Plenty of suspense, unknowns for weekend’s NHL Entry Draft

Detroit News

Detroit — Get ready for what should be a wild NHL Entry Draft.

The Red Wings have the sixth and 22nd picks during Friday’s first round. They acquired the latter from Washington in the Anthony Mantha trade. Detroit will be in the thick of the intrique in what could be one of the most unpredictable drafts in recent history.

“It’s going to be an interesting day and an interesting weekend,” general manager Steve Yzerman said Thursday.

What makes this draft so unpredictable is everything that happened over the last 18 months due to the pandemic.

Junior and collegiate hockey leagues throughout North America and Europe either didn’t play, or had abbreviated seasons, limiting the exposure of prospects.

Scouts were unable to travel much, as borders were closed.

So video played a huge role, and scouting reports from before the pandemic are vital. That will ensure opinions vary from team to team and uncertainty reigns over which prospects will be picked.

“In some cases you’re talking about players that didn’t play this year,” Yzerman said. “For our scouting staff, it was a challenge for them to see some of the players and travel to get to certain locations was challenging, interesting.

“But Kris (Draper, the Wings’ director of amateur scouting) and his staff have been very diligent and thorough and done the best they could. Ultimately, this draft class, moving forward, is the most unpredictable, generally, of a very unpredictable process.”

The top selection of Friday’s first round appears to be the lone certainty.

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Michigan defenseman Owen Power, maybe the only sure thing, is expected to be picked by the Buffalo Sabres.

But after Buffalo, there are questions galore, with numerous mock drafts having different opinions.

The Wings have been linked with Swedish forward William Eklund, Michigan forward Kent Johnson, junior forward Mason McTavish, or defensemen such as Luke Hughes (United States National Team Development Team) or Simon Edvinsson (Sweden).

And the pool of players who could go to the Wings at 22 is even wider and deeper.

Yzerman and his scouting staff are ready.

“I don’t want to say we have no clue (of how things will shake out), we have somewhat of a clue, but that remains to be seen,” Yzerman said. “It’s going to be very unpredictable. I don’t know what other teams, what their lists, are (like).”

With the Wings still in the midst of a rebuild, expect them to go after the best player available, and not for need at a particular position.

The Wings had a glaring void for a young, quality prospect in the goaltending position, but Thursday’s acquisition of Alex Nedeljkovic, 25, lessens that somewhat.

Detroit could use a fine two-way center prospect. It has ranked among the worst goal-scoring teams in the NHL the last two seasons. The Wings could also use a prime defensive prospect.

Needs remain everywhere.

“We’re going to pick who we feel is the best prospect, who has the most potential, with the sixth pick regardless of position,” Yzerman said. “Where we are at, and where we’re picking, and the age of the kids, it’s too hard to draft for a specific need.”

Yzerman compared the NHL Draft to the NBA and NFL drafts, where, generally, drafted players are a bit older and more experienced.

The NHL drafts 18-year-olds, who are largely unproven.

“They’re men (NBA, NFL draftees), they’re not teenagers, and (those teams) have a better idea of where they will play next year. So you can draft more specifically for need or position,” Yzerman said. “In our situation, in the NHL, you take who you feel is the best prospect and try to balance it all out.”

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Saturday, the Wings have two picks in the second round (38th and 48th which is the New York Rangers’ pick), their own third-round pick (70th), two picks in the fourth round (102 and 128th, Tampa’s pick) and fifth rounds (134th and 138th, Ottawa’s pick) and one in the sixth round (166th overall).

The Wings dealt a second-round pick last weekend to the New York Islanders as part of the acquisition for defenseman Nick Leddy, and sent a third-round pick Thursday to Carolina to help acquire goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.

With a flat salary cap still causing problems for numerous teams, and draft capital so important for a lot of rebuilding teams, trades are expected to dominate NHL news this weekend.

There’s also the possibility of a team like the Wings, with so many draft picks, to move up or down in the draft to get a player they want — or acquire more picks.

Yzerman wouldn’t commit to dealing any picks.

“Those trading up or back scenarios really are decisions made during the draft, kind of how you see things playing out,” Yzerman said “You make those decisions along the way.”

NHL Entry Draft

►When: Friday, 1st-round, 8 p.m; Saturday, rounds 2-7, starts at 11 a.m.

►TV: Friday, ESPN2; Saturday, NHL Network.

►Red Wings picks: 6th, 22nd, 38th, 48th, 70th, 102nd, 128th, 134th, 138th.

Future Red Wings?

Here’s a look at some players Detroit could be considering with the sixth pick overall.

►William Eklund — The Swedish winger was rated the No. 1 player in Europe by NHL Central Scouting.

►Mason McTavish — Projects to be the tough-minded, all-around center teams desire these days.

►Luke Hughes — The Wings have missed out on Luke’s two older brothers, Quinn and Jack. Can they finally land one of the Hughes’ boys?

►Jesper Wallstedt — The Swedish goaltender might be one of the best prospects to come along in years. But Thursday’s acquisition of Alex Nedeljkovic may squash some of the need for a young goaltender.

►Kent Johnson — Michigan winger/center has dazzling offensive potential.

►Dylan Guenther — Possibly the purest goal-scorer in this class. Can score in a variety of ways.

►Simon Edvinsson — Big Swedish defenseman has been compared to Tampa’s Victor Hedman, which might be a stretch, but Edvinsson should go very early.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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