The Detroit Red Wings revealed their roster for the 2021 prospect tournament in Traverse City on Wednesday, and, since that time, there’s been some discussion regarding the expectations for the top prospects taking part in the tournament.
As Shawn Horcoff suggested to The Athletic’s Max Bultman, however, the tournament is something more akin to a “showcase” this year: the teams engaged in the tournament will either play in 3 or 4 games over the course of the 5-day event, and there’s been no indication as to how the winner of the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup will be determined.
From the Red Wings front office’s perspective, the lack of playoff games is much less relevant to the process of acclimating their prospects to a peer-vs-peer, high-level tournament’s worth of play so that “the kids” can hit the ice running prior to the hustle and bustle of the longest training camp (6 days) in over a decade.
That being said, the players will still be evaluated based upon their play. While the Wings’ status as playing in only 3 games gives Detroit’s participants “fewer touches” of the puck, the Wings’ management wants to manage the players’ workload over the course of what will be almost 4 weeks’ worth of preseason action.
Long story long, the prospect tournament, for the Red Wings, consists of 3 games–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday–and between the live stream to fans around the world, the fans and scouts in attendance at the rink, and yours truly, that gives us only 3 opportunities to make observations and impressions of players who inevitably begin to blend into the 50+ players taking part in the main camp.
Some of the youngsters really do “fade” into the group when the NHL veterans come to Traverse City, and main camp begins. So these 3 “touches,” tournament, showcase, exhibition–whatever you want to call them–matter. They’re the three games where the spotlight is squarely aimed on the prospects and the prospects playing against their peers.
So let’s talk about the players participating in the Wings’ prospect tournament, their backgrounds, and perhaps some of the expectations for them going into next Thursday.
#23 Lucas Raymond, LW: I guess we start at the top, then. Raymond, 19, was the 4th overall draft pick by the Red Wings in 2020, and he’s listed at 5’10” and 183 pounds. Raymond didn’t have a dominant first full season at the pro level in Sweden with Frolunda, posting 6 goals and 12 assists for 18 points in 36 games played, but it turns out that he had a nagging elbow injury that required surgical repairs.
Raymond’s still considered the Red Wings’ best forward prospect, and he’s been compared to Mitch Marner. Coming off an abbreviated season, coming off surgery, and knowing that he’s going to have to adjust to the smaller rink and increased pace of play of North American hockey, these “touches” will be big for his acclimation process.
In an ideal world, sure, Raymond dominates among 18-to-25-year-olds, he dominates during training camp and the exhibition season, and he forces the Wings to give him a top-six forward’s spot. In reality, he’s probably going to need time in Grand Rapids to truly sort his game out and get back to 100% in terms of his elite-level skills translating to North American pro hockey. He’s got a couple seasons’ worth of partial and then one season of full SHL play in his back pocket, but most European prospects still find that it takes half-a-season or more to deal with the pace and physicality he’ll be facing playing against men who want to exploit that 5’10” stature.
Elite skills? In passing, shooting and skating, he’s got talent in spades. But patience might be required as he gets up to speed again.
#46 Chase Pearson, C: Pearson is at a very different end of the developmental spectrum from Raymond, both in terms of his skill set and professional outlook. At 24 years of age, the 6’2,” 201-pound center is expected to make an impact at the NHL level as a checking-line center (think Luke Glendening 2.0).
What Pearson did in his second AHL season, however, surprised many observers: he posted 8 goals and 14 assists for 22 points over the course of only 28 games, replicating his college-level production (he was a point-per-game player at the University of Maine, where he served as captain).
Whether Pearson can prove to be a more offensively-inclined forward who challenges presumptive 4th line center Mitchell Stephens for a spot on the Wings’ roster is yet to be determined, but a strong prospect tournament could help his confidence going into training camp, regardless of whether he’s AHL-bound for one final year or whether he hopes to muscle his way into a faster track to the NHL.
#51 Hayden Verbeek, C**: Verbeek is a bit of an oddity in that the 23-year-old was snagged from Montreal in the Jon Merrill trade as a player on a two-way NHL contract, but he chose to re-sign with the Red Wings on an AHL-only deal. At 5’10” and 183 pounds, he’s not big, but Wings assistant GM Pat Verbeek’s nephew has shown brief flourishes of offense at the OHL, AHL and ECHL levels of play. Now, he needs to earn a spot on what might be a stacked Griffins roster, and playing with poise is going to be his goal in this tournament.
