Detroit — This hockey season might or might not be done in terms of the NHL. There’s still a glimmer of hope the Red Wings could be returning at some point, but that glimmer grows more faint each passing day.
But the junior and college ranks are done, and the Red Wings’ prospects are sitting tight and looking toward the future.
The promising thing for the Wings’ organization is the strong finish by some of the young players.
There will be plenty of time ahead to analyze more of the Wings’ recent draft picks. But it’s interesting to note right now, a handful of players were playing some of their best hockey of this season — putting exclamation points on fine seasons — when the coronavirus pandemic ended everyone’s hockey schedule.
Shawn Horcoff, the Red Wings’ director of player development, identified some of the organization’s late-season risers.
► Albert Johansson, defenseman, Farjestad (Sweden): The 2019 second-round pick played for one of the Sweden’s best teams and was getting plenty of ice time, ending things with five points in his final four games.
The speculation that the Wings might be getting a steal with Johansson, considering where they selected him, appears to be correct.
“He really did (have a good season),” Horcoff said. “We’re very happy to get him where we did in the draft. He’s such a great, elite skater. As the season went on, he flourished with more ice time.”
Johansson is 6 feet, 160 pounds, only about an inch taller and five pounds heavier since the Wings drafted him, but there’s no rush. Johansson has time to develop.
“The growing is the key thing,” Horcoff said. “He’s adding weight.”
► Joe Veleno, center, Grand Rapids (AHL): The Wings’ second first-round pick in 2018, Veleno was in the process of his completing his first pro season and was looking like a different player from the first half of the season.
Veleno’s overall game took off after he returned from a stellar performance during the holidays at the world junior championships for Canada.
The confidence and assertiveness in Veleno’s game was more evident, Horcoff said.
“The kid played really well the second half,” Horcoff said. “His game was starting to come on since he came from from world juniors. We really put a lot of focus on his defensive game. By the time Christmas hit, he was real comfortable and didn’t focus or think about it so much. Things were coming naturally to him.
“I’m happy with how his game came along. It’s not easy for a 19-year-old to play in the AHL, and he was playing in all situations.”
► Antti Tuomisto, defenseman, Assat (Finland): Tuomisto had 49 points in 48 games and was voted his league’s best defenseman and player in Finland. The Wings’ second-round pick last June (35th overall) is 6-foot-4, 194-pounds, and will play college hockey at Denver next autumn.
“He had a fantastic year; going to Denver next year, which is perennially one of the best programs in the nation, he’s in a real good spot,” Horcoff said.
► Jared McIsaac, defenseman, Moncton (Quebec junior league): The 2018 second-round pick was returning from shoulder surgery and had 17 points (13 assists) in 25 games for Moncton, who acquired McIsaac at the trade deadline.
“It’s unfortunate for Jared because his Moncton team was one of the best in (Canada) and they had a chance to win the (Memorial Cup),” Horcoff said. “He’s going to get another summer of conditioning and training and get stronger.”
► Gustav Berglund, defenseman, Frolunda (Sweden): A sixth-round pick last June, Berglund progressed steadily and gave the Wings plenty of optimism, given his size (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) and mobility.
“Being drafted in the later rounds, you never know what to expect from those guys,” Horcoff said. “He’s a bigger defenseman, skates and defends well, and has a bit of grit to his game.
“He’s raw, and it’s going to take time, but he does have potential.”
► Chase Pearson, center, Grand Rapids: In his rookie pro season, Pearson had eight points in the Griffins’ last 12 games and playing his best all-around hockey.
At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Pearson has the size and versatility to become a solid top-9 NHL forward if he continues to develop.
“One thing he learned is it’s hard to create offense in the AHL, you don’t get the same amount of touches you did or the quality of chances you did in college,” Horcoff said. “For him, it’s just a matter of we are working on his offensive game and trying to get him into situations where he can create more chances for him.”
► Moritz Seider, defenseman, Grand Rapids: June’s first-round pick was impressive for the majority of the season, and after returning from a mid-body injury for the final two games the Griffins played, Seider averaged 25 minutes and had a pair of assists.
“He played every situation and had become our go-to defenseman in the AHL,” Horcoff said. “He has a real bright future. We’re real happy with how his first year (in pro) went.”