The 2011-12 season saw four Detroit Red Wings prospects make their NHL debuts. Gustav Nyquist, Brendan Smith, Joakim Andersson and Riley Sheahan all got a glimpse of the good life with Detroit, and while each player looked like he belonged, Nyquist outshone the others and is an easy choice as the Red Wings top prospect of 2012.
Nyquist entered the season as one of the most anticipated AHL prospects, and did not disappoint. He would only play in 56 contests with the Grand Rapids Griffins due to his multiple trips to Detroit, but still scored 22 goals while putting up 58 points (good enough to tie for the team lead). An injury to Darren Helm also gave him a chance to crack the Wings’ roster in the postseason. He had one goal and seven points in 18 NHL games, and showcased some of the speed and stickhandling that helped make him a perennial Hobey Baker finalist while at the University of Maine.
While the lockout has forced Nyquist back to Grand Rapids instead of challenging for a spot on the top two lines in Detroit, he has chosen not be bothered by it and picked up where he left off last season. Through 27 games he is once again scoring at a nearly point-per-game pace, with nine goals and 16 assists. Playing on a line with Andersson and Tomas Tatar under first-year head coach (and former Wings assistant) Jeff Blashill has put him in a position to get more shots while working with other skilled forwards.
Honorable mention for 2012 goes to defenseman Brendan Smith, who looked right at home during his NHL time last season. He is all but guaranteed a roster spot when the lockout ends and continues to improve all aspects of his game with the Griffins this season.