Red Wings sign two from college who have smarts and skills
MSU’s Taro Hirose and Princeton’s Ryan Kuffner will play for the Red Wings this season.
The mental abilities of MSU’s Taro Hirose and Princeton’s Ryan Kuffner and really stood out to the Red Wings.
Which is a big reason why the organization thinks two of the top free agents available from college hockey have bright NHL futures. And it’s why Detroit signed the two skilled wingers on Tuesday before the Wings’ 3-1 loss to the Canadiens in Montreal.
Both will play for the Red Wings this season.
Hirose, 22, who played three years at Michigan State, led the nation with 50 points (15 goals), an average of 1.47 points-per game, and 35 assists as a junior this season.
He also signed a two-year entry-level contract.
“Taro has high hockey IQ, he’s got nice stick skills,” general manager Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press. “Taro is a little bit more of a playmaker, Kuffner is a little bit more of a scorer, but they both have good hockey sense.”
The Calgary native is 5-10 and 160 pounds and was also the Big Ten scoring champion with 10 goals and 24 assists for 34 points in 24 conference games in 2018-19 Hirose had 116 points in 106 games in three seasons with the Spartans.
“He can really make quick plays in traffic,” said Jiri Fischer, Detroit's director of development. “He is extremely aware of the surroundings with and without the puck. He ran the half-wall on the power play, he’s also been used on the PK. Obviously, heavy minutes.
“He came to our development camp last summer, we got to know him personally.”
Kuffner – 6-1, 195 pounds and an Ottawa native – played four seasons at Princeton.
“He is very smart,” director of development Fischer told www.mlive.com. “Out of all players I’ve met with last several years – free agents in Europe, college or overage juniors – he was the most self-aware of what he needed to work on as far as how to get better on the ice, what are his strengths, what are his weaknesses and also figuring out a plan and how to work on it.
“Going to Princeton, it’s one of the hardest schools to get in, academically, one of the hardest schools to graduate from.”
Kuffner, 22, signed a two-year entry-level contract after 22 goals and 44 points in 31 games for the Tigers this season. He is the program’s all-time leading goal scorer with 75.
“He’s got decent size, goes to the hard areas,” Red Wings assistant GM Ryan Martin said. “I think he and his linemate, (Max) Veronneau (who signed with Ottawa Tuesday), were two of the best college hockey players in the country and really worked well together, so he can play a skilled game. He’s good at getting open away from the puck and can finish. He’s also got a pretty mature game without the puck. He’s a guy that’s responsible.”
Fischer has been scouting Huffner heavily the past two seasons, and Detroit wanted to sign him a year ago. But Huffner wanted to come back for his senior season at Princeton.
Hirose and Kuffner are expected to join Detroit’s lineup in the next week to 10 days. The Canadian natives need to get their visas changed from academic to professional status. Kuffner flew to Detroit Wednesday and Hirose is scheduled to arrive Thursday.
“They’ll be in Detroit with us,” Holland said, “and then hopefully come into training camp next season and try to make our team.”