It has been a long and tumultuous road for Detroit Red Wings coaches, staff, management, players, and fans. From one of the worst seasons in NHL history to a slightly less bad one, everyone in Motown has had to deal with the repercussions of an awful hockey team. They aren’t completely out of the woods yet, but with younger players like Moritz Seider coming to play for a shot at an everyday roster spot, many have their eyes set on bigger things than a draft lottery ball. However, others believe that the team may need more draft additions before truly considering a swift exit from the rebuilding stage. The latter seems to be the most interesting point of view, so I’ll be taking that side and diving into why I believe that it’s the best route if you’re Steve Yzerman sitting in the general manager’s seat.
The 2022 Draft Class Is Stacked
It was going to come up eventually, so let’s get it out of the way. The 2022 NHL Entry Draft class is riddled with talent. It seems unlikely that they get the first pick in the draft given the state of the Buffalo Sabres, but even if you don’t get Shane Wright, there’s still a lot more to love. A young kid from Finland by the name of Brad Lambert would still be an excellent addition. His incredibly smooth stride and creative playmaking ability that he showcased at the 2021 World Junior Championships. He scored at almost a point per game in the U-20 Liiga in Finland with 38 points in 42 games in 2019-20 and 15 points in 46 Liiga games with JYP in 2020-21. It was seventh on the team.
Another good option is Matthew Savoie, whose explosive speed and powerful shot have placed him as a top-three prospect in this class. He played with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the United States Hockey League (USHL) in 2020-21. He scored 38 points in 34 games, including 21 goals. His play on the power play is almost surgical, and it’s another reason he’s ranked high among his peers. Some have him ranked higher than Lambert. Although Lambert may be more technically sound in his skating, the power that Savoie generates with push and the speed he picks up when his legs are churning is scarce in a skater and something that separates him from the pack. I mean, look at this clip:
It’s a bit blurry, but Savoie (14 in white and the player that breaks into the zone with possession at the beginning of the clip) is truly electric to watch.
Finally, Ivan Miroshnichenko, another player to come out of Russia that is projected to be one of the best in the class, could be a suitable top-line winger for the Red Wings if they chose to go that route. In 20 games in the Junior Hockey League (MHL) in Russia, he scored 15 points. He was the silent killer of the U16 Russian team mainly because he was beside 15-year-old (at the time) phenom Matvei Michkov. He made a name for himself in 2019-20, scoring 27 points in 15 games with 17 goals in total. At the 2021 U18 World Junior Championships with Team Russia, he scored eight points in seven games, including goals. The kid has a knack for finding the back of the net, but you can’t sleep on his playmaking creativity either. Unlike Wright, Lambert, and Savoie, he’s not the most explosive of skaters. Although, he can beat you in a race or take advantage of poor positioning in the defensive zone.
Corey Pronman of The Athletic ranked the Red Wings ninth overall on his preseason prospect pool rankings (from The Athletic, NHL Pipeline Rankings: No. 9 Detroit Red Wings forming strong foundation behind Moritz Seider, September 1, 2021). If they were to draft one of those four or another top 5-10 talent that I didn’t touch on like Danila Yurov, they could easily bump themselves into the top five. They have a strong pool frontloaded with Seider and Lucas Raymond, but adding any of the 2022 top-10 talents into the system would be extremely beneficial for them.
Young Players Get a Year to Grow
It’s a fairly brief topic, but it will bring the most tangible results. Players like Seider will get the opportunity to flourish on a team that has very few expectations. The hockey market in Detroit is obviously large, with plenty of rabid fandom to go around. It might not hurt to be a bad team for one more year to give him that experience. There’s obviously the other side of the coin too. Why would he get any better if there are no expectations? It’s a fair question. I think it has to do more with expectations for the team in the standings rather than expectations for him as an individual. Obviously, a young player with the pedigree needs to have big expectations for himself, or else he won’t live up to everyone else’s. I do not doubt that he’s set them for himself.
I think it would be beneficial for him not to expect that he needs to carry the team thrown his way. Young players tend to beat themselves up a lot, and if fans (somehow) draw up the expectation that he needs to be an influential piece in pushing for playoff contention, that could be detrimental to his mental state and overall play.
Jeff Blashill Proves or Doesn’t Prove Himself
One of my esteemed colleagues, Devin Little, wrote an excellent article on Jeff Blashill and how he is entering a season to prove what he can do as a head coach. Yzerman clearly has faith in him, so if he can take advantage of the leash he’s being given, it will work out to the benefit of everyone. However, if he manages to screw it up, cut the cord. The one thing that another year of the hardcore rebuild will bring is the ability to see if Blashill can prove himself as the right coach. If there is a tangible improvement in the players’ play, and the goal-scoring numbers go up, and the defensive numbers continue to improve, I think there is good reason to keep him around. That being said, if there is no visual improvement, I think it’s time to let him go.
Obviously, no one wants to rebuild for longer than they have to. However, sometimes it benefits a team to go an extra step and get one or two more drafted players to really improve the prospect pool. Very few expectations and allowing younger guys to operate and play their game will most likely benefit their physical and mental development. Hockey season is approaching, so now is the time for Yzerman and management to decide which way they’re going to lean.
Jeff is a consistent source for Predators and Red Wings content here at The Hockey Writers. He enjoys watching all sorts of hockey from juniors to the pros and playing for his high school and local teams in Nashville. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here, or check out his contributions on his own Substack, or at Last Word on Hockey and On the Forecheck. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck or the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions you can message his Twitter, @jjmid04.