Red Wings bringing Cossa along

Photo: Nicolas Carrillo

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

The Detroit Red Wings have never been shy about taking their time with prospects.

Doesn’t matter if that prospect is a first-round pick. Doesn’t matter if he was coming off leading Canada to a gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship. Doesn’t matter if he had led the Edmonton Oil Kings to a Western Hockey League title.

And even when the Grand Rapids Griffins cycled through nine goaltenders last year in a bid to find some consistency in net, the Red Wings resisted any urge to force that prospect to take on too much, too soon.

That methodical approach is the way that Red Wings general manager and executive vice president of hockey operations Steve Yzerman built a contender when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is not straying from that philosophy in Detroit, either.

Now the Red Wings think that prospect – 2021 first-round pick Sebastian Cossa – is ready for the AHL. Cossa, who turns 21 on Nov. 21, goes 6-foot-6, 225 pounds. Clearly he had potential, but he was raw. He needed to play, but maybe facing AHL talent every night was going to be a bit much.

Following two appearances with the Griffins to start the 2022-23 campaign, he was sent to the organization’s ECHL affiliate, the Toledo Walleye. Then after the Chicago Wolves picked him apart for six goals on 13 shots last Dec. 22, that was enough. Back to Toledo he went, and he did not appear again with the Griffins.

Until this season, at least, when he stuck with the AHL club out of training camp and made his season debut with a 41-save effort in the Griffins’ 5-2 win against Colorado on Oct. 14.

In between, though, he played plenty in Toledo, finishing third among ECHL goaltenders with 46 appearances last season. He went 26-16-1 and fashioned a 2.56 goals-against average along with a .913 save percentage, and then helped Toledo reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

Detroit’s goaltending plan for Grand Rapids, at least for now, includes Cossa and veteran Michael Hutchinson, who is in on a professional tryout. They also have a new head coach in Dan Watson, who was Cossa’s head coach last season with Toledo, and a new goaltending coach in Roope Koistinen from the much-accomplished Finnish club Karpat Oulu’s development program.

Cossa said that glove work has been an area of focus among others.

“It’s a lot of small details in my game right now,” Cossa said. “Obviously if you’re playing at this level already, you’re a good goaltender. But it’s the small stuff in your game that you can continue to develop. It’s the one-offs or stuff like that that I’m really trying to focus on and making sure those goals aren’t going in.”

So far, so good for Cossa, who has stopped 95 of 102 shots over his first three appearances this season (1-1-1, 2.38, .931).

“The speed of the game is a little quicker,” Cossa said of moving up a level. “Guys are definitely executing on their passes a little better. I think throughout the lineup everyone can shoot the puck.”

Having the affable Hutchinson around is another cushion that the Red Wings have put in place. The veteran netminder has played 153 NHL contests, including 16 games with Columbus last season. More than a decade ago as a prospect with Boston and Winnipeg organizations, Hutchinson went down a similar path, spending parts of three seasons in the ECHL. The process has been a good one for Hutchinson, too.

“It’s been great,” Hutchinson said of the early stages of a partnership with Cossa. “He’s a great young kid. He’s a good person, first and foremost, which goes a long way. We were both excited for each other when we had big games early in the season.

“And then he’s got an insane amount of talent, and for him my role is just to be there for him if he has any questions or anything he needs to know. It’s fun working with someone who’s that young and that talented and just a good person.”

As with any young goaltender trying to establish a role in the AHL, there could be some tough nights as the season moves along. But if and when those nights do arrive, the Red Wings have put a strong support system in place for someone they envision will be a key part of their future in Detroit.

“You have to be strong in the mental game,” Watson said, “and make sure that doesn’t faze you. It is a long process. You’re doing things the right way. As long as you believe in yourself, you trust yourself… There are a lot of people surrounding him that are going to give him the right tools and resources to have success.

“Now it’s doing it and using it the right way, and I think he’s doing a good job of it right now.”