out or down the lineup so that the team’s rise up the standings can be relatively free of turbulence. 

So we’ll present this version of Prospect Watch as a bit of a “stock watch” at an important time of year. Most leagues outside the NHL are approaching playoff push, so prospects who started hot can cement their strong seasons, or those who were a little slower out of the gate have a lot of meaningful hockey left to make this season a success. Below is my own opinion of whose stock is up, down, or neutral since the start of the 2023-24 season.

We’ll split this edition into two based on volume, with the AHL, ECHL and junior ranks covered today, with European and NCAA prospects to come on Friday.

Pro

(Grand Rapids unless noted)

Jan Bednar (ECHL Toledo) – Stock up. Bednar’s on a unique track as a prospect that Detroit pulled out of the QMJHL and signed to an AHL-only contract after a few years marred by injury, stashing him in the ECHL for depth. While his 0.890 SV% isn’t pretty, he’s 12-3-4 on one of the ECHL’s best teams, with better numbers than John Lethemon – his tandem-mate and the reigning ECHL Goalie of the Year.

Jonatan Berggren – Stock up. There wasn’t much left to prove for Berggren in the AHL, but he’s done all he can to still move the needle. He’s easily the team’s most dangerous offensive threat, a compliment on a roster that features the likes of Austin Czarnik and Taro Hirose, who have produced good numbers for years. Berggren is playing more of a direct game and shooting more often, leading the team in scoring despite a few NHL stints. I don’t put stock into the rumors that he’s disgruntled – anyone would be after playing 67 games in the NHL one year and ending up primarily in the AHL the next. His play doesn’t show it, so he’s forcing Detroit’s hand to make room for him next season or find another home for him.

Sebastian Cossa – Stock up. There was a bit of hand-wringing over Cossa starting with a full ECHL season while Jesper Wallstedt – who a majority of draft sources had ranked ahead of Cossa as the top goalie of the 2021 class – tore the AHL up as a rookie. But the development of anyone – goalies especially – is not linear, and Cossa’s Toledo stint appears to have done him well. The 7-7-3 record is more reflective of team play (it’s a young defensive group), he’s otherwise been just as good if not better than Michael Hutchinson, who has been a steady AHL starter for over a decade, and he has picked up his play of late just as the rest of the team has.

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