Detroit Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman reveals his NHL draft strategy

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Red Wings have used the extra months to review and reassess, and general manager Steve Yzerman is confident his organization is prepared as possible for the challenge.

The Wings enter Tuesday’s virtual draft with the fourth pick and have 10 picks overall during the two-day event, a crucial number of assets for a team trying to rebuild. The Wings need impact players at every position, but the objective with the first pick Yzerman makes in his second year since taking control of the Wings is to find the player who will have the most impact down the road.

“At this early stage, where we’re at as an organization, I don’t think we can really target a particular position,” Yzerman said during a Zoom call Thursday. “We’re going to take the best prospect. The kids are 17, 18, 19 years of age; the vast majority of them are three, four, five years away from playing in the NHL.

“Your needs as an organization will change over time, so we try to draft the best prospect available with that pick. Now having said that, if we draft five left-shot defensemen in the first five rounds, there’s a chance we may go in a different direction in the sixth round.”

Forwards Alexis Lafreniere, Tim Stütztle and Quinton Byfield are expected to be gone by the time Yzerman makes his choice, with the Wings holding the pick after No. 1 New York Rangers, No. 2 Los Angeles Kings, and No. 3 Ottawa Senators. Fourth is the lowest possible draft position the Wings could have received after finishing in last place with a 17-49-5 record when the NHL shut down March 12, but a good player still will be available.

Yzerman’s choices are expected to include defensemen Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson, and forwards Marco Rossi, Cole Perfetti, Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz. 

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“At the fourth pick we’re pretty excited regardless how it plays out with what our options will be,” Yzerman said. He himself was a fourth-overall pick, drafted in 1983 and soon emerging as the franchise’s new face under new owner Mike Ilitch. 

The Wings hold three picks in the second round. Yzerman didn’t sound like he anticipates packaging the picks to move up in the draft, or to acquire a player, though he didn’t rule anything out. 

“In order for your prospects to turn into players, you need draft picks,” he said. “So it’s important for us to really hang on and try to add to the number of picks each year, and then ultimately we need some of them to turn into players. Within each round and from round to round, the likely of that prospect turning into a player shrinks, so the more picks we have gives us better odds, increasing the odds of turning them into players.”

As they wait for draft picks to develop into NHL players, Yzerman is balancing his roster with veterans. He re-signed 31-year-old Sam Gagner over the weekend, and added 33-year-old defenseman Marc Staal in an opportunistic trade. The Rangers needed to free up salary-cap space, and in exchange for taking Staal’s $5.3 million cap hit off their books, Yzerman secured a second-round pick in 2021.


Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman on trade with Rangers: We need assets

Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman talks trade with Rangers, rebuild on a Zoom call, Sept. 26, 2020.

Even with earmarking funds to sign his two biggest restricted free agents — forwards Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi — Yzerman’s roughly $27.3 million in cap space gives him flexibility to take advantage of other teams needing to refinance.

Some of the team’s other restricted free agents (forwards Adam Erne, Dmytro Timashov, Brendan Perlini and Christoffer Ehn and defenseman Madison Bowey) may also get offers. 

“We’ve got some decisions to make on some our restricteds, if in fact we’re going to qualify them or not qualify them and offer them contracts, or not qualify them and let them go,” Yzerman said. “We’ve got some time to make that decision.”

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Part of that decision will be influenced by what other teams do with their restricted free agents when free agency opens next week. The pandemic left teams stuck with last season’s $81.5 million cap ceiling, which puts many of them, including the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and contenders the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues, among several others, in a cap crunch.

Yzerman may be able to take advantage of that, but first up is making sure he spends his picks in next week’s draft wisely.

Contact Helene St. James at 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.

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