What gives Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman optimism about drafting gems in later rounds

Detroit Free Press

The pandemic made it tough for NHL teams to do as much scouting as usual, but the flip side is that maybe there’s a player available in later rounds that hasn’t had as many eyes on him as he may have in a normal year.

The Detroit Red Wings’rebuild depends on drafting well, and, as general manager Steve Yzerman has pointed out, the more picks you hold, the better the chance to have a good draft class. This summer’s event, to be held virtually July 23-24, comes after a year in which teams’ preparations are different from normal levels. Last year’s draft was held virtually, too, but COVID-19 didn’t shutter the 2019-20 season until mid-March.

It was much harder to see all the players eligible for the 2021 draft during a rapid-fire 72-game schedule.

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“We’ve tried to make the most of it, and wherever there was hockey being played, we had people there,” Yzerman said the night of the draft lottery, June 2. “If we couldn’t be there in person, we’ve had access to watch it on video. It’s not ideal, but you do the best you can.

“We’ll try to find some players based on what we’ve seen.”

The Wings have two picks in the first round: their own, at No. 6, and the Washington Capitals’ No. 22, from the Anthony Mantha trade. While star Michigan defenseman Owen Power is projected to be the No. 1 pick, options for the Wings include forwards Mason McTavish, Dylan Guenther, Kent Johnson and William Eklund, defenseman Luke Hughes, and goaltender Jesper Wallstedt.

While those two picks present the highest chance of adding players that will boost competitiveness, the Wings also have three picks in the second round: their own at 38th; the New York Rangers’ at 48th (from the Marc Staal trade) and the Edmonton Oilers’ at 52nd (from the Andreas Athanasiou trade).

Players from that round who have gone on to play roles for the Wings include Tyler Bertuzzi (58th, 2013), Filip Hronek (53rd, 2016), Givani Smith (46th, 2016)  and Gustav Lindstrom (38th, 2017). Going back a bit further, Jiri Hudler (58th, 2002), Jimmy Howard (64th, 2003), Justin Abdelkader (42nd, 2005) and Tomas Tatar (60th, 2009).

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The Wings also have two picks in each of the third, fourth and fifth rounds. The thinking is that maybe the limited scouting will increase odds that there’ll be a gem to be found.

“In a normal year our scouts would see these kids play a lot in every single league,” Yzerman said. “This year, the Ontario (Hockey League) kids haven’t played, a lot of the leagues shut down early. I think there’s going to be kids that go much later in the draft than normally would have if they got a chance to play all year. And the same way kids will go a lot higher just basically because teams got to see them a lot.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. 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 AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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