Detroit Red Wings: Xavier Ouellet Is Slowly Becoming the Next Best Prospect

Garrett Kolodziej@@gkolodziej248Contributor IIDecember 25, 2012

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 25:  48th overall pick Xavier Ouellet by the Detroit Red Wings poses for a portrait during day two of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 25, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

A new era of questions on the defense began on April 20. This was the date when the Detroit Red Wings got bounced early from the playoffs in Nashville.

It was also the date that Red Wings legend,seven-time Norris Trophy winner and future Hockey Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom had a humbled look on his face as he played in his last NHL game of his illustrious career. 

During that time and July 1, fans from all walks of life were insisting on two options to replace someone who is irreplaceable: Build from within or throw money at the problem.

Red Wings GM Ken Holland did all he could to barter with free agent D Ryan Suter to come don the Winged Wheel. He had faced the Red Wings many times during his seven seasons in Nashville. In the end, however, Suter chose to join fellow American Zach Parise in Minnesota and play the rest of his career in the Twin Cities. 

Many Red Wings fans were baffled, stunned and enraged over Suter's decision. But it was clear that Holland's onus was to build the Red Wings new defensive corps from within. It was evident in the signing of Kyle Quincey in the offseason and letting Niklas Kronwall along with Jonathan Ericsson get more ice time. 

However, most of the current players aren't true playmakers like Lidstrom was at the point. While Xavier Ouellet is most certainly not the answer, he can surely bring stability—and an offensive punch—to the Red Wings' blue line. 

Ouellet also is a leader on the ice. Not only did head coach Jean-Francois Houle make him team captain during the 2011-12 season, but he also took a larger role in playing in all situations—even strength and special teams—for his team, Blainville-Broisbriand Armada of the "Q."

That all-around play is some of what has helped him earn a roster spot on Canada's 2013 World Junior Championship team.

Some of the game's best young players have taken the ice for Team Canada during this competition. Alex Pietrangelo, Tyler Myers, P.K. Subban and Drew Doughty have all been a part of Team Canada's defense and have brought home golds and found success in the NHL (source: Hockey Canada).

Certainly this is a good sign for an organization like the Red Wings to see amid losing their legendary defenseman. 

The biggest problem for Ouellet going forward is not his skill level or his size, but rather his age. He is only 19 years old and nearing the end of his eligibility in the Junior ranks. 

In the past, the Red Wings have been notorious for letting prospects go through several years of grooming before making the ranks of the NHL. Yet the scouting department has also been quick to move prospects through the system that show elite potential. 

Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were prospects who were rushed through the ranks and have become the foundation to the Red Wings attack. 

The truly great players in the NHL usually take shorter paths to the League. This could be the case for Ouellet.

Another problem may be the fan's reluctance to accept Ouellet as the next prospect waiting in the wings. Fans were told this by management about Brendan Smith and questions as to why he did not end up on the Opening Night roster in 2011-12 only added to the speculation. 

Smith is a very good defensive-minded player who makes the right play. But there are some cases where Smith will have a lapse on defense and make his team vulnerable.

Other prospects like Ryan Sproul and Max Nicastro are not ready to see NHL action just yet and Adam Almquist might be subject to a influx of young defenseman who are worthy of a call-up before him. 

This is some of what the Holland and his scouting staff are looking at on a daily basis to try and transition from the Lidstrom era in Hockeytown. The absence of such a elite player on the blue line is truly cumbersome, but to a team like Detroit, it's a challenge it can take head on. 

Holland is most comfortable with overcoming the challenge with a young defenseman who has caught the Junior Hockey circuit by storm. He trusts Xavier Ouellet. And soon Red Wings fans will be able to place trust in Ouellet in the forseeable future. 

Follow Garrett on Twitter @gkolodziej248