Red Wings' top prospects get chance to make impression at tournament

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Michael Rasmussen, left, and Filip Zadina, center, will take center stage at the upcoming NHL Prospects Tournament.

Detroit — Never mind the temperatures and the fact it feels like the middle of summer.

Hockey season is about to begin, and there’s no better indication of that then the start of the NHL Prospects Tournament on Friday in Traverse City.

The host Red Wings will be one of eight teams in the 19-year-old tournament at Centre ICE Arena — including top prospects from Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, the New York Rangers and St. Louis — which is a crucial first step for young players searching to make an impression.

And there definitely are Red Wings’ players in that category.

“For sure it’s an evaluation camp,” said Ryan Martin, Red Wings’ assistant general manager. “It’s an excellent opportunity for players to show what they can do, in front of the front office, coaching staff, the eight teams competing at the tournament, and representatives from all 31 teams who will be there.”

For the Red Wings, and their curious fan base, this tournament will be a chance to see recent first-round draft picks Dennis Cholowski, Michael Rasmussen, Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno all on the same team, and playing against top-tier talent from other NHL organizations.

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Rasmussen and Zadina are two forwards who have a path to making the Opening Night NHL roster, while Cholowski has more of a crowded battle with several other defensemen for an available roster spot on the blue line.

“There will be a lot of evaluation, there is training camp and exhibition games and (intra-squad) scrimmages, but this is a first chance to make an impression and show they deserve to be in the NHL,” Martin said.

Veleno and defensemen Jared McIssac (second round) and Alec Regula (third round) are 2018 draft picks who’ll attract a lot of attention in the tournament, which lasts until Tuesday.

Joe Veleno will take part in this week's NHL Prospects Tournament.

Then, there are players such as forwards Givani Smith, Axel Holmstrom, David Pope (who has an outside chance for the Red Wings’ roster) and Christoffer Ehn, and defenseman Vili Saarijarvi, who are looking to make a positive first impression on new Grand Rapids coach Ben Simon.

Saarijarvi and Holmstrom had inconsistent rookie pro seasons in Grand Rapids last season, while Smith and Pope are embarking on their first pro seasons.

Goaltenders Patrik Rybar and Kaden Fulcher, both undrafted free agents, are looking to cement spots in Grand Rapids.

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The Red Wings had 21 players from last season’s roster that participated in this tournament, which has had 597 total players who’ve moved on to play at least one NHL game.

“I love this tournament,” said Martin, who believes the community involvement from Traverse City, makes this one of the better such tournaments around the league this weekend. “When you consider the over 200 volunteers, the rink, the setting, the talent in this tournament, the weather, it’s a great week (of hockey).

“It’s great, great hockey, and with games being staggered and going on at both rinks, for a hockey fan it doesn’t get much better.

“You’re going to see the top three, four or five top prospects from each of the eight organizations. For most of these players it’s the best quality of hockey they will have played in during their career (to this point).”

NHL Prospects Tournament

When: Friday-Tuesday, Centre ICE Arena, Traverse City.

Teams: Detroit, Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, N.Y. Rangers, St. Louis.

Format: Teams are split into two divisions, with first-place teams meeting for the championship Tuesday.

Tickets: $10 per day