#52 Jonatan Berggren, C: Berggren may very well be coming into the prospect tournament with as much, if not more hype than Raymond. The 21-year-old prospect is optimistically listed by EliteProspects at 5’11” and 183 pounds, and he’s coming off an SHL season in which he posted 12 goals and 33 assists for 45 points in 49 games with Skelleftea AIK of the SHL.
Berggren, like Raymond, isn’t big, but he’s made steady physical and in-game progress since being drafted as a 150-pound kid by the Red Wings some three seasons ago. Again, as he’s coming from the SHL (though Frolunda and Skelleftea were among the league’s top teams), he’s going to need to adjust to the smaller ice and faster pace of play in North America, so he’s slated for a season with the Grand Rapids Griffins at present.
He projects as an elite top-six forward, regardless of whether he’s used as a center or a winger, and if he steps in and plays smart hockey during the tournament, it will benefit him as he heads toward training camp.
#56 Pasquale Zito, C: Zito enters this season coming from a unique situation: the Red Wings’ 2021 draft pick (166th overall) did not play a competitive game during the 2020-2021 season, because the Ontario Hockey League and his Windsor Spitfires never got the OK to play as much as an exhibition game.
Zito posted 3 goals and 10 assists for 13 points in 43 games played with Windsor as a 17-year-old, but the 6,’ 174-pound center is known more for his status as a physical, agitating forward than he is for his scoring.
Zito told the Wings’ press corps that he had a bee under his saddle after being drafted in the later rounds of this year’s draft, and the more of a physical, nasty presence he can provide while playing among his peers, the better. He’s just going to have to prove that playing an instigator’s style is not a liability, because he’ll sit if he takes unnecessary penalties.
#58 Cameron Butler, RW*: Butler is a 19-year-old who was passed over in his second draft year, and the training camp invite stands at 6’4″ and 203 pounds. Like Zito, the Niagara IceDogs forward did not play a meaningful OHL game during the 2020-2021 season; during 2019-2020, he posted 32 points in 56 games split between Peterborough and Niagara.
EliteProspects describes Butler as a forechecking forward, and with his size and reach, it’s a little baffling as to why he wasn’t drafted, so: if he has a strong prospect tournament, he could serve as a “bonus draft pick,” like any one of the Red Wings’ invites. If he doesn’t dominate, he’s only got 3 games with which to display his skill set, and, with 13 forwards listed on the prospect tournament roster, he could find himself watching games in a suit, too.
That’s a lot on the line for a player with nothing to lose, and some sort of professional contract to possibly gain, given that the entire NHL, most AHL and ECHL teams and other organizations will be well-represented among the 100+ scouts who attend the tournament.
#61 Davis “T-Bone” Codd, RW*: Codd is the third OHL invite in a row here, and “T-Bone” might be the fans’ favorite already. He’s 18, he’s from Brighton, MI, and he stands at 5’9″ and 163 pounds. He played in the Little Caesars and Belle Tire programs as a youngster, and he was unable to play in a meaningful game during the 2020-2021 season, so he skated with the Chris Osgood and Jimmy Devellano-owned Saginaw Spirit in practices and scrimmages.
Word on the street is that he’s a pesky little booger of a player, and as the resident “local kid,” the still-draft-eligible forward has an opportunity to turn some heads.
#62 Cooper Walker, C*: If “T-Bone” is your local hero, Walker is the other “Little Engine That Could.” The 19-year-old Guelph Storm forward is our fourth consecutive OHL player and third consecutive invite on the list, and, like Codd, he stands at 5’9″ and 157 pounds. He’s got very limited OHL experience, and he’s not big, but we’ll see what he can provide along the way.
#64 Luke Toporowski, LW*: The son of NHL enforcer Kerry Toporowski, the 20-year-old free agent invite hasn’t been drafted in either of his draft-eligible years, and the 5’11,” 179-pound winger does his talking with his hands in a very different way than his father did. Toporowski posted 49 and 60-point seasons as an 18 and 19-year-old, respectively, and he headed to the USHL while the pandemic delayed the 2020-2021 WHL season, posting 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in 34 games with the Sioux Falls Stampede.
