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On the Wings of Tomorrow

Wings now have three players to visit at Boston University in Kotkansalo, Mastrosimone and Phillips; will Detroit soon have its first Finnish-born defenseman and more in the August prospect report

by Bob Duff @asktheduffer / Special to

Shawn Horcoff is certain that he can help save the Detroit Red Wings some expense money on the team's travel budget this season.

The Red Wings director of player development figures that he'll be finding himself in Boston quite a bit this season, so Horcoff thinks it might be a good idea to seek out a deal on accommodations there.

"I need to get a timeshare or an Airbnb or something there," Horcoff joked. "We're going to spend a lot of time there."

No fewer than three Red Wings prospects will be suiting up for the NCAA's Boston University Terriers this season.

Defenseman Kasper Kotkansalo, selected 71st overall in the 2017 NHL entry draft, will be entering his junior year with the Terriers.

Meanwhile, two of Detroit's 2019 entry draft selections -- left-winger Robert Mastrosimone (54th overall) and center Ethan Phillips (97th overall) -- will be enrolling as freshmen at BU.

"It does make it easier because when you go in, you can see three guys," Horcoff said. There's another Red Wings connection at Boston with Terriers assistant coach Len Quesnelle, at one time a Detroit amateur scout.

"When you talk with the coaching staff, Kasper's been there for a while now and obviously Len worked in the organization before going there," Horcoff said. "So we've got a good relationship with BU and yeah, it makes it easier. I get more viewing on the guys."

As the veteran of the bunch, Kotkansalo is ready to take his new teammates and future Wings under his wing, so to speak, and become an impromptu campus tour guide.

"We will see about that," Kotkansalo said with a smirk. "Maybe show them a couple places there."

Actually, he's already been extremely candid with his new teammates.

"Whenever I see him, he's very friendly, he's helpful," Phillips said of Kotkansalo. "He said, just enjoy it. You're gonna love BU. I'm just looking forward to the season."

All three attended Detroit's development camp in June and were able to begin to forge a bond.

"I didn't know the guys at all before this but I think it's really important for them, too, but also for me to get to see them before they come to BU," Kotkansalo said. "It's kind of nice to create a little relationship before the season starts."

Mastrosimone and Phillips were among six incoming BU freshmen selected during the 2019 NHL entry draft.

Both come to BU and the Red Wings organization off special seasons.

Mastrosimone (Team East) and Phillips (Team West) were named their teams' most valuable players at the 2019 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.

Tweet from @TerrierHockey: Another New Yorker (there are 4 in the class) ... forward Robert Mastrosimone! He led @ChicagoSteel to the 2019 @USHL Eastern Conference title before being selected in the second round of the NHL Draft by @DetroitRedWings.He will wear #16. #GoBU

Mastrosimone is the all-time leading goal-scorer for the USHL's Chicago Steel.

He scored 47 goals in 114 games over two seasons. He was 11th overall in the USHL in scoring last season with 31-29-60 totals and was named to the USHL Third All-Star Team.

Tweet from @TerrierHockey: Next up, a high-scoring Canadian forward ... Ethan Phillips! He helped the @sfstampede win the 2019 @USHL Clark Cup title then became a third-round selection of the @DetroitRedWings in the NHL Draft.He will wear #28. #GoBU

Phillips split last season between South Kent School in Connecticut and the USHL's Sioux Falls Stampede, collecting 43 points in 50 regular-season games with Sioux Falls.

He then helped the Stampede claim the USHL Clark Cup title, tallying five points (1-4-5) in six playoff games.

Tweet from @Ethanlaphillips: So happy to be in Motown! A dream come true #RedWings

For Phillips, a Canadian from Dartmouth, N.S., the decision to go the U.S. college route went against the grain.

He was weaned on Canadian junior hockey. His family served as billets for 2018 Red Wings first-round pick Filip Zadina when Zadina was a member of the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads.

