TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The annual Detroit Red Wings Prospects Tournament has a slightly different feel this year, with just four teams over the long weekend in Northern Michigan. There’s a little more elbow room and a little less foot traffic between the two ice caps at the Center Ice Arena. There’s also a new man behind the Detroit bench, as Dan Watson begins his new assignment as coach of the Griffins.
But once the puck is thrown, it’s still the same fast, fiery hockey featuring some of the league’s top prospects. And on opening day of the 2023 draft, Detroit’s ninth overall pick, Nate Danielson, made a strong first impression, both on his new fans and on Watson.
“I thought he was a really smart player,” Watson said. “He plays a 200-foot game, he makes plays, he sees plays, he anticipates the game well. He’s going to be a very good player.
Danielson contributed to both Detroit goals, including a nice early goal on which Danielson recovered a puck during a battle behind the net, then found Cross Hanas in the slot to set up Elmer Söderblom’s backdoor. He also set up a power play from defender Antti Tuomisto and could have had even more on the scoresheet at the end of the match. His skating is a standout trait, but his vision also stood out throughout the game.
It was Watson’s first time seeing Danielson live, of course, after coaching the ECHL Toledo Walleye, and he came away seeing the same elements that made Detroit want to spend a top-10 pick on him this summer: “I like where his head is,” Watson said. “He’s mature for his age.”
And he wasn’t the only recent top-10 pick to stand out in Game 1.
Marco Kasper didn’t get on the scoresheet like Danielson, but he had several good looks from the slot – finishing with four shots on goal – and created another great chance for Alexandre Doucet as the undrafted signee could not grasp. It was that kind of day for the Red Wings, who probably deserved a better fate than the 4-2 loss, but couldn’t finish with some of their best looks of the night.
Still, Watson came away with a strong impression of Kasper.
“I thought he competed extremely hard,” Watson said. “He finished checks, he has good stick detail, he will certainly find that offensive touch here. But just another smart player, moves his feet well, makes the players around him better, and I liked his game tonight.
Kasper has a little more to play for in this tournament, as a spot on the NHL roster – while still unlikely – is more plausible for him than for the 18-year-old Danielson. And Detroit will surely want to see Kasper on the scoresheet here and in the preseason to give him serious consideration for the NHL this fall. But Watson is right: He showed plenty of professional stuff in the tournament opener, including a nice step-back miss to break a Dallas Stars chance and then draw a penalty, and his typical physicality.
It didn’t translate into a win on Thursday, but it was a good start for Detroit’s two most important young centers.
Line charts from Day 1 of the Traverse City Prospect Tournament pic.twitter.com/zKmDzfjnsx
-Max Bultman (@m_bultman) September 14, 2023
Carter Mazur injured
While Detroit might have felt good seeing Kasper and Danielson play well, the game’s most important development was more concerning: Carter Mazur leaving the ice early and not returning.
Mazur, like Kasper, is a long way from making the Red Wings due to Detroit’s new veteran depth, but he’s certainly one of the more interesting players to watch this fall. He’s a scrappy winger who can skate, score and hit bodies, a profile that coaches generally like.
But Mazur’s night ended early with a lower-body injury. It is unclear when exactly this happened, as Mazur fell several times in the first period, but he was not seen in the second or third period.
“He’s actually going to go see the doctors and try to do some more tests,” Watson said after the game. “We hope to get him back, but we will leave that in the hands of the doctors.”
Certainly, losing Mazur would be a big blow to the prospects team, but more important is Mazur’s health heading into the season. He is expected to play in Grand Rapids, where he had a brief look late last season and had six points in six games.
Turnovers condemn Detroit
The Red Wings controlled the game for long stretches Thursday night, but key turnovers cost them again and again. First, at the end of a power play, 2022 fifth-round pick Tnias Mathurin was picked looking for Kasper, leading to a strange man rush as the Dallas defenseman Gavin White converted. It was the kind of shot you’d like to see from 2021 first-rounder Sebastian Cossa, but also a rush that probably shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
Then, less than two minutes later, Danielson was picked off on a puck at the defensive blue line, leading to another Class A Stars chance from the slot. And in the second period, it was William Wallinder who was a little too relaxed on a pass to the offensive blue line, creating a three-on-one for Dallas. An empty net ended the game late, but Detroit would have been in control without those three key turnovers.
“The stress (in Friday’s practice) will be puck management,” Watson said. “Live to see another day sometimes, instead of trying to make some of those hope plays, or being careless with the puck in bad situations, the D zone blue lines, the D zone blue lines O zone. It will be a good video session, that’s for sure.
(Nate Danielson Photo: Chris Popp / Detroit Red Wings)