Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman did the only thing that made sense after the latest NHL draft lottery: Spin it.
It speaks to how badly that annual game-of-chance has gone for the Wings that it’s a relief when they’re not pushed back. They entered the 2021 edition with the sixth-best odds to pick first and left it holding the sixth pick. The team with the worst record got the first pick, which would have been a nice outcome for the Wings a year ago, when they were the cellar dweller.
“There’s no sense complaining about it,” Yzerman said. “We have the sixth pick in the draft. We didn’t go backwards. We’ll do our best to make a good selection.”
The Wings have a second first-round pick thanks to the trade with the Washington Capitals; the position won’t be known pending what happens in the playoffs, but it’s likely to fall in the low 20s range.
It’s the second time in four years the Sabres have finished last and picked first. The Wings finished seventh-worst in 2017 and picked ninth; fifth-worst in 2018 and picked sixth; fourth-worst in 2019 and picked sixth, and worst in 2020 only to pick fourth.
The last time the Wings picked sixth, it was 2019 and Yzerman’s first draft since taking control of the rebuild. He chose defenseman Moritz Seider, who is poised to make an impact with the Wings as soon as next season.
Had the Wings landed in the top two — they had a 15.4% odds of doing so — they could have chosen among Michigan defenseman Owen Power, or teammate and forward Matthew Beniers, and defenseman Simon Edvinsson, who are among the top prospects.
But Luke Hughes, younger brother of 2019 No. 1 pick Jack Hughes and 2018 No. 7 pick Quinn Hughes, could be around at sixth. He’s a 6-foot-2, 184 pound defenseman who, like his brothers, is a great skater who plays a smart game. On the forward side, William Eklund (5-10, 176) is a slick skater who was named rookie of the year in the Swedish Hockey League. Another possibility is Michigan’s Ken Johnson (6-1, 167), who is a creative sniper.
“We do need help in every area, and whoever we pick, in one, two, three years, when they are ready to play, things can change,” Yzerman said. “So our philosophy is to pick the best prospect. We are not in a position with the sixth pick to say, oh, we definitely need this position. Our intention will be to pick the best prospect available when we pick sixth.”
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The pandemic has made it challenging for scouts to see as many players as normal, but most of the higher-end 2021 eligible players were being scouted before COVID-19 upended the world.
“I think we’ll get a good prospect,” Yzerman said. “I’ve seen the majority of those kids that will be in that 1-10 range. We’re excited about the possibilities that will be there. I think more so this year than any other year, you’re going to have vastly different lists. You will see radical differences this year, just based on which league these kids were playing in and how much they played or didn’t play. This one there will maybe be more surprises than ever, I guess.
“I think sitting at sixth, there’s players that will be there, multiple players, and we’ll be excited about the pick. Ultimately do they move the needle? We hope they do. When that happens, we’re not sure.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.
NHL draft lottery order
The order of selection for the first 15 drafting positions in the First Round, only, of the 2021 NHL Draft is as follows:
4. New Jersey
7. San Jose
8. Los Angeles
15. New York Rangers