The Detroit Red Wings were big winners on Tuesday when the college free agent market opened up. The team was able to secure forward Ryan Kuffner and left winger Taro Hirose (pronounce He-roe-say, not Hirose) to 2 year entry-level deals.
The Detroit Red Wings announced today that both Ryan Kuffner and Taro Hirose will be joining the NHL club as soon as the arrive in Detroit. Ken Holland’s plan of adding them to the roster right away is so that each guy can get some NHL experience before the season is over so that they can have a big summer and know what they need to work on so they can compete for roster spots come September in training camp.
Kuffner is a 6’1″, 195lbs left winger scored 22 goals and 22 assists in just 31 games for Princeton this season. At 22 years old he was the leading goal scorer in Princeton school history with 75 goals in 132 games. He’s a player who can be a solid goal scoring threat in the NHL but his foot speed may be an issue. His hockey IQ helps make up for the speed issue by knowing when and where to be to produce.
Kuffner will play with the Detroit Red Wings to start his professional career, but will likely be in a battle for a bottom six role come training camp. His foot speed can be mitigated by playing lower in the lineup and competing on a scoring third line. His ability to work a half wall or the net front in the power play will aid him in securing a roster spot.
Hirose is a small but skilled winger who can immediately find himself some success on filling in on the top six when Filip Zadina goes back down to the Grand Rapids Griffins after his nine game stint is over later this week. He attended Wings development camp last summer as well, so the team has seen him up close and personal before. Standing at just 5’10” and 160lbs, Hirose will be on the small side but he will be able to make up for it with his full offensive skill set.
A high energy, high IQ player who has good vision, he can be an excellent play maker on a team that’s fairly devoid of playmakers at the moment. Pairing him with a high-end goal scorer on the second line like Andreas Athanasiou may be able to create instant chemistry and start Hirose off on the right foot. Hirose led the nation with 50 points, points per game at 1.47 PPG and he also led the nation in assists with 35.
Next Season and Beyond
While both Kuffner and Hirose will begin their professional careers in Detroit, they are not guaranteed a spot on the roster next season and will have to compete for roster spots in training camp. The likely scenario at this point in time is that Kuffner may start next season in the Griffins and be a good option should the team need to call up a forward for any reason. They will want him playing solid and consistent minutes rather than toiling away on the Wings fourth line.
As for Hirose, depending on how he handles the physicality of the NHL game, he stands a chance to break training camp with the team as a 2nd or 3rd line winger. The development of the young players may force Detroit’s hand into adopting a scoring third line to keep up with teams in the league. So long as the Wings put Hirose in a position to succeed with a goal scorer at center or on the other wing, Hirose can be a solid contributor for the Red Wings.
Overall, signing college free agents is a smart move. They are at worst an AHL depth acquisition that cost nothing more than an entry-level contract and a contract spot. The Wings were able to sign two of the best forwards in this year’s crop and they are only better for it. College players are often lottery tickets and the reward is well worth the cost.