Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman sizes up his draft class after casting wide net

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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Steve Yzerman cast his net far and wide as he gathered potential candidates for the Detroit Red Wings‘ rebuild.

He entered the 2020 NHL draft with 10 picks and exited it with a dozen, mining Sweden, Finland, Canada and the U.S. for forwards, defensemen and a goaltender. The Wings need a huge influx of talent, and Yzerman flipped two of the picks he held for an extra two to increase his odds that the class will make an impact. 

Four of the picks came in the first two rounds.

“At the top of the draft, you’d like to think you have a little bit more certainty as to what the player is going to be and who the top, top prospects are,” Yzerman said after Wednesday evening.

Working from home — Yzerman has tested negative for COVID-19 after being exposed to the virus — his dog by his feet angling for attention and dinner on his desk getting cold after an eight-hour Day 2, Yzerman sounded pleased with his haul in his second draft as the Wings’ general manager. 

“Hopefully a few of them become NHL players,” he said. 

The Wings selected forward Lucas Raymond at No. 4, defenseman William Wallinder at No. 32, forward Theodor Niederbach at No. 51, forward Cross Hanas at No. 55, defenseman Donovan Sebrango at No. 63, defenseman Eemil Viro at No. 70, forward Sam Stange at No. 97, goaltender Jan Bednar at No. 107, defenseman Alex Cotton at No. 132, defenseman Kyle Aucoin at No. 156, forward Kienan Draper at No. 187 and forward Chase Bradley at No. 203.

Raymond is a 5-foot-11, 170-pound winger who does everything well and projects to be a top-line player in the NHL. Wallinder is 6-4, 191 pounds and a technically sound skater.

“He plays a relatively simple game,” Yzerman said. “He moves well, he’s mobile. He’s more of a two-way guy. We’re hoping that in time he plays in the NHL. He should be able to play as a two-way defenseman that can log minutes.”

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Niederbach, the third consecutive Swede taken by the Wings, is 5-11 and 172 pounds. He shoots right and has a high hockey IQ. Cross Hanas, the Wings’ third second-round pick, plays with swagger and is known for scoring lacrosse-style goals.

“Niederbach is a skilled, smart centerman,” Yzerman said. “Very talented, very skilled. Like most of the kids, it’s going to take some time to physically mature and just evolve as hockey players. But we’re excited about his potential.

“Cross Hanas is a smooth-skating, skilled left winger — got a good nose around the net.”

It’ll take four or five years before the Wings really know what they have in most of these picks, and whether they will fit into the rebuild. The Swedes are in good spots on teams in their native country, as is Viro in Finland. 

All of them spoke to media via Zoom calls. There was a funny moment where Viro couldn’t remember Yzerman’s name, referring to him as “the Y name,” and he recalled waiting to find out he was drafted because of a delay with his TV. 

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“I was watching the draft and there was (a) commercial break, only black on the screen,” Viro said. “Then when the break ends, there was my name. I was really happy.”

Viro has a good combination of solid skating and smarts, someone who prides himself on being a leader.

“I really want to show an example to others,” he said. “Off the ice, I really get along with everybody. I think I’m a quick learner. I think I have a lot of potential and I can be much better than I am now.”

Wallinder fits with the mold Yzerman went for last year, when he used his first two picks on big defensemen Moritz Seider and Antti Tuomisto. Like them, Wallinder is a strong skater and hard-nosed competitor.

“I try to bring always give 100% every shift, always do my best to help the team win,” he said “Just be a good two-way defenseman that can play in every way.”

Hanas, a genial teenager who grew up in Texas hanging with the sons of Stars players Stephane Robidas and Joe Nieuwendyk, has spent the long offseason getting much stronger.

NHL draft 2020: First-round picks, scouting reports of the players selected ]

“This summer was a really big focus on gaining a lot of strength and filling into my 6-1 frame,” he said. “I’ve put on a good amount of weight, from 165 I’ve gotten up to 175 now. So I’ve put on more strength in the legs and then on the ice, I would say skating, because skating can always get better and it needs to get better if I want to play at the NHL level.”

Sebrango, the son of a Cuban father and Canadian mother, described himself as “a pretty tough, gritty kind of guy, but I also have some new-era offensive defenseman.” He’s another strong skater who spent the summer getting better.


How Donovan Sebrango found out he was drafted by Red Wings

Detroit Red Wings draft pick Donovan Sebrango on a Zoom call, Oct. 7, 2020.

“I’ve put on weight, put on muscle,” he said. “There’s no reason I should be getting pushed around out there. Another thing I really tried to focus on is my in-tight skill work, being able to control the puck in little areas, breaking the puck out as well. Those are the main things that I’ve focused on throughout this quarantine.”

Sebrango found out from his trainer that he’d been drafted by the Wings. “He texted me and said congrats, so I knew something might be up. To be drafted by them is such an honor. I just hope one day I can make them proud and be on the team.”

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 Detroit Red Wings will be published October 13 by Triumph Books. To order, go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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