The 2020 NHL playoffs are cause for wondering what might have been.
The pandemic-delayed finish to the 2019-20 season is past the halfway point, with the Dallas Stars battling the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final and the Tampa Bay Lightning battling the New York Islanders in the East. The winners will meet for the Stanley Cup championship in Edmonton.
Vegas advanced with a Game 7 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, a series that prompted reader Alex M.’s question to be the subject of this Detroit Red Wings mailbag: “What’s the bigger miss — Wings drafting Svechnikov instead of Boeser or Zadina instead of Hughes?”
More: Here’s who Red Wings could pick at No. 4
The Wings selected forward Evgeny Svechnikov at 19th in the 2015 draft, four spots before the Canucks chose forward Brock Boeser at 23rd. Two years ago, the Wings drafted forward Fiiip Zadina at sixth, and the Canucks pounced on defenseman Quinn Hughes at seventh. The Wings’ picks were made by former general manager Ken Holland and Tyler Wright, who was the chief of amateur scouting. General manager Steve Yzerman holds the fourth pick in the 2020 draft, which is scheduled for Oct. 9-10.
Boeser and Hughes have established themselves as significant players for the Canucks.
Boeser, 23, has 75 goals among 161 points in 197 career games. He scored 29 goals as a rookie in 2017-28, 26 the following season, and was on pace to top 20 again when the season was paused March 12. Svechnikov, on the other hand, has appeared in just 20 NHL games (two goals, two assists) and has yet to show where he fits into the rebuild, if at all. Svechnikov, who turns 24 in October, suffered a setback when a preseason injury forced him to miss the entire 2018-19 season, but he didn’t impress in 2019-20, scoring just 11 goals among 25 points in 51 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins. He had no points in four games with the Wings.
Hughes, a product of the Plymouth-based USA Hockey National Team Development Program, spent two years at Michigan before joining the Canucks. He picked up three assists in five games in the spring of 2019, then turned heads his rookie season with 53 points in 68 games, tied for fourth among NHL defensemen. He was voted a finalist for the 2020 Calder Trophy.
The 20-year-old has since produced 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) in 17 playoff games.
Zadina, 20, was one of the few bright spots for the Wings this season after he was called up in late November, producing eight goals among 15 points in 28 games before his season ended with an injury at the end of January.
Boeser and Hughes are surrounded by more talent, but even so, both have shown they are stars — especially Hughes, who is excelling in the more difficult position. There was a point in the series against the St. Louis Blues where Oskar Sundqvist knocked Hughes down and Hughes still managed to keep control of the puck and get it to a teammate, setting up a sequence that led to a goal.
Zadina looks like he will develop into a good player, but Hughes already has established his value. Imagine what having Hughes, Moritz Seider and Filip Hronek on the back end would do for the Wings’ rebuild. That’s three defensemen who all excel at getting the puck to the forwards — a facet of the game in which the Wings sorely were limited this season.
We’d all look like geniuses drafting in hindsight. If 2018 were redone, Hughes would probably be a top-three pick (the Wings weren’t going to take him even if Zadina had not been available — they had their sights on defenseman Evan Bouchard). The better Zadina plays, the less passing on Hughes will ding the Wings. The fact Boeser has demonstrated he’s a top-six forward and Svechnikov has yet to show he belongs in the NHL is going to be harder to forget.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments that made the Detroit Red Wings will be published in October by Triumph Books. To preorder, go to Amazon.