If there is one thing you can say about the Detroit Red Wings prospect pool it is that they have a lot of depth at defense coming through the system. Whether you are currently rooting for Ryan Sproul or Alexey Marchenko, pulling for Xavier Ouellet and Mattias Backman or have a soft spot Nick Jensen after his recovery from a shoulder injury last season. Everyone can agree the deepest part of Detroit’s prospect system is its defense. One player that has gone under the radar amidst the log jam of defenseman is Mitchell Wheaton.
Wheaton, 6’5 215lbs, was Drafted in 2013 in the 5th round with the 139th overall pick after posting 1 goal 7 assists for 8 points in 39 games played. That season was cut short after he injured his shoulder and had to have surgery which kept him out until playoff time. He managed to appear in 4 games for the Kelowna Rockets in the playoffs and registered zero points.
The next season was markedly better. Wheaton played in 56 games scored 7 goals and 21 assists for 28 points while helping the Rockets achieve the number one spot in the WHL. He added 5 points in 14 games in the playoffs that same season. His improved play drew praise from many sources including Red Wings scout Jeff Finley:
“He’s a real intelligent defender. Thinks the game really well and moves the puck really well for a big guy. He’s physical, but I wouldn’t call him punishing … moving forward, I think of him more as a big-body shut-down type of guy.” — Red Wings scout Jeff Finley (June 2013)
His biggest area for improvement comes in the form of foot speed, personally I would add to that staying healthy as the Wings can ill afford an injury prone defenseman given their recent run of bad luck in that department. His positioning and skill as a defensive-defenseman set him apart from recent draft picks that all boast a better offensive game while needing improvement in their own ends. If he can add a more explosive step or shave a few seconds off of his reaction time it would be a big boost in the right direction for his development.
Wheaton did well improving his offensive zone play last season and if he can keep it going into the up coming season while maintaining his defensive zone play it stands to reason he could join the ranks of the Grand Rapids Griffins in a top 4 capacity when he is eligible. I wouldn’t put his track to the NHL on the same course as a Sproul or Ouellet given his lack offensive abilities and missing significant playing time thanks to injury. It might even take him a few seasons in Grand Rapids to figure out how to use his size in a professional league against men but he has all the right tools and a lot of time thanks to the depth at defense to hone his skills for when his chance finally arrives.
*All quotes and stats used in this article are from RedWingsCentral.com