It has been an entertaining WJSS thus far, with a noticeable buzz in the arena whenever a game involves a Red Wings prospect. And since the Wings' have the most prospects in the WJSS with seven, spread out among all four teams, Red Wings fans have taken advantage of watching some of Detroit's future players compete in a highly competitive environment.
Detroit assistant general manager, Ryan Martin, who is also part of Team USA's staff for player personnel, has been watching Detroit's seven prospects with a critical eye since last month's development camp in Traverse City.
He offers his assessment and sometimes a little background on each prospect: forwards Michael Rasmussen, Givani Smith and defenseman Dennis Cholowski from Team Canada; defenseman Gustav Lindstrom and goalie Filip Larsson from Team Sweden; defenseman Kasper Kotkansalo from Team Finland and goalie Keith Petruzzelli from Team USA.
Michael Rasmussen: "I didn't see Michael play actually in his draft year. I read a lot of reports. I came in pretty blind of knowing what to expect. I was really impressed, he's a big body that skates well, he can handle the puck. He's aggressive without the puck, he's competitive. They had him playing on the wing (in Tuesday's 8-2 loss to Team USA White), we drafted him as a centerman, we think he has some versatility that he could play wing or center. That's our expectation (for him to play center), that was our expectation with Dylan Larkin too and at points during his first two years he has played at wing.
"So, the coach will put him (Rasmussen) in the spot that's best for the success of the team, but certainly that was our expectation when we drafted him that he will play center. I thought he did everything he needed to do to at least put himself on the map to be in contention (to make Canada's World Junior team) in just a limited viewing, but I was very impressed with how he played."
Dennis Cholowski: "I've seen Dennis play quite a bit. I saw him play a little bit before we drafted him. One of my jobs is I go out and watch all of our unsigned prospects play throughout the year, so I've seen Dennis play in college (St. Cloud State) eight or nine times. The positives for Dennis is that he went in as a true freshman to a high-level NCAA program and was given a pretty significant role right off the bat and that's not always easy to adjust to. I think his skating allowed him to adjust and be competitive at that level, but his body strength was an issue. You're playing against 21, 22, 23-year-old men and there was a period of adjustment for Dennis and to his credit he improved throughout the year.
"We've been on him to hit the gym and add strength. He has the skating component of it down, but he has put in a lot of time in this offseason. He elected to turn pro this year; he had some different options in terms of going back to college or try and continue his development on the pro track or major junior at Prince George and he felt that would be the better situation for him to have that opportunity to play more games in the Western League. It's a great opportunity for him to come to this camp, he was on their (Team Canada) radar a year ago, but now to get through that next level where he is actually in contention. He looks more comfortable today (Wednesday, a 6-5 OT win against Finland) than he did in the first game (Tuesday, an 8-2 loss to Team USA White). Good for him."
Givani Smith: "I thought he played really well yesterday (Tuesday, a 2-1 victory over Team USA Blue). Our message to Givani when he left Grand Rapids, he was with Grand Rapids for about 70 percent of the playoff run this year, he didn't play but only one game, but to be around the American League playoffs and that type of playoff environment is important for development. So, our message was he needs to go back to junior and be a dominant player and he took a step in that direction yesterday playing best-on-best with the U.S. I thought he was physical, he was aggressive, he moved the puck well. He really played to his strengths as a player and that's what he's going to have to do. I'm really excited to get him into training camp and the prospects tournament and another NHL camp and most likely when he does go back to junior (with Guelph) our expectation is he's going to take that next step and become a dominant player in the OHL. Similar to what Tyler Bertuzzi did in his last year in junior, not that they're the same player, but Tyler had a dominant year -- that would be our expectation for Givani."
