Drafting talented players is critical for a rebuilding NHL team. But a quality plan to develop those players is equally important. Sebastian Cossa is a good example.
Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman decided first-round draft pick Cossa would start with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye. That decision is being rewarded today with Cossa playing a significant role in the Walleye’s 7-0 start in the playoffs.
Cossa, 20, made 43 saves Wednesday night to power the Walleye to a 2-1 win against the Cincinnati Cyclones in Game 3 of their Divisional Final series. The Walleye own a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which resumes with Game 4 Friday in Toledo.
Sharing the net with fellow Red Wings prospect John Lethemon, Cossa has given up five goals in four playoff games. He is 4-0 with a 1.25 goals-against average and .954 save percentage.
In the 2-1 win that secured the 3-0 series lead over Cincinnati, Sebastian Cossa delivered an outstanding 43-save performance in the Toledo net, setting a new personal best.
— Toledo Walleye (@ToledoWalleye) May 11, 2023
If Coach Dan Watson continues the rotation, then former Michigan State goalie Lethemon, 26, would play Friday’s game. Lethemon is 3-0 with a 2.24 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. The Red Wings signed Lethemon late in the season. He will become a restricted free agent this summer.
The Red Wings had goaltending issues in Grand Rapids this season until Alex Nedeljkovic was sent there. But goaltending has been a plus for the Walleye this season.
Won’t Rush Cossa
“I think we are all very pleased with Sebastian’s season to date,” Yzerman said at the end of the Red Wings’ season. “He struggled early in the season. We decided to leave him in Toledo, because we knew he was going to get a lot of starts and it was going to be a challenge for him. What I could really say is his attitude’s been unreal. Like he’s a worker. He relished the opportunity to go to Toledo and play a lot.”
Cossa and Lethemon both could end up in Grand Rapids next season. Walleye coach Dan Watson should probably be a candidate for the vacant Griffins coaching job, although no one is talking about that because the Walleye’s focus is on the playoffs.
Yzerman’s track record for developing players is strong, going back to Tampa Bay. In Detroit, he has clearly made quality decisions on Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond. Simon Edvinsson‘s play late in the season seems to show he’s on the right track with him.
Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy developed on Yzerman’s watch. His situation is different because he grew up in the Russian system. But Yzerman didn’t put him in the AHL until he was 20. He didn’t become the Lightning full-time goalie he was 22.
Yzerman has said repeatedly that he won’t rush Cossa.
“Next year is he ready to play in the American League? I hope he is. Maybe he will be. Maybe he won’t.,” Yzerman said in April. “As long as he’s going in the right direction, that’s all I’m worried about.”