The beautiful thing about going to college as an NHL prospect is that players who go this route develop off the ice just as much as they do on it. Just like their classmates, they learn what it means to be away from family for an extended period of time. While coaches undoubtedly try to teach their players good habits, it’s on the players themselves to have the discipline to eat right and live right while enjoying campus life. And if they’re as serious about their studies as they are about their play on the ice, they can set themselves up to have success away from the rink.
Make no mistake, this route is not for everyone. If a player is not as committed to their studies, all of that classwork can seem like a distraction from the main objective. Furthermore, not every program is blessed with an abundance of NHL draftees; almost every team at the collegiate level has to give a significant amount of ice time to players who would be lucky to receive an NHL try-out agreement, let alone an NHL contract. This is why it is not insignificant when players stand out at the collegiate level; a player has to have legitimate drive and talent to rise above all the challenges that NHL prospects face in the NCAA.
The Detroit Red Wings have a number of prospects playing at the collegiate level this season. In this month’s prospect update, we’re going to take a look at some of the biggest standouts at that level and try to gauge where these players are at in their development.
Let’s dive in.
NCAA – University of Denver
Carter Mazur – Left Wing
THW Rank – 9
Games Played (GP) – 30
Stat Line: 12 Goals (G), 31 Points (P)
In THW’s newest Red Wings prospect rankings, Mazur jumped up seven spots from 16 to nine. As a third-round pick in the 2021 draft, to have made his way into the top 10 this quickly is no small feat. While playing for an uber-talented team as a Freshman, he has shined has one of the University of Denver’s brightest stars. He ranks fifth on the team in terms of points, and third in terms of plus/minus (plus-20).
Mazur, whose wears the number 34 as an inverted homage to former Red Wings Darren Helm, has a certain quality to his game that is quite reminiscent of the long-time Red Wing and current member of the Colorado Avalanche (from “Darren Helm returns to Detroit a member of the Avalanche but still a part of the Red Wings family”, The Athletic, 2/23/22). Mazur gets in on the forecheck and already plays a pretty well-rounded game for a 19-year-old. He has some offensive skill in his toolkit, and he knows where to be on a given play (as evidenced by the clip above.) He’s the type of player that you can envision playing in nearly every situation as he can provide depth scoring, and he’s smart enough to develop into a useful penalty killer as well.
There aren’t many prospects in the Red Wings’ system that have raised their stock this season in the way that Mazur has. As a solid two-way winger, he projects as a middle six contributor with room to develop into a penalty killer. He may even develop into the kind of player that does the dirty work on the team’s second power play unit, though his offensive numbers will have to keep heading north if that is going to come to fruition.
If Mazur wasn’t really on your radar prior to the 2021 draft, that’s fine. However, if he’s still not on your radar as somebody who could push for a spot in Detroit in the coming years, you need to change that, and fast.
Antti Tuomisto – Defense
THW Rank – 14
GP – 29
Stat Line – 1 G, 8 P
When the Red Wings drafted Tuomisto 35th overall in 2019, it offered a glimpse into what type of defensemen general manager Steve Yzerman was going to target in the early rounds of the draft. Since then, players like William Wallinder and Shai Buium have fallen into this category as well: raw, highly-skilled defensemen with good size and mobility. While Wallinder has had a successful season in the Swedish Hockey League this season, giving merit to the Red Wings drafting him in 2020, Tuomisto still seems to be figuring out what he is as a defenseman.
The conversation about his projection as an NHL player almost always characterized Tuomisto as a middle pairing offensive defenseman that contributed on the power play. While playing in the Finnish U20 league during the 2019-20 season, he flashed that offensive potential even more, collecting 49 points in 48 games. Since crossing the pond and joining Denver, however, his numbers have no jumped off the page as much. In 53 games spread over the last two seasons, he has just three goals and 19 points. To put it bluntly, that’s not the type of production you look for from a future offensive defenseman.
To his credit, Tuomisto is rounding out his game in other areas this season. After finishing with a minus-2 rating as a Freshman last season, he currently holds a plus-20 rating in his Sophomore season. He seems to have made some strides on the defensive side of the puck that allow him to make an impact even if his offense isn’t translating. This is a promising development because without improvement in other areas, he basically projects as a fringe of the lineup player, similar to what the Red Wings had in former first round pick Dennis Cholowski.
It will be interesting to see what the Red Wings do with him between the conclusion of Denver’s season and the beginning of the 2022-23 campaign. Do they let him stay in Denver, or is a contract signed and he makes his way to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League (AHL)? All things being equal, it would be nice to see Tuomisto play another season in the NCAA, this time as a Junior that takes on a bit of a leadership role within the team. With (almost) two uneven seasons under his belt at the collegiate level, you’d like to see him announce himself as one of the better defensemen in the NCAA, whether that’s as an offensive guy or as a more well-rounded defenseman. Only time will tell if he can pull it off.
Shai Buium – Defense
THW Rank – 11
GP – 28
Stat Line – 2 G, 14 P
Speaking of players whose offense is or isn’t translating at the collegiate level, Buium has had a pretty impressive Freshman season for Denver. With 14 points in 28 games, he’s producing offense at a level that you would hope to see a more seasoned player like Tuomisto produce at. His skill is evident, and the talent around him is allowing him to showcase it. His plus-13 rating is due as much credit to his teammates as it is to him.
That skill and drive for offense does not come without as cost. Buium is not immune to turning over the puck in his pursuit for offense, and his defensive game definitely still needs some work. He makes enough good things happen up and down the ice that it’s not a problem at this level, but his two-way game will still need some fine-tuning before we can talk about him pushing for an NHL spot.
Another season with Denver seems likely, and that’s when you want to see him take another step in terms of rounding out his game while also improving on his offensive play. He has the potential to be a real offensive catalyst from the blue line, and being in a prospect pool that is deep on the blue line should grant him as much time as he needs to realize that potential. This is a player to be excited about.
NCAA – Boston University
Robert Mastrosimone – Center/Left Wing
THW Rank – 18
GP – 29
Stat Line – 11 G, 22 P
From our latest prospect rankings:
However, this is a prospect that is suddenly starting to become a victim of the plethora of prospects in Detroit’s pool. There are at least two other prospects ranked ahead of Mastrosimone in these rankings that project to fill a similar role as him….With a successful Junior season so far, it’s fair to wonder whether or not it’s time for him to make the jump to the AHL.
Mastrosimone is enjoying the most productive season of his collegiate career. As a Junior, he has more goals this season than he had points last season, and he’s generally making a difference for Boston University. He isn’t standing out in a way that suggests he’s too good for this level, though, and that’s what prompts the thought about him heading to the AHL next season.
Simply put, the Red Wings need to figure out what they have with this player. The longer they go without getting the 54th pick of the 2019 draft signed, the more likely it becomes that he will never sign with the team (see: Keith Petruzzelli). Mastrosimone still projects as a two-way force on an NHL third line, similar to what was laid out in regards to Mazur’s projection. Whether he can realize that potential or not…well, the clock is ticking.
Who would you like an update on next week? Is there anybody I missed this week that you would like to highlight? Be sure to leave a comment down below!
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.