Red Wings Draft: Why Steve Yzerman selects Mason McTavish

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The Detroit Red Wings need a center to strengthen down the middle.  Could Mason McTavish be that guy? Matthew Beniers and Kent Johnson could both be gone by the time Detroit selects sixth. Dylan Guenther, should he slip, might be another guy Yzerman snaps up even though he’s a winger–the upside is just too good to ignore.

But the guy who’s gotten a lot of traction lately is McTavish, and his stock value continues to rise after some stellar play in the Swiss League this past Spring.  Would Yzerman consider taking one of the fastest risers on the board, and a fellow Pete to boot?

Let’s take a look.

What makes McTavish a Red Wings Selection?

It’s the motor and the hockey IQ, two coveted assets by any prospect being scouted by Yzerman and company.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler just released his final prospect rankings and included this with his write up on McTavish:

 It can be hard to spot “competitiveness” in players and I think we can think we see it and then place too much emphasis on it when we do, but McTavish is a competitive, heavyset player with an NHL shot and a middle-lane approach.

If there is one qualitative attribute Yzerman seeks it’s that competitiveness piece. He wants players who are going to give every ounce of their effort on every shift. In his own career, it’s how he approached the game. He saw the fruits of those labors after Scotty Bowman insisted on that from every player, and rotated those out who didn’t fit it.

Reflecting on Yzerman’s roster building–and purging–one of the biggest names he dealt was Anthony Mantha, a player dogged since his prospect days that he wasn’t always going to give everything on a shift. Andreas Athanasiou, too, was often chastised by head coach Jeff Blashill for taking shifts off. Both were considered core pieces of the rebuild. Both are now gone.

McTavish’s main appeal begins here, and it doesn’t stop there.  The Athletic’s Corey Pronman has his ranked ninth and writes about his top end scoring threat:

He can attack defenses in numerous ways in the offensive zone with his NHL-caliber skill, vision and shot. He is a creative player who tries to make things happen. He has the shot to score from range versus pros and is very good at creating around the net. He works hard enough to win a lot of puck battles.

Pronman projecting him as a second line center or a first line wing, McTavish being versatile up front only gives Yzerman more incentive to take him.

Why the Red Wings pass on McTavish

If there’s anything we’ve seen with Yzerman in his drafting preferences, it’s been taking players from professional leagues so far with the higher picks. Moritz Seider was in the DEL when Yzerman took him sixth and Lucas Raymond in the SHL when he chose fourth last draft. Heck, the first three picks Yzerman made in 2020’s draft were all from the Swedish League.

Initially, when I wrote about Jesper Wallstedt and why Yzerman would take him there, I cited need at goalie along with his ability to play at a high level in the SHL as an 18-year-old prospect. Yes, his numbers came back to earth a bit but his success in the second best league in hockey still makes him a very appealing option at six–in spite of those weaker returns as of late.

Where the argument that he didn’t play in a “man’s league” loses steam is his 13 game stint in the Swiss League and playing with older players, McTavish netted nine goals and was two points from being a point-per-game player. Perhaps the argument won’t hold as much weight.

But there is another: his skating. Pronman writes this:

The main flaw in McTavish’s skill set is his skating, as he will be OK in the NHL in that regard but will struggle to create separation.

Here are clips of McTavish at the U18s back in May. There are instances where against better talent, (seen at the thirty second mark), he doesn’t get that scoring chance against faster, more agile NHL quality players.

But his release, and hockey sense outweigh something that could be developed down the road.

Would the Red Wings take him at Six?

If there is ever another Seider moment, it’s here. There is a strong possibility that a lot of top end prospect talent is available at six, similar to 2019 where several high end forwards (think Cole Caulfield, Trevor Zegras, and Dylan Cozens) were still there. McTavish has been rocketing up the board and it’s easy to see why. He’s now considered a top ten talent and while others have argued top five.

McTavish certainly meets enough of the criteria for Yzerman to take him here as he seems like another nice fit for the Yzerplan scheme.

But ending it with one final question–could he already be snapped up before Yzerman has a chance to even weigh his choices?

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