On the other side of Windsor you'll find the Motor City, which is our next stop today.
Ryan Sproul - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Pretty hard to argue with the results this year for Sproul. It's not easy to win the CHL's defenseman of the year award. Sproul was a beast for the Hounds in 2012/2013. He was nearly impossible for the opposition to stop on the rush. With his size, skating ability and puck control, he waltzed across the opposing blueline with ease on many nights. And of course, there is the booming howitzer from the point. Actually, this was an area that I felt grew this year. Last year, he would force too many shots and became predictable when running the point. This year he was much smarter in using his shot, and considerably more patient with the puck. Defensively, his game also improved and he's slowly learning how to read situations correctly in the defensive end. I'm a big fan of his, but there's no denying that he'll have some areas to work on at the pro level next season. He'll have to be more cautious on his pinches to prevent himself from getting trapped and his defensive game (particularly below the hash marks) will need to continue to improve. But the potential is massive. I'm really hoping he has a huge year in the AHL, but I could see him struggling initially. Playing every day and amassing 25-30 points would be a great goal.
Andreas Athanasiou - Barrie Colts
What a difference a new team can make. AA was terrific for Barrie this year after the trade from London in the offseason. He looked re-invigorated and was again playing with the energy that made him a fan favourite in London during his rookie season. The biggest thing for AA this year was his increased involvement without the puck. In his draft year he seemed content with letting others do his dirty work and was a bit of a floater. This year, he took control of his own destiny. He was very active on the forecheck and played the puck possession game just as well as he worked off the rush. Playing second fiddle to Mark Scheifele, AA provided consistent secondary scoring by using his speed and his linemates well. He definitely put himself back on track. Next year Scheifele will undoubtedly be with Winnipeg, which means AA will be one of the primary go to guys on offense. Barrie will still have offensive talent (Hall, Theoret, Bradford, Lemieux) and I think he's going to have a big year alongside them. An 80 point season is a very realistic expectation.
Jake Paterson - Saginaw Spirit
While the numbers certainly don't jump out at you, they also don't tell the whole story. Paterson was solid for the Spirit this year and did take some steps forward in becoming a more consistent netminder. He's a very fluid and controlled goalie who challenges shooters and reads angles well. He's certainly not the scrambling type of goalie that the Wings have in former OHL standout Petr Mrazek. Next year, I expect Saginaw to be one of the better teams in the Western Conference. Paterson will be right in the thick of that. As such, I'd expect his "numbers" to finally look glossy. He has to be an early candidate for OHL goalie of the year next year, as well as another spot (possibly in the starter's role) for Canada at the WJC's. Clearly I have high hopes for him next year.
Zach Nastasiuk - Owen Sound Attack
Loved this pick by the Wings. Nastasiuk is a real heart and soul guy who leaves it all on the ice. This year he played in every situation for the Attack and his offensive game got better and better as the season went on. Hopefully this offseason he's working on getting a little quicker so that he can hit open lanes with more efficiency and be a more effective player off the rush. Given how strong he finished last season, I expect him to continue that level of play and confidence into next year. I think he's a serious candidate for a 30-30 year.
Tyler Bertuzzi - Guelph Storm
Certainly not a surprising draft selection, just a surprise at where the Wings nabbed him (2nd round). Bertuzzi missed a good chunk of time this year with a neck injury/concussion (suffered in a fight), but he was a solid role player for the Storm in the action he did see. He's a very hard worker without the puck and is relentless on the forecheck and in front of the net. I think it remains to be seen as to how good his hands are and whether he has serious goal scoring potential, but the other tangibles are there. He'll likely start the coming season on Guelph's 3rd line and could even see some secondary powerplay time. If he stays healthy, a 20 goal season is well within his grasp.
*of note, the Wings elected to not sign Alan Quine and he was re-drafted by the New York Islanders.