Some companies just make quality merchandise. You can trust that you’re getting good value and something that will last. Maybe you own a toaster or a coffee maker that’s never let you down. So when you’re looking for blender to make some shakes or smoothies, you go with the brand that you know. You can apply the same logic to hockey teams. Some scouting departments do a good job identifying hockey players. Even better, some teams do this and do a good job developing players.
One team that does this is the Detroit Red Wings. By necessity, the Red Wings have had to do a good job spotting talent that others haven’t noticed and they’ve burnished that talent with a development strategy that preaches patience. Quick! Name me the last Red Wings prospect that was got rushed to the NHL. Now, you could argue that because they haven’t had a high first-round pick – or any first-round picks in some years – that they haven’t been tempted to rush any prospects to the NHL. That is true of junior-aged prospects, but not so of minor pros.
The Red Wings give their prospects lots of seasoning and if I were an NHL GM, I’d follow this model. One of the things the Red Wings do well is that they prepare their prospects to play their puck-possession style of game. They’re not just letting their prospects develop in whatever league they happen to be playing in – major junior, college, or a European league, they often put a player in Grand Rapids to learn how the big club does it.
One Red Wings prospect I’m excited about right now is Hobey Baker finalist Gustav Nyquist, who vaulted himself onto everyone’s radar this past season. The fourth-round pick from 2008 arrived in Orono, Me., as an unheralded prospect among fantasy hockey GMs. A 32-point season as a freshman changed that and he followed that up with phenomenal sophomore campaign. The Swedish forward scored 19 goals and 42 assists in just 39 games to lead NCAA Division 1 in scoring. If you don’t already have this guy, figure out a way to get him. Don’t overpay thinking you’ll get the next Datsyuk or Zetterberg, but he’s a shiny prospect. Remember, too, that Datsyuk and Zetterberg are both locked in long-term. Nyquist is listed as a centre and he won’t be replacing them soon. He might get moved to the wing, but top six duty as a centre is not in his near future – unless he gets traded.
Another Red Wings prospect with good long-term upside -- despite a down year this season – is Landon Ferraro.
Ferraro is a natural goal-scorer with great speed but he suffered a knee injury this season. He missed 17 games and didn’t really return to 100 per cent until after Christmas. Once he regained his skating stride, he started producing again. Still, his third season with Red Deer was a disappointment – especially compared to his second year in which he scored 37 goals. This year’s 16-goal effort was below expectations, but his assist total did climb considerably.
If Ferraro isn’t already drafted in your league, you might be able to get him with a late pick. If he is in your league, you might be able to take advantage of an owner who thinks he’s damaged goods. Now is a good time to see if you can scoop him up at a reduced rate.
Much like his dad, Ray, who scored 408 goals and 898 points in 1,258 NHL games, Ferraro’s calling card is offense. Landon is a better goal-scorer than a playmaker, but his playmaking is improving. Some people like to dismiss bloodlines when discussing hockey prospects – I don’t. I agree that just because you’re the son of an NHLer it doesn’t mean you’ll have skill. But if you have skill – and Landon Ferraro does – you’ll learn plenty from your dad that will help you make it in the show.
Like his dad, Landon has a great work ethic and is a feisty competitor, too. They both have the hands of a surgeon and the heart of a lion. With that combination of skills, he can score the pretty goals and the garbage goals. As a fantasy hockey GM, you don’t need to worry about style points – just results.
Ferraro was one of the best skaters and scorers available in the 2009 draft and it was a bit of a surprise that he fell to the second round where the Wings took him 32nd overall. Ferraro’s plus-minus wasn’t great and the Rebels are not an offensive team. On many nights, it was a one-man show with Ferraro facing the other team’s top checkers as a 17-year-old. He earned team MVP honours and there were high hopes coming into this past season. Some thought he’d net 40 goals, but the injury derailed him. Ferraro suffered no long-term effects from the injury and should be back in form next season for his final year of junior. Expect a couple of years in the minors as he improves his strength and defensive play before arriving in the Motor City in 2012.