Detroit — If there was a theme among the Red Wings’ eight picks in the 2021 NHL Draft, it was the type of character the players possess.
Three of the five Wings’ selections Saturday were captains for either their team (Carter Mazur, Red Savage) or for their national team (Liam Dower Nilsson).
The Wings are seeking that level of leadership.
“We’re looking for kids that have good character, that’s important,” general manager Steve Yzerman said. “We want them to be driven and be good people in the organization.
“We want to draft kids that are good solid kids, who have enough ability in some form or another that have a chance to play in the league and are real driven and motivated.”
Yzerman and Kris Draper, the Wings’ director of amateur scouting, were both key pieces of the team’s leadership structure through three Stanley Cups and multiple years of success.
More: Meet the Red Wings 2021 draft picks
They understand how significant character is to winning, and want to implement those qualities into the future rosters.
“Any time you can add prospects who have been captains, 17- or 18-year-old prospects, it’s important for the Detroit Red Wings, important for Steve,” Draper said. “We feel we’ve drafted good people, good prospects and character individuals.
“A lot of the guys will do what they can to find ways to play. They know they have a lot of work to do.”
The Wings wanted to address needs on left defense, the center position and goaltending. They touched on those areas during the weekend.
In that respect, it was a successful draft, Yzerman said, although time will tell how successful.
“We hope we made good choices” Yzerman said. “We defintitely wanted to address some needs, particularly on left defense and we talked about the goaltender as well. We feel we have now stabilized our goal in Detroit (Alex Nedeljkovic) and a very good prospect within our system (Sebastian Cossa).
“We’re comfortable with the depth of the prospects on left (defense) and on the right side as well. We were able to to add some forwards, centermen in particular. You look at our prospects, we have a lot of wingers we consider skilled wingers, and we wanted to add to that with some centermen. We were able to do all those things.”
For Draper and his staff, this weekend was a culmination of a draft process that was different and unique because of the pandemic.
Travel was restricted, many leagues didn’t play full or any sort of season, and video was more vital than actually seeing prospects in person.
“It was definitely challenging,” Draper said. “We would be on video and make a ton of calls throughout the year, but the communication was great.”
Having contacts the organization trusted, and simply establishing relationships through the years proved vital. In the cases of Mazur and Savage, Draper coached or knew each player through watching and coaching his own son in youth hockey.
“I met the Mazur family when he was 10 years old,” Draper said. “He grew up playing Little Caesars all the way through from 10 years old to his under-16 year. It’s been a lot of fun and obviously kind of proud to watch Carter develop into the player he was last year.
“Red grew up in NHL dressing rooms (his dad is former NHL player Brian Savage) and in hockey environments and Red knows what a pro is. He has insight and has seen the sacrifices his dad made throughout his career and that’s how Red is wired as well.”
That type of perseverance is what makes Dower Nilsson such an intriguing prospect. He was a fifth-round pick (134th overall) though many mock drafts had him going earlier.
Dower Nisson said he’s determined to prove teams that didn’t pick him wrong, and the Wings feel he has the ability to do it.
Wings’ European scout Hakan Andersson was urging to draft Dower Nilsson.
“Hakan was pounding the table,” Draper said. “When you look where we’re at in the draft, it’s another captain of a national team, he wore the ‘C” for his national team in the world under-18s.
“We interview probably 100 prospects and our area guys always have conversations with them. We interviewed a lot of Swedish prospects and asked them who would they take to the NHL as a teammate and a majority of players said Liam Dower Nilsson.
“That’s something that stuck with us.”