If you’re a fan of the Detroit Red Wings, you’re probably getting a little impatient.
After qualifying for the playoffs in 25 consecutive seasons, Detroit has failed to clinch a postseason berth in five straight NHL campaigns. A franchise accustomed to winning has endured a lengthy, yet steadfast, rebuild.
The man who’s overseen three crucial drafts for the organization is franchise legend Steve Yzerman. Yzerman joined the squad in 2019, signing on to serve as Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations and general manager. After captaining the Red Wings to three Stanley Cup championships, the 2014-15 NHL GM of the Year was tasked with overhauling an aging, prospect-depleted roster that had already endured three disappointing seasons.
Now entering the third year of Yzerman’s tenure and the sixth of Detroit’s rebuild, how has the team fared during this period and when can residents of Hockey Town expect the squad to be competitive once again?
Ken Holland’s final years
It’s briefly worth mentioning the job Yzerman’s predecessor, Ken Holland, did while in charge. Holland succeeded in acquiring picks for the Red Wings in the 2017 and 2018 drafts, securing 21 combined selections. Evidently, however, Holland and then-director of amateur scouting Tyler Wright missed the mark. Just five of the 21 players have actually played in the NHL, while 2018 sixth-overall pick Filip Zadina has been the most productive with 15 goals and 37 points in 86 games. The Zadina pick is hardly worth celebrating, especially when considering local defenseman Quinn Hughes was selected directly after him.
As it currently stands, the only players from those draft classes projected to be on Detroit’s season-opening roster are first-round picks Zadina and Michael Rasmussen, along with second-round pick Gustav Lindstrom. 2018 second-round forward Jonatan Berggren should join the squad at some point during the season if all goes well.
One of the first changes the team made under the Yzerman administration was to part ways with Wright, whose contract expired three weeks after Yzerman was hired. He remained with the team for the draft and then followed Holland to the Edmonton Oilers shortly afterward. Kris Draper was internally promoted into the position of director of amateur scouting after serving as a special assistant to the GM since 2011-12.
The 2019 NHL Draft came just over two months after Yzerman was appointed general manager. Although Wright was still with the team, he was getting set to leave just a few short weeks later. Once again, Holland had stocked the cupboards well for the upcoming draft. Detroit entered with 10 selections, while a trade-down brought the total to 11 before the event was over.
Here’s what the Red Wings came away with in 2019.
6. D Moritz Seider
35. D Antti Tuomisto
54. LW Robert Mastrosimone
60. D Albert Johansson
66. RW Albin Grewe
97. C Ethan Phillips
128. D Cooper Moore
159. RW Elmer Soderblom
177. D Gustav Berglund
190. LW Kirill Tyutyayev
191. G Carter Gylander
None of the members from this draft class have cracked the NHL just yet. That doesn’t mean this group of players doesn’t have much promise, however. Playing on loan with Rogle BK in 2020-21, Seider was named Defenseman of the Year in the SHL, Sweden’s premier hockey league. The defensively sound and smart blueliner also showcased his offense, posting seven goals and 28 points in 41 contests.
Tuomisto showed his upside at the University of Denver this season, as the smooth-skating, 6-foot-4 rearguard registered two goals and 11 points in 23 games. The third defenseman the squad selected, Johansson, is coming off a solid season in the SHL, as the two-way blueliner recorded eight goals and 19 points while playing on loan for Farjestad BK.
After shooting for upside and defensive stability in Rounds 1 and 2, Detroit wisely selected defense-first forwards in Grewe and Phillips. The Red Wings circled around for some upside forwards in Soderblom and Tyutyayev while taking a stab at the always unpredictable netminding position with Gylander in the seventh.
In 2020, it was Yzerman’s job to acquire draft capital, but he has mostly Holland to thank for the haul he was able to secure. After a pair of trades with the Oilers that sent Mike Green, Ryan Kuffner, and Andreas Athanasiou packing, Detroit added two second-round picks (2020 and 2021) and a fourth to its total. Holland had also stockpiled an additional second, third, and seventh before he left, giving the team 12 picks entering the draft.