There’s scoring potential there, despite his very average size, and the fact that the Wings have only invited 13 prospects to the tournament means that there’s a lot of opportunity for Toporowski, if he seizes it.
#74 Cross Hanas, LW: I had the opportunity to see Hanas play at the World Junior Summer Showcase in July, skating for Team USA, and the 19-year-old winger is going into an absolutely pivotal season with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks this year. Hanas, drafted in 2020, has this year and next year to prove to the Red Wings that his status as a superb passer and shooter with slightly “heavy” feet still merits signing to an NHL contract. Hanas had a 49-point season with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks in 2019-2020, and, during this past season, he headed to the USHL, posting 3 goals and 13 assists for 16 points in 27 games.
That’s a bit of a step back development-wise, and Hanas needs to reestablish himself as a first-line winger who can post a point per game at the WHL level this season with Portland. As he works on his skating, his strong hands could provide the Wings’ prospects with scoring depth and some positive impressions for the Wings’ brass over the course of the 3 games to be played at the prospect tournament.
#78 Patrick Curry, C**: Curry is 25 years old, and he’s in a very different position from almost any other prospect in this tournament as he’s a Grand Rapids Griffins-contracted college graduate. He spent four years with the Boston University Terriers at the NCAA level, averaging close to a point per game in his final two seasons (the latter of which involved wearing the captain’s “C”), and he headed to Slovakia for a couple of games before posting a goal and 5 assists in 24 points for Grand Rapids this past season.
He’s an AHL/ECHL bubble player at the pro level, at least this year, with the tournament and training camp serving as his opportunity to prove to the Wings that he should play with the stacked Griffins instead of the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye.
#79 Kirill Tyutyayev, LW**: We’ve got a real Mystery Player here. The 20-year-old Tyutyayev signed an AHL contract with Grand Rapids as a 21-year-old graduate of a very different school–the Belarusian league, where the 5’9,” 146-pound mighty mite posted 11 goals and 21 assists for 32 points in 41 games, playing against men in a league that’s perhaps at an ECHL level.
Tyutyayev is downright tiny by today’s NHL standards, but he’s displayed point-per-game-or-higher scoring levels in developmental leagues, and the Red Wings were at least willing to bet on his talent with an AHL contract, which Tyutyayev took.
Is he a Pavel Datsyuk 2.0, from Datsyuk’s hometown of Yekaterinburg, no less? Is he just another obscure Russian player who’s too small to compete here in North America? Is he somewhere in between? We’ll find out starting next Thursday, and there is both promise in his scoring game and time for him left to impress. He’s not like Curry–he’s only 20.
#90 Joe Veleno, C: Joe Veleno is in a particularly unique situation here, too, because the 21-year-old center is expected to either battle for a spot with the Wings or, more likely, play as an offensive forward with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins. Veleno has filled out at 6’1″ and 194 pounds, and the two-way center had a good season with the SHL’s Malmo Redhawks, posting a solid 11 goals and 9 assists for 20 points in 46 games played in southern Sweden, far away from home.
The Red Wings may see Veleno’s upside as a 2nd-line center with skill, strong skating and poise to make plays and score goals, or they may envision Veleno as another Michael Rasmussen-style shut-down center–or, perhaps, something in between the two.
In any case, Veleno is an NHL-bound player, he’s got middle-to-top-six potential, and he should be very comfortable leading the team at the tournament.
#3 Jared McIsaac, D: McIsaac is my defensive version of Tyutyayev, a real “unknown quantity,” and I say that despite the fact that the 21-year-old defenseman has displayed a top-three defenseman’s skill set. The 6’1,” 196-pound defender was drafted after posting 47 points in 65 games with the QMJHL’s Halfiax Mooseheads; then he posted 62 points in 53 games with Halifax, and 16 more as the Mooseheads played 22 playoff games, reaching the QMJHL final.
He’s also represented Canada at the World Championship twice, acquitting himself well, and he played through a shoulder injury that required surgery during 2019-2020; this past season, the Red Wings signed him and loaned him out to HPK in Finland…
And he blew out his other shoulder, requiring surgery.
