In less than a month general manager Steve Yzerman is tasked with making a choice that hopefully moves the needle on the Detroit Red Wings’ rebuild.
He holds the fourth overall pick in the 2020 draft, as the Wings were bruised as much as possible by the lottery after finishing in 31st place. They were the only team not to reach 20 victories and lagged 30th-place Ottawa by 23 points.
A good player will be available: possible choices include defenseman Jamie Drysdale, and forwards Cole Perfetti, Marco Rossi, Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz. The Wings are in desperate need of a player who dominates and makes those around him better.
When they were competitive, the Wings at times used their first-round picks to acquire players who could help them continue their success. As they’ve declined over the past decade, there was a shift in approach. Now some of their recent first-rounders are the ones counted on as rebuilding blocks — and some are looking like busts.
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In advance of the Oct. 6-7 virtual draft, here is a look at the team’s first-round picks going back to 2010, and what impact they’ve had on the Wings:
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Then-general manager Ken Holland held the 21st overall pick and used it to draft forward Riley Sheahan. He was coming off his first year at Notre Dame, where he’d tallied six goals and 11 assists in 37 games. He was considered a defensive center with an offensive upside. Sheahan spent 42 games with the Wings in 2013-14, seemingly on the right track — he notched nine goals and 15 assists. He was a full-timer the next season and delivered 13 goals and 23 assists in 79 games. He scored a career-high 14 goals in 2015-16, but his point total dropped to 25.
The next season was a disaster. Sheahan went 79 games before finally scoring, doing so twice in the last game of the season, the final game at Joe Louis Arena. Eight games into the 2017-18 season he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s since also played for the Florida Panthers, and spent last season playing for Holland again, with the Edmonton Oilers.
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The Wings’ first-round pick (No. 24 went to Ottawa as part of a draft-day deal that sent the Senators’ and Chicago Blackhawks’ second-round picks to the Wings. Those picks were the 35th and 48th overall, on top of the 55th pick the Wings already held. This is notable because it gave Detroit three chances at Nikita Kucherov, who the Tampa Bay Lightning nabbed at No. 58. In fairness, no one at that time knew how good Kucherov would be (he leads his draft class with 547 points in 515 career games) but it stings because none of the Wings choices — Tomas Jurco, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul — panned out. (The Senators used the 24th pick on Matt Puempel, who has appeared in 87 NHL games and has been in Detroit’s farm system since 2017-18.)
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This is another one that’s best taken sitting down and with a dose of context. In 2012, the Wings still had Nicklas Lidstrom, who even as he neared 42 was one of the best defensemen in the NHL, while Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were in their prime. The Wings were decimated by injuries around the trade deadline, prompting Holland to engage in a three-way trade that ended with the Lightning (then with Yzerman as GM) gaining the Wings’ first-round pick and the Wings reacquiring defenseman Kyle Quincey. Quincey stuck around for four seasons, but he wasn’t the type of player to invigorate a declining team. Yzerman used the first-round pick on Andrei Vasilevskiy, who became Tampa’s franchise goaltender.
Here’s where things start to improve. The Wings came into the draft holding the 18th pick and had their sights set on Anthony Mantha, a 6-foot-5 forward out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League who’d put up 89 points in 67 games with Val-d’Or. Anticipating he’d be around two more spots, Holland flipped picks with the San Jose Sharks, moving back to 20th but also gaining the 58th overall pick. Mantha has emerged as a core part of the rebuild, a two-time 20-goal scorer whose ascent has been waylaid by injuries. Holland used the 58th selection on forward Tyler Bertuzzi, who also has established himself as a core rebuilding block.
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This was another good first round for the Wings, who chose homegrown forward Dylan Larkin at No. 15. He ranks third in his draft class with 266 points in 386 games, trailing Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl and Boston’s David Pastrnak, both of whom play on considerably better-stocked teams. Larkin has earned the right to be the next captain (expect an announcement before next season begins), impressing with his relentless drive and emergent leadership on and off the ice.
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This one is tough. Forward Evgeny Svechnikov was billed as a complete package of size and skill when the Wings drafted him at 19th, but five years later he’s appeared in just 20 games (two goals, two assists). He missed 2018-19 recovering from knee surgery, but he didn’t dominate in the AHL the season before or after. He was signed to a one-year extension this summer, and time is running out for the affable Russian to demonstrate if he fits into the rebuild.
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This was a messy situation. Datsyuk quit with a year to go on his contract, leaving the Wings with a $7.5 million cap hit and nothing to show for it. Holland struck a deal with Arizona: The Coyotes took Datsyuk’s cap hit (no actual money was owed to him) and the Wings’ pick at 16th, while the Wings got Arizona’s pick at 20th and at 53rd. The first selection was used on defenseman Dennis Cholowski. He’s a good skater with NHL-caliber talent, but his lack of assertiveness has been an issue. Yzerman has talked to Cholowski about the problem, but he finished the season in the minors for a second straight year.
The guy the Wings chose at 53rd has been a boon: Defenseman Filip Hronek has established he can help the rebuild, demonstrating offensive skills mixed with a ferocity in physical play.
Here begins the Wings’ bitter fortune in the draft lottery. They were pushed back from seventh to ninth and missed out on, among others, defensemen Miro Heiskanen (third, a top-pair guy for the Dallas Stars) and Cale Makar (fourth, a driving force with the Colorado Avalanche) and forward Elias Petterson (fifth, Vancouver Canucks, leads his draft class with 55 career goals). Michael Rasmussen is a 6-6 center with the potential to be a solid net-front presence, but picking so far back hurt a team coming off a 25-season playoff run and in need of restocking star power.
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The Wings were pushed back from fifth to sixth, leaving them to sit and stew as Buffalo drafted defenseman Rasmus Dahlin at first overall and Carolina drafted forward Andrei Svechnikov, Evgeny’s brother, at second. Holland and company, though, were thrilled when forward Filip Zadina, projected to go as high as third, was available at pick No. 6. Zadina made strides this season in figuring out how to get off his shot in limited space, and looks like he’ll be a factor in the rebuild. Trading Tomas Tatar got the Wings the 30th overall pick, which they used on Joe Veleno. He’s a smooth-skating center with offensive upside whose improved defensive game should boost the Wings down the road.
Yzerman stunned the draft-night crowd, including his target, when he picked defenseman Moritz Seider at sixth overall (the Wings were pushed back from their fourth-place projected pick, missing out on Jack Hughes). Seider is 6-4, shoots right and has the skill set to be a top-pair anchor. He’s likely to play with the Wings this season (he’s currently in Germany with his old DEL team but he’ll be recalled whenever the NHL gives the go-ahead on training camps). He handled himself well last season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, where he played in all situations.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. 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.