Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s plan in 2021 NHL entry draft

Detroit Free Press

Update: Here’s a look at the unprotected list released Sunday.

A busy week awaits the Detroit Red Wings. They will find out who they lose in the NHL expansion draft and then, two days later, select additions to the rebuild.

The Seattle Kraken begin play this fall, and the roster will be revealed Wednesday night when the results of the expansion draft are announced. All teams, other than 2017 expansion club Vegas, had to submit lists of who is protected Saturday.

The bigger deal is later in the week, when Steve Yzerman embarks on his third draft since being named general manager of the Wings in 2019. The Wings need help at every position and must prioritize which area to attack first.

ANALYSIS: Here’s who Red Wings are best served protecting in Seattle expansion draft

The Wings hold picks Nos. 6 and 22 in Friday’s first round, and hold nine picks in Rounds 2-7, which are Saturday including only two in the second round after Friday night’s trade.

The best shot at adding a player who will help the Wings regain competitiveness and get them back into the playoffs comes with their first pick. The pandemic made it challenging to scout over the past year, as leagues across North America and Europe delayed or canceled seasons. Yzerman has expressed confidence that the Wings are well prepared, having had scouts wherever hockey was played over the past year and using video to see draft-eligible prospects.

Here is a closer look at the Wings’ best options for the coming week.

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2019 DRAFT REVIEW: Steve Yzerman makes first imprint on rebuild

Expansion draft

On Friday, the Wings acquired veteran defenseman Nick Leddy from the New York Islanders in exchange for forward Richard Panik (the Wings will retain 50% of his salary) and the No. 52 selection in this year’s draft. That puts a squeeze on the protection list. It makes the most sense for the Wings to protect seven forwards (Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrana, Robby Fabbri, Adam Erne, Michael Rasmussen and Givani Smith), one goaltender (Thomas Greiss) and three defensemen. Filip Hronek is a lock, but with Leddy taking up another spot, that leaves one of two young defense prospects — Dennis Cholowski or Gustav Lindstrom — exposed. Cholowski hasn’t developed like the Wings hoped he would when he was drafted at No. 20 in 2016, but he’s an NHL-caliber skater and passer, and giving up on him could backfire. Lindstrom, 22, projects to be a solid third-pairing guy.

The Wings may feel safe gambling that Kraken GM Ron Francis will select Troy Stecher, who will have a greater immediate impact.

Entry draft

Star Michigan defenseman Owen Power is widely expected to be the first player selected, but beyond him, the pandemic has created a good deal of guesswork regarding how teams have players ranked. The Buffalo Sabres, Kraken, Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets pick ahead of the Wings. The Wings will be well served to choose from the following list:

Goalie Jesper Wallstedt: The Wings don’t have a blue-chip goalie prospect in their system, and Wallstedt would be a tempting option to change that. He’s a 6-foot-3, 214-pound Swede who posted a 12-10-0 record with a 2.23 goals-against average and .908 save percentage in 22 regular-season games for Lulea HF in the Swedish Hockey League — impressive considering he’s only 18. He does everything well — stops the initial shot, controls rebounds, uses his size to limit options and is nimble enough to confidently challenge shooters. He’s a standout puck-handler, a huge plus in a goaltender in today’s NHL.

Forward Kent Johnson: Johnson (6-1, 165) is a highly creative powerhouse who mostly played center until this past season, when he played left wing at Michigan. He’s a smooth skater, adept on breakouts and fearless with the puck. He showed good progress his first year at Michigan, handling the physicality well and improving defensively. He has the skills to become a No. 1 center, the kind who makes his wingers exponentially better and who frustrates opposing checkers, and that’s a box the Wings need to check.

Forward Mason McTavish: McTavish (6-1, 207) recorded nine goals and two assists in 13 games for EHC Olten in the Swiss League, plus two goals and five assists in four playoff games. He starred for Canada at the World Juniors, where he filled in as captain and recorded five goals and six assists in seven games and won gold. He wound up in Switzerland because the Ontario Hockey League wasn’t able to stage a season. He’s already strong at 18 years old and uses that size to battle through checks to protect the puck and find scoring positions. He has a quick and accurate wrist shot, a heavy one-timer and the hand-to-eye coordination to be effective in front of the net. He’s good defensively, too.

Forward Dylan Guenther: Guenther (6-1, 181) put up 24 points in 12 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings, and had seven points in seven games for Canada in a gold-medal winning performance at the U-18 World Championship. He’s a dual threat as a shooter and passer — if he has the puck, he’ll either find a way to use his hard, accurate shot or find a lane to a teammate. He shoots right and likes to set up in the left circle.

Defenseman Simon Edvinsson: Another who projects as a top-pair defenseman, the 6-5, 207-pound, left-shot Swede has a knack for getting the puck through from the point. He’s an agile skater whose mobility enables him to take chances and still get back to his own zone in case of a mishap. He uses his size well to protect the puck. Like the others on this list, he needs time to develop, but this Frölunda teammate of Wings 2020 first-round pick Lucas Raymond has promise.

Defenseman Luke Hughes: Hughes (6-2, 184) is a supremely skilled left-shot defender with the ability to dart around with the puck, creating scoring opportunities either by getting the puck on net or finding an open teammate.He has terrific vision, and does a good job using his stick to break up plays. He could be a long-term partner for Moritz Seider, but odds are the Devils grab Hughes and unite him with his brother Jack, the No. 1 pick in 2019.

Forward William Eklund: Eklund (5-10, 172) is a center/left wing who posted 23 points in 40 games with Djurgarden in the SHL this past season. He’ll be best off with another year in Sweden, but ultimately he’s a gifted skater with a tremendous knack for being involved offensively. Unlikely to be available at No. 6, but he’d be a solid pick if he is.

Forward Matthew Beniers: Beniers (6-1, 184) projects to be gone by the time the Wings pick, but he’d be an obvious choice if available. He is a skilled center who recorded 24 points in 24 games at Michigan, where he played on a line with Johnson. A product of the NTDP, Beniers played at the World Juniors, helping Team USA win gold with a goal and two assists in seven games. He’s an excellent skater, an outstanding playmaker, sound defensively, and has all the markings of a future No. 1 NHL center.

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 is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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