Sept. 6, 2016
By Brendan Savage, MLive
The Detroit Red Wings have five prospects among the NHL's top 120, according to ESPN.com, but none are ranked higher than 55.
All five, however, are ranked among the top 78.
Forward Anthony Mantha, the Red Wings first-round draft pick in 2013 who played 10 NHL games last season, is ranked No. 55. He's followed among Red Wings prospects by defenseman Joe Hicketts (59), forward Evgeny Svechnikov (62), defenseman Vili Saarijarvi (64) and forward Axel Holmstrom (78).
All five players are down since ESPN's midseason rankings.
Mantha, the 20th overall pick in the 2013 draft, had two goals, one assist and a minus-6 rating in 10 games with the Red Wings last season. In 60 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins, he had 21 goals, 24 assists and a plus-13 rating.
In last year's preseason rankings – which were also compiled by writer Corey Pronman – Mantha was No. 70.
"After a down season in his rookie pro campaign, Mantha has bounced back somewhat and looked OK in his brief showing in Detroit to end the season," Pronman wrote. "What the Wings coaches have been yelling in Mantha's ear for pretty much the last two seasons is to play every shift as if it's his last.
"He still takes some off, but improving that attribute was a big reason why he looked a lot better this season. The fact he's a 6-foot-4 forward who can skate, shoot and handle the puck at above-average levels makes him a very quality prospect."
The 5-foot-8 Hicketts, who is expected to play for the Grand Rapids Griffins this season, was No. 53 in Pronman's preseason rankings a year ago.
In 59 games for the WHL's Victoria Royals, he had eight goals, 53 assists and a plus-38 rating. He was named the Western Conference Player of the Year as well as its best defenseman while also playing for Canada in the World Junior Championship for the second straight year.
"'Little' Joe Hicketts was a first-team All-Star in the WHL and one of the best defensemen at the WJC," Pronman wrote. "He's a very reliable two-way defenseman who is known for being able to land significant hits and win battles, despite his stature. Hicketts is a very smart player who can stretch the ice, make quick decisions and is very good in his overall positioning. He has the skating ability and hands to make rushes, though he isn't one to make flashy plays left and right.
Svechnikov, the Red Wings first-round pick last year, is expected to play in Grand Rapids this season after scoring 32 goals for the second straight year in the QMJHL for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
"There is a lot to like in Svechnikov's game," Pronman wrote. "A big, strong forward who can make high-end skill plays is a valuable asset for any NHL organization. He was pretty good but not dominant in his last season of junior hockey with a disappointing WJC. At his best, he's a creative playmaker who can win battles and pressure the puck. He isn't a snail, but his skating and first few steps could stand to improve. He was playing center in Cape Breton for stretches of the season, but he likely projects as a winger in the NHL."
Saarijarvi and Holmstrom will both start the season on the sidelines.
Saarijarvi, the Red Wings third-round pick last year, is recovering from wrist surgery after getting hurt in last month's National Junior Evaluation Camp and will be sidelined until late November.
Last season, he had 12 goals and 31 assists for the OHL's Flint Firebirds before getting a goal and two assists in five games with the ECHL's Toledo Walleye. He also helped Finland win the World Junior Championship.
Saarijarvi will play for the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads this season.
Holmstrom, a seventh-round draft pick in 2014, tore his ACL late last season and is still going through rehabilitation. In 48 games for Skelleftea AIK of the Swedish Hockey League, he had eight goals and 15 assists.
Holmstrom was the Swedish Junior Player of the Year in 2014-15.
He'll play one more season in Sweden when cleared to play. He's not expected to be ready for action until late this month or early October.