Niyo: Everybody loves Raymond, but especially the Red Wings

Detroit News

John Niyo
 
| The Detroit News

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The Red Wings could’ve gone in just about any direction Tuesday night in the first round of this year’s NHL draft.  

But it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that they turned back to their successful past when the clock was ticking and the future was waiting. 

They went back to Europe, where so many pieces of the last generation of Stanley Cup champions in Detroit were found. And more specifically, back to Sweden, where the Red Wings are almost as familiar and comfortable as the meatballs and cinnamon buns. 

Hakan Andersson, the Wings’ longtime European scouting director, has had a hand in drafting more than 50 Swedes over the last three decades, including the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen. But none were as highly touted a prospect as the one who answered the phone just past 1:30 a.m. local time in Gothenburg, Sweden, where 18-year-old Lucas Raymond was surrounded by his family and friends, wondering if he might be the next. 

“It’s a dream come true, and especially a club like Detroit,” said Raymond, the highly skilled left wing who immediately becomes the top prospect in the Red Wings’ system. “A lot of good Swedes — legendary Swedes — have played there. So it was extremely exciting, and I’m so happy and honored to be a part of the Detroit Red Wings.” 

The feeling is mutual, obviously, and Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman left little doubt Tuesday night that even though there was a “small group” of prospects under consideration at No. 4, there wasn’t much debate in the end. 

“We think he’s a very intelligent, very highly-skilled, very competitive player,” Yzerman said. “We think he fits in with the type of team we want to build. We think he has all the tools to be an elite forward in the NHL.”

Four more 

Coincidentally, Raymond becomes the first player drafted No. 4 overall by the Wings since Jimmy Devellano selected another intelligent, highly skilled, competitive forward near the top of the 1983 draft. A Hall of Famer who is now the team’s GM.  

But the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Raymond, who draws current-day comparisons to Maple Leafs All-Star Mitch Marner, also is the third consecutive top-10 pick from Europe for this franchise, following on the heels of last year’s surprise choice, defenseman Moritz Seider, and 2018 first-round pick Filip Zadina.  

And it’s not hard to imagine those three joining current Red Wings Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi to form the core of the next playoff team in Detroit. Zadina made his NHL debut last season, Seider figures to join the lineup this season, and Yzerman on Tuesday suggested Raymond could be ready to join them in 2021-22 after playing another full season in Sweden. 

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Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman on when first pick Lucas Raymond could reach NHL

Red Wings GM says it is highly likely the Swedish forward will remain with club team Frolunda this season.

“I don’t want to be held to that, I don’t want to put any timeline on him,” Yzerman said. “He’s a young man that we want to play, and then bring him over here when he’s ready to go.” 

It was finally go-time Tuesday, as a draft that was originally scheduled for Montreal in June finally got underway virtually. It went as expected to start, with the New York Rangers grabbing left winger Alexis Lafreniere, the consensus No. 1 choice, Los Angeles picking Quinton Byfield, the top-rated center in this class, and Ottawa landing German winger Tim Stuetzle.  

Then came the intrigue, the point at which most scouts agreed this draft really began. The Red Wings, who’d fallen to fourth in the draft lottery despite posting far-and-away the worst record of any NHL team last season, were up next with a handful of options. 

But with needs across the board, the value of the pick had little to do with where the prospect fit on the ice. As Yzerman noted last week, “At this early stage, where we’re at as an organization, I don’t think we can really target a particular position. We’re going to take the best prospect.” 

And they won’t get any argument from me here. I wrote last week Raymond would be my choice at No. 4, in part because I thought he was still a bit undervalued, having spent last season playing a complementary role with Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League, arguably the third-best league in the world behind the NHL and Russia’s KHL. 

While some of the other top prospects like Cole Perfetti and Marco Rossi posted eye-popping numbers in junior leagues this past winter, Raymond was a 17-year-old playing against men who were 10-15 years older than him. He finished with just four goals and six assists in 33 games, logging about 10 minutes of ice time a night.  

“And that’s tough,” said Kris Draper, running his first draft as the Red Wings’ director of amateur scouting. “You see a lot of your peers that you played against and these guys are putting up big numbers all around the world.” 

But then you consider how talented a kid has to be to get elevated to that level at age 16, which is what happened with Raymond in 2018-19 for a 10-game introduction to the men’s league. And you hear how the teenager used it as a growth opportunity, playing a third- or fourth-line role yet still managing to show flashes of his potential despite the sporadic shifts.   

Among the big boys

“I think it has helped me a lot, not just on the ice but off the ice as well,” Raymond said, noting that among his current teammates is 38-year-old former NHLer Joel Lundqvist. “There’s a lot of those guys to look up to and really learn from. But also on the ice, it’s a different game. You really have to be strong in the battles around the boards, and really take what’s given as well.” 

When given a chance against his age group, he certainly showed what he can do. That SHL debut came after he’d dominated the Swedish juniors and just before he led his country to a gold medal at 2019 Under-18 World championships, finishing off a hat track with the overtime winner against Russia and goalie Yaroslav Askarov, who went 11th overall to Nashville on Tuesday. 

“I have a lot of good memories from that,” Raymond said. “It’s fun games when it’s kind of all on the line. Tight games, that’s where everybody steps up and it’s a certain feeling in those type of games, and I really enjoy it.” 

The scouts did, too, and that performance certainly made an impression on the Red Wings’ staff.

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Wings scouting director Kris Draper on Lucas Raymond’s maturity as an 18-year-old pro

Kris Draper, Red Wings director of amateur scouting, talks about 18-year-old forward Lucas Raymond’s transition from an underage player to the pro SHL.

“You love big-game players,” said Draper, who was among the Detroit contingent in the arena for that tournament. “You love players that are able to elevate their play when the game is on the line and when the game means the most, and that’s exactly what Lucas Raymond did.” 

What he did this summer was work on adding weight and strength, while refining his shot and preparing for a bigger role this season for Frolunda. Four games in, he’s getting more ice time, including on the power play, and the Red Wings are seeing more production as well. (He had a goal and an assist in his first two games.) Yzerman said that didn’t weigh heavily in this draft decision, it only “reaffirmed” what they already believed about the young Swede.  

But it does give him a leg up now. Because unlike some of the North American prospects, his development won’t miss a beat this winter, practicing daily and playing games for his Frolunda club and then likely playing for Sweden in the world junior tournament in Edmonton in late December. Kronwall, who stepped into a special advisor role with the Red Wings after his retirement last spring, likely will help serve as a mentor for Raymond over in Sweden, checking in on his progress during the season.  

“He’s in a great place, playing for a fantastic organization, and he’s off to a great start,” Draper said. 

And that was also on Raymond’s mind as he spoke with the media Tuesday night, which was nearly 3 a.m. back in Sweden. After a pre-draft process that dragged on for months, his draft night was over quickly, and that was a good thing, he said. Because of where he ended up, and also because he had to be back at the rink for practice at 9 a.m. 

“It’s pretty late, but it hasn’t been that big of a problem staying up,” he laughed. “I’ve been pretty excited all night.”

jniyo@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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