By no means are the Detroit Red Wings a team that's past its prime, but it it's not exactly young either.
The Red Wings have 13 players on their roster who will be 30 or older by the time the 2013-14 NHL season ends, meaning that while the inevitable transition to a younger crop of players isn't here yet, it isn't far off.
Fortunately for Detroit, a team known for plucking elite players like Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg from the darkest corners of the NHL Draft, there are a number of potential reinforcements almost ready. Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, won the Calder Cup last spring. More than one of these prospects could be wearing the Winged Wheel in the not-too-distant future.
Here are NHL.com's top 10 prospects in the Red Wings' system:
1. Petr Mrazek, G: A fifth-round pick (No. 141) in the 2010 NHL Draft, Mrazek has become one of the top goalie prospects in the NHL. Mrazek, 21, completed his junior career with the Ottawa 67's of the OHL in the spring of 2012; in his first pro season, he went from the ECHL to the AHL and briefly to the NHL, where he saw action in two games for the Red Wings. Mrazek stopped 26 of 27 shots against the St. Louis Blues in his NHL debut, a 5-1 win.
In 42 regular-season games with the Griffins last season, Mrazek went 23-16-2 with a 2.33 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. He was 14-7 with a 2.20 GAA while backstopping Grand Rapids to a championship.
Mrazek figures to battle Jonas Gustavsson in camp for the backup job behind Jimmy Howard in Detroit -- but the six-year extension Howard signed in April likely means the starting job is out of reach for the foreseeable future. If Mrazek is to pay long-term dividends for the Red Wings, it may be as the centerpiece of a trade to a team that will make him its starter.
2. Calle Jarnkrok, C: Jarnkrok has limited experience playing in North America, having spent nine games with the Griffins last spring. But in four seasons with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League, he has been a solid playmaker whose numbers have improved each season. At 6-foot and 176 pounds, most scouts believe Jarnkrok will need to fill out and add more muscle to withstand the rigors of the NHL, but his offensive skills -- most notably his superb puck-handling ability -- and his advanced hockey sense are evident.
A second-round pick (No. 51) in the 2010 NHL Draft, Jarnkrok is expected to compete for a roster spot this fall and will end up in Grand Rapids if he does not make the big club, but his future is considered bright. Former Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who scouted Jarnkrok in Sweden, is one of many who have praised the youngster's potential, noting similarities to current captain Henrik Zetterberg. While many project Jarnkrok to eventually be a top-six forward in the NHL, some believe he is good enough to one day be the Red Wings' top-line center.
3. Teemu Pulkkinen, LW: Having played for Jokerit in Finland since he was 16 years old, Pulkkinen has considerable experience -- and success -- at the professional level on his resume. He tallied 14 goals and 20 assists in 59 games last season and added five points in six playoff games in Finland before coming to North America to help the Griffins in their postseason run. He chipped in with three goals in 14 games while adjusting to the AHL's more physical style.
In all likelihood Pulkkinen, now 21, will spend 2013-14 with Grand Rapids, but he is expected to be a major contributor in the future. At 5-foot-11 and 183 pounds, he's a creative offensive player with a dangerous shot. The fourth-round pick (No. 111) in 2010 is expected to be a consistent goal-scorer at the NHL level.
4. Tomas Jurco, RW: The Red Wings may have prospects with more offensive potential than Jurco, but few can match the 20-year-old for flash -- he's become familiar to hockey fans due to his numerous YouTube videos of puck-handling tricks, and he has offensive skills on the ice to match. After three impressive seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, the second-round pick (No. 35) in 2011 took some time to adapt to playing with Grand Rapids in 2012-13, tallying 28 points in 74 games in his first pro season. But he was much more prolific during the Griffins' Calder Cup run, scoring eight goals and finishing with 14 points in 24 playoff games.
Jurco may have scored the biggest goal of the season for Grand Rapids when he got the winner late in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He will probably be in Grand Rapids again this season, but his dynamic offensive skills could earn him a call to Detroit at some point.
5. Danny DeKeyser, D: Compared to the rest of the roster, Detroit's defense is relatively young, but if that youth is comprised of players like DeKeyser, that may not be a bad thing. The 23-year-old Detroit native, an undrafted free agent, signed with his hometown team in March after finishing his third season at Western Michigan. DeKeyser tallied one assist while posting a plus-2 rating in 11 games with Detroit, then played in the Red Wings' first two Stanley Cup Playoff games before a broken right thumb ended his season. At 6-3 and 190 pounds, DeKeyser has to fill out a bit -- but his smooth skating and puck-moving abilities should give him a chance to earn a top-four spot on the blue line.
6. Riley Sheahan, C: With a sturdy 6-2, 212-pound frame, the 21-year-old could be a solid power forward at the NHL level. Sheahan spent three solid years at Notre Dame before putting up 36 points in 72 games with Grand Rapids in 2012-13 and earning his second one-game stint with the Red Wings. A first-round pick (No. 21) in 2010, he played a pivotal offensive role for the Griffins in the postseason with 13 assists in 24 games. While Sheahan's offensive abilities are evident, at least at the AHL level, his biggest asset is his responsible defensive play. He could have a bright future as a solid two-way player.
7. Martin Frk, RW: The Czech Republic native had a brilliant 2012-13 season with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in which he tallied 84 points in 56 games and has the look of a future NHL power forward. Frk, who turns 20 in October, impressed at the Red Wings' annual development camp in Traverse City in July -- noteworthy because he admitted being tired after a long season with Halifax. A second-round pick (No. 49) in 2012, Frk was a pivotal piece of the 2013 Memorial Cup champions, following up his excellent regular season with 13 goals and 20 assists in 17 playoff games. In addition to his offensive skills, he has a big body at 6-foot, 203 pounds, which could make him difficult to defend in front of the net once he reaches the NHL.
8. Xavier Ouellet, D: Ouellet won't be the biggest defenseman on the ice if he makes the NHL -- he stands at just 6 feet and weighs in at 187 pounds -- but in juniors he has shown himself to be a responsible two-way blueliner who can become a big offensive contributor. With the QMJHL's Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in 2012-13, the 20-year-old scored 10 goals and had 31 assists in 50 games before stepping his game up in the playoffs with 16 points in 15 games. Ouellet, a second-round pick (No. 48) in 2011, is a talented puck-mover who could one day be a quarterback on Detroit's power play.
9. Anthony Mantha, F: Though he is almost certain to start the 2013-14 season back with Val d'Or of the QMJHL, Mantha, who turns 19 in September, has said he plans on making the Red Wings this season -- something that hasn't happened in more than two decades. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound forward certainly isn't lacking for confidence, and considering the Red Wings' first-round pick in 2013 (No. 20) was the only draft-eligible player to score 50 goals in 2012-13, why should he? It will likely be at least a year before Mantha sticks in the NHL, but he has the look of an above-average goal-scorer and could be a top-six forward.
10. Ryan Sproul, D: At 6-foot-4 and 186 pounds, Sproul has plenty of room to fill out -- and once the towering defenseman puts on muscle he could be a dangerous two-way force. While the defensive side of the 20-year-old's game needs work, Sproul already has shown himself to be a strong offensive player, scoring 20 goals and adding 46 assists in 2012-13 with the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Those impressive numbers earned the 2011 second-round pick (No. 55) defenseman of the year honors in the Canadian Hockey League.
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