Red Wings Prospects- Keep Them Or Trade Them?


Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It was reported this morning by Ansar Khan of Mlive that once Brendan Smith is healthy, which should be soon, Xavier Ouellet will be sent back down to Grand Rapids. I sort of wish he wasn’t, he seems like he’s been playing solidly and I doubt anyone would claim Kindl or Lashoff if one or the other were sent down. However, there’s something to be said for choosing between the guy you won’t lose and the guy you definitely won’t lose. Ouellet will go back to Grand Rapids to join the very decent set of prospects the Red Wings have, which begs the question- What do you do with all of them?

I’ll be referencing the Grand Rapids Griffins roster a lot here if you’d like to follow along.

Detroit has their goalie of the future in Petr Mrazek. He hasn’t looked outstanding in his last two games, but it’s a pretty small sample size. There’s lots of forward prospects in Mantha, Pulkkinen, and Athanasiou, and lots of defensive depth between Ouellet and Sproul. This is to say nothing about the recently drafted Dylan Larkin at the University of Michigan, who is expected to be a center for Mantha someday, or Tyler Bertuzzi who’s still playing in the OHL. But what’s the best way to utilize these players? Mrazek needs to be held on to to make sure there’s a contingency plan when Howard starts to decline, but what about the forwards and defensemen? Essentially, the question is do the Red Wings need picks and prospects right now, or do they need roster-ready players?

Prospects are always tricky because even the professionals have a hard time predicting the way they’ll turn out. How do you tell the difference between someone who has potential to grow into a better player and someone who has reached his peak? Furthermore, if you do determine that someone has potential, how do you go about unlocking it? These are the kinds of players that carry a lot of risk with them, so  they tend to need something like a pick thrown in with a trade. Last year’s trade deadline deal with Nashville is a good example of this.

With injuries depleting Detroit’s center depth last year, a trade was made to acquire David Legwand from Nashville. It costs the Red Wings a few things. A conditional third-round draft pick, if/when they made the playoffs. Patrick Eaves, who wasn’t getting any playing time anyway. And the big part of the trade,  prospect Calle Jarnkrok. Jarnkrok had a lot of potential and the fan base was a bit disturbed that he would be jettisoned like that just to preserve the playoff streak. This feeling was a bit validated when Detroit exited the first round of the playoffs in five games. The thing about Jarnkrok though, is that he definitely wasn’t going to crack the Red Wings roster this season, and he probably wouldn’t have in subsequent seasons. This isn’t due to any lack of skill on his part, but after a while it’s a numbers game.

A player like Jarnkrok, and similarly Pulkkinen and Athanasiou, are most effective when utilized  on a scoring line in the top six. So that’s six roster spots to split among Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Fransen, Nyquist, Sheehan, Tatar, Helm, Weiss and Abdelkader. If you’re a Wings forward prospect and you don’t play a defensive, shut down role, you’re essentially praying for an injury because thats the only way you can belong in this group. So would Detroit be best served by letting someone like Jarnkrok over-rippen and potentially even play past his prime in the AHL? Or does it make more sense to trade him and get something you’re going to use now.

As great as it would be to use every prospect to his full potential, the unfortunate truth is that the players are assets once they’re drafted or signed. It’s the team’s responsibility to utilize these assets as best as they can. I love a player like Pulkkinen, but if an opportunity presents itself to flip him for a defenseman, I can’t pull the trigger on the deal fast enough. It’s not that I don’t want Pulkkinen on the team, it’s that Detroit is just that deep at forward while they sorely need better defenseman to be considered a real contender.

What adds to this situation is the fact that Zetterberg and Datsyuk aren’t getting any younger. At a certain point you start to wonder how many years they have left, and you can probably count them on one hand. You don’t want to mortgage your team’s future for one run, but if it’s your last chance at using a generational talent like that, you almost owe it to the player to go all-in. So prospects like that? Great to have, but not nearly as valuable in the minors as they are a part of a trade. Draft picks? It’s great to build for the future, but unless it’s a Datsyuk or Zetterberg replacement, you’ve got to be willing to sacrifice those for the present tense as well.

This is all based of course on the idea that you want the Wings to do more than just make the playoffs every year as well. Sure that streak is great but if the Wings haven’t had a shot at the cup since 2009, I’d say they’re overdue, wouldn’t you?