McIsaac is mobile, he’s strong on his skates, he’s displayed some offensive panache, and he’s a sound physical specimen. But those two blown-out shoulders yield a lot of questions as to whether he can recover and resume what was an NHL-developmental trajectory.
#44 Donovan Sebrango, D: Sebrango had an adventure of his own along the way to being signed by the Red Wings during his draft year (2020). The 6’1,” 190-pound defenseman was loaned out from the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers to HK Levice in Slovakia for a couple of games due to the OHL’s inability to play games this past season, and then he was brought to Grand Rapids when the AHL season resumed, with every assumption being that he’d get in a couple of games.
Instead, Sebrango played in 31 games, posting 4 assists, and my understanding from the folks on the West side of the state is that he played with determination, resolve, and a physical flair, looking like he belonged in a men’s professional league.
There’s not a ton of offense in his game as of yet, but he’s all of 19, he’s earned an NHL contract because he “took a spot” in the AHL, and he skates well, he excels in one-on-one situations, and he might be one of those Brad Stuart-style Swiss Army Knife defensemen in the making.
#47 Wyatt Newpower, D: Our third defenseman out of seven invited to play in the tournament is another story altogether: the 23-year-old graduate of the University of Connecticut (and senior-year captain) stands at 6’3″ and 194 pounds, and he was brought in for his physical game.
My understanding is that he had a very good season with the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL during the abbreviated American League season–enough to impress the Red Wings pro and amateur scouts–and while there’s a shorter developmental window for Newpower as a 23-year-old, he could very well be a big, physical force at the AHL level, and the Griffins need that kind of player.
#77 Oscar Plandowski, D: Plandowski has a story of his own. The superb-skating defenseman is a 2021 draft pick, an 18-year-old only two months removed from being selected by the Wings out of the QMJHL’s Charlottetown Islanders (who actually played this past season), and the 6,’ 190-pound right-shooter comes from a hockey family.
He posted 5 goals and 12 assists for 17 points in 39 games with Charlottetown, which indicates that he’s got some offense to give, and he’s one of those rare great-skating right-shot defensemen.
As for his family’s story, his mom is a professional skating coach who works with NHL’ers; his father is the director of amateur scouting for the Arizona Coyotes, and he was the director of amateur scouting for Tampa Bay before that. If you believe that a good player comes from an elite family situation, that’s what Plandowski has experienced growing up…
But this tournament is about Oscar, and, at 18, he’s got his hockey future ahead of him.
#83 Mason Ward, D**: Ward is an invite who could turn out to be a “bonus draft pick,” but the massive 19-year-old, who stands at 6’5″ and 219 pounds, is a bit of a puzzle. He’s had a long developmental history with the teams from his hometown of Lloydminster, Alberta; he’s played in two seasons with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels, averaging about a penalty minute a game, indicating a physical presence, but he was limited to 22 games this past season. That is probably the reason that the 2002-born defenseman was passed over in the draft.
His dad, Lance Ward, was a journeyman NHL defenseman who finished his career with 4 seasons in Sweden and 1 in Germany, so he’s exposed Ward to a ton of professional experiences. Again, whether that parental knowledge translates into Ward proving to be a “bonus draft pick” is uncertain.
#84 Alex Cotton, D: Cross Hanas and Alex Cotton may very well have the most to lose out of every prospect taking part in the tournament.
At 20 years of age, Cotton was picked by the Wings as a 19-year-old, so they have his rights for another season to come, but the 6’2,” 183-pound defenseman is an “overager” already (and in the QMJHL, OHL and WHL, teams are limited to carrying 5 “overage” players), so his developmental timeline is somewhat limited.
Long story long, however, Cotton was drafted by the Wings after posting 67 points (20 goals and 47 assists) in 64 games, and in the pandemic-shortened WHL season this past year, he posted 26 points (7 goals and 16 assists). He posts points. He’s got offensive potential. And he needs to show levels of both comfort and maturity going into the tournament and training camp to turn some heads.