"It was definitely a tough decision," Phillips admitted. "I know Cam Russell, the GM of Halifax, pretty well. "I just figured for me in the end that college was going to be the best route for me. You never really know until it's over. I tried to gather as much information as I could and it seemed like college was the better route for me to take.

"It's definitely not as demanding a schedule as some of the junior leagues where you're playing 70-80 games a year. You're playing 40, 45 games a year in college and you're not playing throughout the week. You get to take advantage of that time in the rink, in the gym. Your body gets to recover more. So I think that's a big thing for me."

There was even some speculation that BU coach Albie O'Connell might look at uniting Phillips and Mastrosimone on the same forward line.

"Who knows?" Phillips said. "He's a goal scorer and I'm more of a passer, so maybe we'll work well together.

"I guess we'll find out once we get there."

Mastrsimone suffered a broken ankle at development camp when blocking a shot. He's expected to be back in time for the start of BU's hockey season, though.

"I think it's going to be a great year," Mastrosimone said. "BU is an awesome school, an awesome hockey program and I'm so excited to get in there. I know a bunch of the guys. I think it's going to be really fun."

As a Finn, Kotkansalo viewed his chance to play for the Terriers as an opportunity to adapt his game to the North American-sized rink before he turned pro.

"There's more and more NCAA guys going to the NHL, that was honestly the thing I was looking at the most with the decision, not necessarily the school part," Kotkansalo said. "The school part is a great bonus there and I'm for sure going to get a degree and I take a lot of pride in that. I think people see it's working for them and it's a good spot to take the next step.

"I think the schedule is tough but nothing unbearable. I really like the opportunity that I can actually do it because obviously the States is pretty much the only place I can do it, play hockey at a high level and go to school obviously, too."

Being together and seeking the same long-range outcome, this trio of future Wings hope to help each other strive for great heights.

"It's pretty cool," Phillips said. "I think we're all working toward the same spot. Maybe we can help each other. Maybe we can push each other.

"Just kind of take it day by day and see where everything goes."

FINNISH FIRST: In the storied history of the Red Wings franchise, just three Finnish-born players have suited up for the team.

All of them have been forwards.

One of them, center Valtteri Filppula, will return this season for his second tour of duty with the team after signing as an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

He was previously a Wing from 2005-13, winning a Stanley Cup in 2007-08.

Detroit's other Finns were left-wingers Ville Leino (2008-10) and Teemu Pulkkinen (2013-16).

Could the Wings soon see their first Finnish defenseman?

There are several prospects currently in the pipeline.

Still in college, Kotkansalo remains a year or two away from turning pro.

Antti Tuomisto, selected 35th in the 2019 NHL entry draft, will return to Finland to play for Assat Pori in 2019-20, and then hopes to play in the NCAA, so he's also some years away from the NHL.

The closest Finn to breaking this dry spell is Oliwer Kaski.

Tweet from @KaskiOliwer: As if I wasn't having enough good fortune @leijonat, I am so excited to start the next chapter of my career with an original six @DetroitRedWings organization, just want to thank everyone who has touched my career and helped me get to this point. Thinking of you all!🤝

Signed as a free agent shortly after the 2019 world championship, Kaski, 23, led all SM-Liiga rearguards in scoring last season with 19-32-51 totals.

"I knew he had an unbelievable season," Kotkansalo said. "I've heard only good things, even comparisons to (Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik) Karlsson.

"I guess the Wings got a pretty good defenseman there."

Wings general manager Steve Yzerman indicated that Kaski will be offered every chance to make the club during training camp.

"He's definitely in the mix," Yzerman said. "He's got a good shot. I watched him play at the Worlds. Based on what we've seen at the Worlds, and (development coach) Jiri (Fischer) has watched him for two years, he is a candidate to play on our team.

"He's a very good power-play guy, has an excellent shot, real good hockey sense. Can he adjust to playing on a smaller ice surface? He did that in college (at Western Michigan). We're optimistic that he's going to get a good opportunity. We're optimistic he can play in the NHL this year.

"We're going to give him a good opportunity to be amongst our six D on opening night."

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