Who needs luck in lottery? Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings make their own. Can Pistons?

Detroit Free Press

The NHL draft lottery is upon us and already I can hear the cynicism. Yes, it makes a sound, a kind of muffled, entitled growl.

Hey, I’m not judging. You are. That’s your right.

The Detroit Red Wings have gotten housed in the lottery the last half decade, especially in 2020, when they finished with the worst record in the league and picked fourth. Not once have they moved up in the lottery. Only once have they stayed where their record slotted them.

Yet there is luck for the lottery and then there is luck in the lottery and lately the Wings have discovered some of the latter. That No. 4 pick in 2020?

Lucas Raymond.

The No. 1 pick that year?

Alexis Lafrenière, taken by the New York Rangers.

Who would you rather have at this point?

Exactly.

This isn’t to say Steve Yzerman threw a dart at a board and landed on Raymond. He saw talent and potential. But projecting is tricky business. Even the best talent evaluators need a break.

The Wings got one. Just as they got one the year before, when they fell two spots in the lottery and landed Moritz Seider. That’s two years of bad ping-pong bounces in the lottery and two potential stars anyway.

Last year, the Wings began the lottery in the fifth slot by record but were pushed to sixth because of — expansion Seattle. When the lottery was over? They were still in the sixth spot. So, they didn’t fall.

Maybe that’s a premonition. Maybe that will change the pattern and tonight the Wings might actually, possibly move up in the lottery?

Or maybe it won’t matter.

Yzerman found another promising player last summer in defenseman Simon Edvinsson, who has looked at times like a prodigy in the Swedish league. What is it about Swedes in the No. 6 spot and the Red Wings?

Luck?

Yeah, sure. But this is also Yzerman; skill is part of the equation. It’s not all accident that he’s found three promising players in three straight years in the first round.

If he does it again this year? It’s not hard to see the makings of something real and sustainable.

Which is funny, because the same is true for Troy Weaver.

The Detroit Pistons general manager is a year behind Yzerman in the rebuild. And he had the best (ping-pong) lottery luck possible last year, giving the franchise its first No. 1 overall pick in half a century.

Still, Weaver didn’t have to take Cade Cunningham. The 6-7 guard was highly regarded, but not a LeBron James-like consensus for the top pick.

As it happens, the NBA draft lottery is a week from tonight. The Pistons will have a chance at the No. 1 spot again. They’ll have a better chance at landing a top-three pick.

Though Weaver has shown, like Yzerman, that he can find players to build upon later in the first round. His first draft brought Killian Hayes (No. 7), Isaiah Stewart (No. 16) and Saddiq Bey (No. 19).

Bey will be good enough to start on a playoff team. Stewart will, too, especially if his 3-point shot keeps developing.

As for Hayes?

He’s young. He’s played the equivalent of one season. He needs more time.

Even if you are convinced no amount of time will help him, Weaver drafted two players worth keeping for a while. Then he drafted Cunningham.

A little luck in the lottery next week would help Weaver find a running mate for Cunningham, who has the makings of a future superstar. But I’m not talking purely about ping-pong luck.

True, the odds of finding a second, dynamic scorer/playmaker might be better if the Pistons land in the top three. But the NBA is full of stars who were found in the back half of the top 10 picks or even the middle of the first round.

Just turn on the playoffs.

Wherever Weaver and Yzerman draft, this is the kind of luck they’ll need to keep adding to increasingly promising young cores. Ping pong balls matter. Getting lucky with who is picked matters more.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor. 

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