TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The Detroit Red Wings’ annual prospects tournament has a slightly different feel this year, down to just four teams during the long weekend in Northern Michigan. There’s a little more elbow room and a little less foot traffic between the two ice sheets at Centre Ice Arena. There’s also a new man behind Detroit’s bench, as Dan Watson begins his new assignment as coach of the Griffins.
But once the puck drops, it’s still the same fast-paced, feisty hockey featuring some of the top prospects in the league. And on Day 1 of the 2023 edition, Detroit’s ninth pick Nate Danielson made a strong first impression — both on his new fans, and on Watson.
“I thought he was a real 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 really good player.”
Danielson assisted on both Detroit goals, including a pretty first goal on which Danielson scooped up a puck out of a battle behind the net, then found Cross Hanas in the slot to set up Elmer Söderblom backdoor. He also set up a power-play blast from defenseman Antti Tuomisto and could have had even more on the scoresheet by game’s end. His skating is a standout trait, but notably, his vision also stood out throughout the game.
It was the first time Watson had seen Danielson live, of course, after previously serving as coach of 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’s at,” Watson said. “He’s mature for his age.”
And he wasn’t the only recent top-10 pick to stand out in the opener.
Marco Kasper didn’t get on the scoresheet as Danielson did, but he had multiple good looks from the slot — finishing with four shots on goal — and set up another great chance for Alexandre Doucet that the undrafted signee couldn’t quite corral. 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 on some of their best looks of the night.
Still, though, Watson came away with a strong impression of Kasper.
“I thought he competed extremely hard,” Watson said. “He was finishing checks, he’s got good stick detail, he’s going to find that offensive touch here for sure. But just another smart player, moves his feet well, he makes the players around him better, and I liked his game tonight.”
Kasper has a bit more to play for at this tournament, as a spot on the NHL roster — though 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’s right: He showed lots of pro elements in the tournament opener, including a nice backcheck to break up a chance for the Dallas Stars and then draw a penalty, and his typical physicality.
It didn’t translate to a win Thursday, but it was a nice debut for Detroit’s two most important young centers.
Line charts for day 1 at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament pic.twitter.com/zKmDzfjnsx
— Max Bultman (@m_bultman) September 14, 2023
Carter Mazur injured
For as good as Detroit might have felt seeing Kasper and Danielson play well, the biggest development of the game was a more concerning one: Carter Mazur’s exiting the ice early and not returning.
Mazur, like Kasper, is a long shot to make the Red Wings because of Detroit’s newfound veteran depth, but is certainly one of the most interesting players to watch this fall. He’s a scrappy winger who can skate, score and bang bodies, which is a profile that typically endears itself to coaches.
But Mazur’s night ended early with a lower-body injury. It wasn’t clear when, exactly, it occurred, as Mazur went down multiple times in the first period, but he wasn’t seen in the second or third periods.
“He is actually going to go and see the docs and try to get some more tests done,” Watson said after the game. “We’re hopeful to have him back, but we’ll leave that in the hands of the physicians.”
Certainly, losing Mazur would be a blow to the prospects team, but more important is Mazur’s health approaching the season. He’s expected to play in Grand Rapids, where he got a brief look late last season and tallied six points in six games.
Turnovers doom Detroit
The Red Wings controlled play for long stretches Thursday night, but key turnovers cost them over and over. First, late in a power play, 2022 fifth-round pick Tnias Mathurin got picked off looking for Kasper, leading to an odd-man rush that Dallas defenseman Gavin White converted. It was the kind of shot you’d like to see 2021 first-rounder Sebastian Cossa save, but also a rush that probably shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
Then, less than two minutes later, Danielson was bodied off a puck at the defensive blue line, leading to another Grade-A Stars chance from the slot. And in the second period, it was William Wallinder getting just a bit too casual on a pass at the offensive blue line, springing a three-on-one for Dallas. An empty-netter capped it off late in the game, but Detroit would have been in the driver’s seat if not for those three key turnovers.
“The stress (at Friday’s practice) will be puck management,” Watson said. “Live to see another day at times, instead of trying to make some of those hope plays, or being careless with the puck in the wrong situations, D-zone blue lines, O-zone blue lines. It’ll be a good video session, for sure.”
(Photo of Nate Danielson: Chris Popp / Detroit Red Wings)