#86 Adam Brubacher, D**: The final defenseman, number 7 on our list, is a Grand Rapids Griffins-contracted player who will be playing for an AHL job over an ECHL job, just like Patrick Curry. Brubacher stands at 6’4″ and 205 pounds, and he played for four seasons with the Rochester Institute of Technology in the NCAA, wearing the captain’s “C” in his final season. He posted nearly a point per game in college, he played in 7 games with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL this past season, and the 25-year-old is going to play professional hockey this season–the only question is where. He’s probably Walleye-bound, but the tournament can change his fortunes.
#33 Sebastian Cossa, G: I would argue that it’s actually Mr. Cossa that’s the head of the Hype Train going into the prospect tournament, despite the fact that he’s not going to play in all 3 games.
As the Wings’ first pick, Simon Edvinsson, is staying in Sweden, and as there’s so much buzz about the 6’6,” 212-pound Cossa coming off a shortened by scintillating season in the WHL, Cossa comes into the tournament as the first top-flight Wings goaltending prospect in what seems like forever (or a Tom McCollum ago).
The Red Wings largely chose to draft Cossa on a combined 2019-20 and 2020-21 record of 38-7-and-4 with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, and the Red Wings have already inked Cossa to an entry-level deal, yielding many Wings fans to dream of a Cossa-and-Alex Nedeljkovic-split crease as soon as next season.
Those hopes might be a little premature, especially given that Cossa is still playing Major Junior hockey, but there’s no doubt that his WHL credentials are superb, his size is immense, and the 15th overall pick this past July reportedly has all the tools of a top-flight goaltender, with only a few of the faults of a gigantic goalie who still needs to learn how to cover up some holes.
Ideally, the sky’s the limit for Cossa, but I’m trying to temper my expectations of an 18-year-old who will be playing in 1 or 2 of the Wings’ 3 games; ideally, we see a strong game or two from Cossa this upcoming week, and then a strong training camp showing. Goaltending is a results-driven business, of course, but there’s room for learning here…If “we fans” let Cossa be human.
#34 Victor Brattstrom, G: There were rumblings that the 24-year-old Brattstrom, a Swedish goalie playing with KooKoo in Finland, was “coming over” to try his hand at North American hockey, and now the 6’5,” 198-pound goalie is here to split time in Grand Rapids with Calvin Pickard.
As one of the elder statesmen of the prospect tournament, and as someone who’s going to be adapting to the width and depth adjustments necessary for goalies coming to 85-foot-wide rinks from Europe’s 100-foot-wide ice sheets, I’m more concerned about Brattstrom being a good teammate for “the kids” during the tournament and then accelerating his developmental road over the course of training camp and the exhibition season.
Still, it would be good to see the big, blocking goaltender with quick hands and feet display some aplomb among a younger crowd.
#60 Jan Bednar, G: Our final prospect profile of the tournament’s first article finds us examining the “forgotten man” in the Wings’ developmental pipeline. The 19-year-old Bednar, who stands 6’4″ and 196 pounds, played a fair number of games in the Czech Extraliga (13) during his draft season, and, last year, he was able to play in only 5 games with HC Energie Karlovy Vary while waiting for the QMJHL season to begin–but once he came over to North America, the supremely “athletic goalie” whose inconsistency has haunted him…
Played inconsistently, going 6-and-5 with a 3.62 GAA and an .894 save percentage. Those are 1990’s goalie numbers, not 2020’s goalies numbers, and the book on Bednar is that he’s got the size and he’s got the tools, but struggles to close holes because concentration is an issue for a goalie who will make spectacular saves and then give up spectacularly bad goals.
Ideally, Bednar backs up Cossa and Brattstrom, works really damn hard with Wings goalie coaches Jeff Salajko and Brian Mahoney-Wilson, goes to training camp, works really hard with the goalie coaches, and he comes out of camp having closed some of the holes in his technique and concentration, prepared to play a consistent couple of seasons in the “Q,” all before swaying the Wings to sign him two springs from now.
Maybe, if he’s lucky, he gets in a game or two, because you never know with injuries, but right now, Bednar needs to work on being the best Bednar he can be. Once he works on getting the basics down–because he’s a master of the spectacular stop, just not the routine save–we can talk about him being a more legitimate prospect in what is no longer a barren goaltending pipeline.
*= Invited player
**= Griffins contract