Yzerman and Draper, in the latter’s first-ever draft as director of amateur scouting, left the event with the following prospects:
4. LW Lucas Raymond
32. D William Wallinder
51. C Theodor Niederbach
55. LW Cross Hanas
63. D Donovan Sebrango
70. D Eemil Viro
97. RW Sam Stange
107. G Jan Bednar
132. D Alex Cotton
156. D Kyle Aucoin
187. RW Kienan Draper
203. LW Chase Bradley
Raymond is obviously the most intriguing prospect from this class, as the gifted goal scorer has been a solid member of Frolunda HC in the SHL the past two seasons. He suffered an arm injury in February, but according to the initial recovery timeline of eight weeks, that should be cleared up by now. Wallinder fits the typical mold of an Yzerman target: A big defenseman that is an extremely strong skater. At 6-foot-4, Wallinder moves smoothly on the ice and will play for Rogle BK in the SHL this upcoming year.
Niederbach has proven to be an effective two-way forward and played 20 games in the SHL last season while Hanas has as enticing of a highlight reel as any prospect in the team’s system through three seasons with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. Sebrango and Viro are also smooth-skating blueliners that play the position well at both ends of the ice. Cotton has clear offensive upside as the rearguard finished each of his past two campaigns for the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes with better than a point per game.
This past season, Detroit whittled down a lot of its draft capital prior to and during the NHL Draft. In just under a week before the event, the Red Wings sent a 2021 second-round pick and Richard Panik to the New York Islanders for 30-year-old Nick Leddy. Additionally, the day before the draft, Yzerman packaged a 2021 third and Jonathan Bernier to the Carolina Hurricanes for Alex Nedeljkovic.
At the draft, the Red Wings traded up in both the first and second rounds, gaining 10 combined spots but costing themselves a second, a fourth, and a fifth in the process.
With a still-respectable eight selections, here’s what Detroit walked away from the 2021 draft with.
6. D Simon Edvinsson
15. G Sebastian Cossa
36. D Shai Buium
70. LW Carter Mazur
114. C Redmond Savage
134. C Liam Dower Nilsson
155. D Oscar Plandowski
166. LW Pasquale Zito
This draft is the one Red Wings fans should be most critical of. Getting Edvinsson at six was excellent, as Yzerman picked up another big, mobile blueliner who profiles as a first-pairing defender. Things got a little dicey for Detroit when it decided to move up in the first round to draft Cossa. Trading up is hardly ever a good idea in the first round given how much draft capital it requires, but especially when it’s done to select a goalie.
Excluding goaltenders selected within the past five years because it’s too early to judge them, it’s fair to say that eight of the 27 netminders picked in Round 1 since 2000 have panned out. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Semyon Varlamov, Carey Price, Tuukka Rask, Devan Dubnyk, Cory Schneider, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Cam Ward have all been fine, but for every success story, there are two busts. Looking at how historically difficult the position has been to project makes trading up to select a goalie an even more egregious mistake for Yzerman. Additionally, trading up at this point of the draft while both Jesper Wallstedt and Cossa were on the board is increasingly questionable.
Drafts are defined by value, and Cossa will have to become a perennial Vezina candidate to justify investing a first, second, and a fifth. Additionally, Detroit had just sent Bernier and a third-round pick to the Hurricanes one day earlier for Nedeljkovic, the man who led the NHL in save percentage last season, making this pick even more indefensible.
The Red Wings also traded up in the second round to 36th overall, jumping two spots to select Buium after sending the 38th overall pick and the 128th overall pick to the Vegas Golden Knights. Buium’s a work-in-progress defenseman that showcased high offensive upside with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers in 2020-21. The team’s next choice was local product Mazur, who was born in Detroit and played all of his minor hockey for the Little Caesars program. Savage, the team’s fourth-round pick, showcased his playmaking abilities with the USNTDP last year and is committed to the University of Miami (Ohio) this upcoming season.
When will the Red Wings be competitive again?
Detroit has some really strong prospects in its system. Seider, Tumoisto, Wallinder, and Edvinsson lead a very exciting crop of developing blueliners. Raymond is clearly the most tantalizing forward prospect, but the development of Berggren, Niederbach, Hanas, and Mazur will all be worth monitoring, too. Cossa now becomes the team’s goaltender of the future, but it wouldn’t be shocking in the least to see Nedeljkovic establish himself as a high-end starting option this upcoming season.
With all of this talent stashed away and more likely to come, the Red Wings should be eyeing a return to the playoffs in 2023-24. The current roster is in no position to compete, but two more offseasons should allow Yzerman to bring in the requisite supporting talent to surround his up-and-coming stars.
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