Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Where everybody knows your name

Everyone knows the names Nyquist, Tatar and Smith: these are arguably the top prospects in the Red Wings organisation, but what about the lesser known ones, like Backman, Jensen, and Jarnkrok? This guy thinks that the Red Wings right now have the deepest prospect pool since, well, ever.

The Red Wings have a tendency so over-ripen prospects in Grand Rapids or overseas (so I’ve heard) like Tomas Tatar, a veteran of 260 AHL games, Jakub Kindl, a veteran of 237 games and is now a regular in the winged wheel uniform and Gustav Nyquist, who’s a case on its own. The latter has his butt marks permanently etched on the Grand Rapids bus, he’s been up and down more times than Datsyuk on a breakaway.

But enough with the clichés, let’s get to the prospects.

Jensen, Backman and Jarnkrok are three of the Red Wings’ most unique prospects. Each brings a unique skillset and different baggage to a prospect pool that already boats a top goaltending prospect (Mrazek), two defensemen that could look like a Suter (Ouellet) and Weber (Sproul) pairing in Nashville in a couple of years and Hossa-lite (Jurco) that has a lot of lights.

Matthias Backman is a smooth skating, puck moving defensemen from Linkoping, Sweden who is playing his second full year with his hometown team, Linkoping, in the Swedish Elite League (SEL). Not overly big at 6’2’’, 176lbs, Backman was picked in the 5th round, 146th overall by the Red Wings in 2011. When he was taken, the feeling was that Rafalski, Lidstrom, Stuart and Kronwall were going to play at least three more years, so Red Wings’ management weren’t in a rush to get an NHL-ready defensemen. Backman took his time and developed in Europe for 3-4 years and boy did it pay off. He’s top-10 in scoring for SEL defensemen and is the team’s top-D at 21, which is no small feat. A lot of scouts think he’ll pan out as a top-four defenseman, comparable to Alexander Edler. Not bad for a 5th rounder.

Nick Jensen is an in-your-face defensemen, drafted in the 5th round, 150th by the Red Wings in 2009; apparently, the 5th round is where the Red Wings pick up defensemen these last years. Not a beast physically at 6’1’’, 195 lbs, he still likes to hit and is a fierce competitor. As Jiri Fischer said, “He’s in people’s faces, he’s taking people’s space away thanks to his skating, and he makes great outlet passes. He’s had a great year and we’re really happy with his development.” Remember John Wickstrom, the Red Wings 5th rounder defensemen in 1997? No, me neither. Picking in the 5th round is still a long-shot, but the fact that Jensen was talked about by Pierre McGuire on National TV during the Red Wings vs St-Louis chess match on Sunday means he’s come a long way since being an unknown last year.
And now for the inspiration for this blog post, the guy that gives me hope that new and exciting prospects are a reality. Calle Jarnkrok was picked in the 2nd round, 51st overall in 2010. This was after a disappointing 2nd round lost in the playoff to the San Jose Sharks, who are now on my bitter-list, with Colin Campbell for not allowing Al to swing the octopus in the 2008 playoffs. His style emulates that of one Henrik Zetterberg. That’s right, this 5’11’’, 165lbs center is supposed to be this team’s next number two center as soon as next year.  He’s been playing with Brynas in the SEL, where’s he’s been in the top-2 scoring the last two years for his team. He’s described as a two-way center with a very high hockey IQ and helped his team win the SEL championship last year. This year’s been tougher on Jarnkrok, with him being held pointless while Brynas was eliminated in four games, but he still did finish 8th in SEL scoring with 42 points. All was not lost for ‘’Iron Hook’’, the Red Wings have assigned him to Grand Rapids for last nine games of the season (he has 2 assists in 6 games while adapting to the North American ice surface) before playing in the World Hockey Championships in his home country of Sweden April 15th. In maybe what is the understatement of the year, Jarnkrok has a ton of pressure on his shoulders being touted as the next Zetterberg.
With Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson graduating from prospects to full-time NHLers, the Grand Rapid Griffins will need some reinforcements to play under coach Blashill and these three prospects will make sure that the Midwest division title has to go through Grand Rapids.