The Detroit Red Wings have added a local product, who also happened to be the highest scoring player in the NCAA this season. The team has announced a two-year entry-level contract with Michigan State standout Taro Hirose. The talented winger led the college ranks in assists, points, and multi-point games this season and now he joins Princeton’s Ryan Kuffner, also signed today, as two top collegiate talents heading to Detroit.
Hirose, 22, is a Calgary native who first started garnering attention as a top scorer in the BCHL back in 2015-16. Many considered it a surprise that Hirose was never drafted, though others have pointed to a lack of size and strength as deterring NHL teams from taking the risk. Hirose has defied the skepticism, taking his talents to Michigan State and excelling, despite a lack of equal ability around him. Hirose has led the Spartans in scoring in each of the past two years, this season taking his game to the next level with an NCAA-best 50 points in 36 games.
Hirose is a strong skater with both straight ahead speed and great quickness and also makes decisions at a fast pace. A high-end play-maker with good vision, Hirose was undoubtedly one of the most creative offensive players at the college level this season. However, the 5’10”, 161-lb. winger is undersized and wouldn’t be the first game-breaking talent out of the NCAA to struggle with the adjustment to the bigger, stronger NHL. He’ll need to continue working and exceeding expectations if he is to keep up his scoring prowess in the pros.
Despite Hirose’s best efforts, Michigan State was bounced early from the Big Ten Conference tournament and he immediately became one of the top targets on the college free agent market. Clearly, there was a draw to staying in-state with Detroit, but there may have been another incentive. It’s unclear as of yet whether Hirose will report to the Red Wings right away and burn the first year of his contract or if he will instead play out the year with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, but the former is more likely. Hirose is capable of contributing right away to a Detroit team with little left to play for this season and both sides could benefit from an early look at how he fits at the highest level. Even if his debut is held off until next season, Hirose will enter camp as an intriguing candidate for a top-nine role with the Red Wings next year.