By most accounts, Marco Kasper has an NHL-ready game and could be ready for action with the Detroit Red Wings as soon as 2023-24. Despite that, his road to the big leagues anytime soon became quite murky over the last few weeks. General manager Steve Yzerman has not been in the business of clearing the way for high-end prospects to jump to the NHL level since taking over the team in 2019. No one will make the roster based on pedigree alone, and that’s been made clear multiple times—Filip Zadina perhaps being the most recent and obvious example.
Prior to the free agency opening on July 1, Kasper seemed to have a possible lane to follow to the opening night roster this year. Dylan Larkin was entrenched as the top-line center, while Andrew Copp absorbed the toughest defensive assignments—both at even strength and on the penalty kill—on a nightly basis. That seemed to leave space for Kasper, an excellent 200-foot player with a willingness to play in the dirty areas to score goals. He plays with an edge that Detroit badly needs and could be the heir apparent to Tyler Bertuzzi in that regard.
That all changed when Yzerman and Co. again took to the free agency market to add depth to the roster earlier this month. While several players were signed to fresh deals, the one given to former Colorado Avalanche forward J.T. Compher created a substantial roadblock for Kasper making the NHL roster this season. That’s not the end of the World for a 19-year-old pivot eligible for the AHL, but one has to wonder precisely where Detroit’s handful of high-end prospects will play once they’ve outgrown all developmental avenues outside of Detroit.
Detroit Red Wings’ Center Depth Is Fine Now But Creates Logjam For Marco Kasper In The Future.
The Detroit Red Wings now have three centers signed through 2026-27: Dylan Larkin, Compher, and Copp. Kasper will be entering his age-23 season when Copp and Compher come off of the books in 2027. Based on what we know about aging curves—check out Micah Blake McCurdy‘s excellent work on the subject—Kasper will be smack dab in the middle of his prime when he first even has the opportunity to make the Red Wings’ roster as a top-six pivot.
It’s not as easy as simply trading away Copp or Compher at that juncture to create the room, either. That kind of salary dump requires other assets, the kind of assets the Red Wings should be protecting at all costs until there’s a legit chance at winning the Stanley Cup.
If Kasper develops as is expected, Detroit may be missing at least one or two valuable years of production from a young, 200-foot player who is skating on his ELC. Plus, the Red Wings have made it clear that they don’t want to have their elite prospects skating in the NHL as third- or fourth-line players. So if Detroit doesn’t have any room on the first or second lines for Kasper until 2027, and it also doesn’t want to burn years off of his entry-level contract before then, where does that leave this promising player?
One could argue that the Detroit Red Wings could simply bump Kasper to the wing—he can play both the left and right side—but that isn’t what Yzerman used the No. 8 pick on him to be. At worst, the organization presumably views him as a middle-six forward, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut path to that position anytime in the next few years, no matter how quickly he develops in the minors.
Perhaps the most concerning takeaway here is that while Detroit’s fellow rebuilders in the Eastern Conference (Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, Columbus Blue Jackets) have been allowing their top prospects to learn and bud in the NHL. It’s a fine line to walk, and no two prospects follow the same developmental path. But Kasper not having a clear-cut way to make it to the NHL level for the next four years is somewhat concerning.
This could just be the doldrums of July talking, but it’s more than fair to raise questions about how the Detroit Red Wings are constructing their roster. Kasper isn’t the only one who has had his direct path to The Show cut off over the last two summers. The same can be said for Simon Edvinsson, Carter Mazur, Amadeus Lombardi, and Elmer Söderblom.
How are any of the fruits of Detroit’s extended rebuild supposed to ripen if there’s no way for them to grow at the pro level? That remains to be seen. Maybe in two years, the likes of Copp and Compher are creating an overpaid but high-end third line while the likes of Kasper and Söderblom are crushing it on the second unit, but that seems much more unlikely now than it did a month ago.