Detroit — “With their first pick, the Red Wings select …”
No, the Wings haven’t infiltrated the NFL, nor will they be making a selection this weekend.
But for hockey fans, especially Detroit fans knee-deep in a rebuild, it’s never too early to think about the NHL Entry Draft.
The NHL will hold the draft on July 23-24, approximately a month later than usual, because of the coronavirus pandemic and late start to the regular season. The NHL Draft lottery, it was announced earlier this week, will be held June 2.
Both of those events, as has been the case in recent years, will be important for the Wings, who will have another busy draft weekend this summer.
The Wings have 12 picks overall and seven in the first three rounds — their own and Washington’s in the first; their own, Edmonton’s and the New York Rangers’ in the second; and their own and Vegas’ in the third.
The Wings have their own pick in each of the first six rounds, and have Tampa’s in Round 4 and Ottawa’s in Round 5.
But here’s the underlying issue for the Wings and the rest of the NHL scouting community. Because of the pandemic, junior and college season schedules have been altered or wiped out entirely, so some kids haven’t played at all. And scouts haven’t been able to travel nearly as much, if at all, to these games because of travel restrictions.
In total, the pandemic has made this particular draft class the most difficult to assess, maybe ever.
“It’s been an interesting year as far as scouting,” general manager Steve Yzerman said on a media Zoom chat at the trade deadline. “We don’t know what next year is going to look like either right now. Kris Draper (Wings’ amateur scouting director) and I talk a lot and I ask him about this year’s draft and next year’s draft. It’s funny, next year’s draft, we haven’t even seen those kids yet. At least they’re watching the majority of the kids for this year’s draft, or they watched them last year.
“The draft is very unpredictable, hit and miss. It probably is more unpredictable this year. You can look at it two ways in that you just may get really lucky or you may get really unlucky. Time will tell.
“We’ve got a lot of picks and our guys have been doing the best they can. Our scouting staff is doing the best they can to evaluate and look for prospects.”
The Detroit News took a look in December at the top 15 prospects at the time. Four months later, some things have changed and others haven’t.
Namely, Michigan defenseman Owen Power remains the probable pick — and the Wolverines will be well represented on draft night.
With that, here’s the second look at 15 prospects who could be there for the Wings picking up high, or mid- to late-round first round, in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft class:
►Owen Power, defense, Michigan: Power did nothing during his freshman season (16 points in 26 games) to discourage or erase projections that he is the No. 1 pick in the draft. At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Power can be used in every situation, is an elite skater and scouts love his competitiveness. It’s probably not fair to Power right now, but given the size and mobility and the way they play, it’s natural to compare him lately to Tampa’s Victor Hedman, which is lofty praise indeed.
►Dylan Guenther, left wing/right wing, Edmonton (WHL): Guenther had 12 goals and 12 assists in 12 games and solidified his status as an elite goal-scorer capable of scoring or setting up others. At 6-1 and 175 pounds, Guenther isn’t afraid to stick his nose in the hard areas of the ice, and plays a hard game.
►Matthew Beniers, center, Michigan: Beniers had a fabulous freshman season with the Wolverines (10 goals, 14 assists in 24 games) and solidified himself as an early pick. What scouts rave about is the fact Beniers is so good at both ends of the rink, which is so important in today’s NHL.
►Brandt Clarke, defense, Barrie (OHL): Clarke fits the recent mold of explosive offensive defensemen who can change a game around with his ability, skating and shot. Clarke (6-1, 181 pounds) played in Slovakia this season to remain active and build his game.
►Luke Hughes, defense, USNTDP: The younger brother of Quinn (Vancouver Canucks) and Jack (New Jersey Devils), Luke has bigger size (6-2, 180 pounds) than his brothers but the same level of skating and puck-moving ability. A foot injury ended his season prematurely.
►Simon Edvinsson, defense, Frolunda (Sweden): The mixed reaction in December has turned more to the fact Edvinsson (6-4, 180 pounds) could be a top-three pick in some scouts’ estimations. The mobility is exceptional, but scouts feel there’s a higher ceiling that Edvinsson could reach.
►Jesper Wallstedt, goaltender, Lulea (Finland): After a big season playing in juniors (2.23 GAA, .908 SVS), Wallstedt has moved up steadily in the minds of many scouts. It’s always a risk picking a goaltender high in the first round, but the calmness and poise Wallstedt plays with has impressed folks.
►Kent Johnson, center, Michigan: Yet another Wolverine who did nothing to disprove he’s a first-round pick this summer. Johnson had 27 points in 26 games and can produce jaw-dropping goals with his ability. He’s not big (6-1, 165 pounds) but he can break open games.
►William Eklund, center, Djurgardens (Sweden): Some scouts had reservations about Eklund because of size (5-9, 175 pounds) but he more than held his own going against men in the Swedish Hockey League (23 points in 40 games). He’s considered a fine pick considering his energy level and skating ability.
►Carson Lambos, defense, Winnipeg (WHL): An injury that apparently will need surgery — Lambos was playing in Finland this winter — could cause some scouts to pause. But at 6-1 and 200 pounds and with a strong defensive game, Lambos should land somewhere in the middle of the first round.
►Chaz Lucius, center, USNTDP: An injury delayed his season, but once Lucius (6-foot, 175 pounds) returned he produced offense (18 points in 12 games). He could move further up because of potential.
►Daniil Chayka, defense, Guelph (OHL): He’s an old-school defenseman who isn’t likely to make major headlines with his offensive ability, but Chayka knows to prevent goals on the other end. He has a good frame (6-2, 185 pounds) and could be a good, safe pick for someone later in the first round.
►Cole Sillinger, left wing, Medicine Hat (WHL): The son of former Red Wing Mike Sillinger, Cole plays with the same type of tenacity. But unlike his dad, Cole (6-foot, 187 pounds) has a fine offensive game, tallying 46 points in 31 games in Sioux City (USHL).
►Aatu Raty, center, Karpat (Finland): A fascinating case. Two years ago, Raty (6-2, 180 pounds) was considered the top prospect in this class. But his stick has been steadily dropping to the point Raty (six points in 35 games) could be a late first-round pick.
►Sebastian Cossa, goaltender, Edmonton (WHL): Cossa got to play this season and scouts were impressed with the 6-6, 210-pound giant, who starred in 15 games (1.46 GAA, .945 SVS).