Kasper Kotkansalo: "I saw Kasper play a couple of times before we drafted him. He was on a USHL team (Sioux Falls) that was sort of in the bottom of the league and every night he had the hard matchups. He played a lot of minutes. Statistically, if one were to scout by statistics I don't know if his offensive skill set was really evident in watching him at the USHL level, but having watched him for two games out here, he's been really good. I thought he was their (Finland's) best defenseman in game one (a 4-2 loss to USA White on Saturday). I really liked him. I know he scored a goal, but I liked him for what he did on the defensive side of the puck. He was aggressive, he took away space, his gaps were really good, his D-zone awareness was very good. He was excellent against the U.S. defensively and (Wednesday) he's been good, but more in a two-way game he's created some offensive chances. Obviously, an excellent program at Boston University that he's going to go to; we know a lot of people there, they've got a track record there of developing players, developing elite defensemen. They're going to be very, very good, so he has the chance to step in there and play a significant role. It'll be great for his development.
"I didn't see a lot of him in the USHL, but the other day (Sunday, a 4-1 loss to Team USA Blue), I thought he played with some real bite, he was giving guys shots behind the play, he was giving guys shots in front of the net. The U.S. guys were giving it back to him, but it was great that it seems to be fairly natural. You just can't teach that."
Gustav Lindstrom: "I did not see Gustav play prior to drafting him. I did see him at development camp, but he was banged up there and didn't play a lot when I was up in Traverse City. I though he played well in the first game (Saturday, a 4-3 win against Team USA Blue). I like his puck moving, his hockey sense. He's a heady guy, he's a real thinker. I was impressed also with his assertiveness, I wasn't expecting that. I read a little bit of that in the reports but he seems to have a little bit of an edge to his game, which is maybe less common in Swedish defensemen. I'm not talking about the Nik Kronwalls of the world, of course, but many of the Swedish defensemen don't play the game quite like that and he seems to have that part to his game. I like his puck-moving skills and his hockey sense.
"To come from the second division over there and it's my understanding talking to our European scouts, he not only was he in the second division, he wasn't playing very much. It was around Christmastime that he started to turn the corner. He was given more opportunity and to his credit, he grabbed that opportunity and he went with it and had some success. So, his rise the last three or four months leading into the draft was very significant and then to get the nod to come over here with the best under-20 group in Sweden is a real testament to the performance he had in the latter part of the year."
Filip Larsson: "Filip is an interesting story. When we drafted Filip, our intention was Filip was going to kind of follow the more traditional European goalie route of perhaps the junior level and then into the professional division and then into the elite league of that country (Sweden) and at that point you have four years to make a decision on signing Filip. His development took a little bit of a sideways track, I wouldn't say a step back, but for the betterment of his development he has the opportunity to attend U.S. college.
"So, he's coming to the United States to play in the USHL, he had a little bit of an off year last year but he's gotten his development back on track. He looks good, he had a good development camp with us. We like his physical skills, we like his technical skill. The opportunity to come over here and play up to four years of U.S. college plus another year in the USHL on the smaller ice surface, though he is a goalie, not a skater. The difference being the timing and where the shots are coming from are completely different on the smaller ice surface. For his development, he's in a really good spot, he has some of the best NCAA programs in the country talking to him and I think he's going to have a lot of opportunity."
Keith Petruzzelli: "He has a lanky but an athletic build. Being with the U.S. staff, I have had the chance to watch him close up now for the last week. He's really good, a bit on the raw side, but certainly athletic, a good technical base to work with and he has a couple of really good members of his peer group (Team USA goalies) to watch as well with (Jake) Oettinger (6-foot-4) and (Joseph) Woll (6-foot-3), they're all tall goalies (Petruzzelli is almost 6-foot-6), they're all pretty similar in net. Technically they're sound, but they're also athletic. He moves really well, now he has to work on combining those two parts of his game, his athleticism with his technical skill and he'll probably become a little more of an efficient goalie.
"We really like him. He had a really good development camp and he played very well in the second game he played here (Sunday, a 4-1 win against Finland). The half a game he played (Saturday, a 4-3 loss to Sweden), he was a little bit off of where he wanted to be, but the second game he played excellent. We excited to see him play a little bit more, too."