Detroit — They aren’t necessarily picking at the top of the NHL Entry Draft on Thursday, but the Red Wings feel just fine selecting eighth overall.
General manager Steve Yzerman said Tuesday, while discussing Thursday’s first round — Rounds 2-7 are Friday — that he’s confident the Wings will add a talented prospect.
“We certainly hope so, that’s our plan,” Yzerman said. “Ultimately they’re 17 and 18 years old and you never really know. But we kind of feel good where we’re sitting with what we think might be available.”
Judging by speculation, there could be some turmoil if trades happen — as they are rumored to occur — and different teams jump in or out of those first seven spots ahead of the Wings. Also, if a certain player drops or gets drafted much higher than anticipated.
But Yzerman and his scouting staff are prepared.
“This whole thing could go a lot of different ways,” Yzerman said. “You look at all the public lists (mock drafts) and they can vary. Ultimately we don’t even know what we’re thinking, and I don’t know what other teams are thinking, but we feel pretty good where we are and we feel we’re going to get a good prospect that will help us.”
With the Wings nearing the final stage — they hope — of their rebuild, the organization isn’t looking, necessarily, to draft for a specific position.
Rather, the Wings will grab who they feel is the best player available, especially in the first round.
“I just go back to they are 17 and 18 years old, and where are they going to be in four or five years, we have no idea,” Yzerman said. “We’ll stick to picking the best prospect available when our pick comes up.”
After two pandemic-marred years where scouting was severely impacted, this draft is a sign of the NHL getting back to pre-COVID times.
Junior and college seasons were completed, scouts could travel to Europe, and there was a draft combine held last month again so teams could interview prospects.
“Some of the kids didn’t even play last year; it was real challenging,” Yzerman said. “This year it was somewhat a return to normalcy.”
Yzerman touched on a variety of other topics concerning the draft and issues surrounding the Red Wings:
► Yzerman feels there could be a hesitancy around the NHL to drafting Russian players, given the uncertainty surrounding their availability with issues surrounding the ongoing war in Ukraine.
“There are always concerns. Throw in the uncertainty of what is going on in Russia and the uncertainty of what players can and can’t do, will they be available now or anytime in the future, it adds another level of uncertainty to the whole drafting of Russian players,” Yzerman said.
► The Wings will hold a development camp for drafted and recently drafted players shortly after the Entry Draft (exact dates have yet to be announced). After the pandemic scrapped it the last two years, Yzerman is excited to again hold a camp.
“The European players and the U.S. college kids, that’s our only time we really have to spend with them throughout the year,” said Yzerman, adding players receive an education on training and nutrition, among other topics. “We get four or five days to spend with them and we get to know them.”
► This year’s Entry Draft returns to in person, at Montreal’s Bell Centre with all 32 teams on the draft floor, after two years of conducting the event via Zoom, which Yzerman actually prefers.
“I personally like doing the draft remotely, albeit the second day (of the draft) was kind of a death march for everyone,” Yzerman said. “But the draft floor is hectic. The first round, in particular, the building is sold out and it moves slower. But we’re all on the floor and we’re all kind of packed at our tables there and there isn’t a lot of room. There are a lot of distractions going on, so I like doing it remotely, actually got used to it.
“I do like being in the same room with our scouts. We had a war room set up in Detroit, which was better than the previous year. There’s a lot of value to the league coming together this year in Montreal, and there’s a lot of positive in it, but for the actual draft itself, I’d much prefer a quieter environment.”
► The Wings can begin negotiations with Dylan Larkin on a new contract — Larkin can be an unrestricted free agent the summer of 2023 — but Yzerman wouldn’t comment on any specifics.
“I’d be happy to answer questions on the draft for you and leave it at that,” Yzerman said. “I have no desire and will not have any updates on contract negotiations on any of our players.”
Regarding prospective UFAs, Yzerman said he will get back to potential free agents such as Sam Gagner, Marc Staal, Thomas Greiss, Carter Rowney and Danny DeKeyser before the first day of free agency on July 13.
“In general my message to everybody was, look, I’m going to see if I can improve our team and I will get back to them closer to July 13,” Yzerman said. “I haven’t ruled out bringing anyone back, but a final decision, one way or another, will be made shortly before or after July 13.”
► Yzerman didn’t necessarily rule out moving up or down (and accumulating more draft picks) in the draft, but said it’s not easy to do.
“The difficulty is finding a partner that wants to (trade),” Yzerman said. “There have been times where we’ve looked at moving up or back and simply can’t find anybody that wanted to do it. Those are decisions that come up on the draft floor.”
Yzerman is open to trading with teams and using the Wings’ salary cap space but isn’t overly eager.
“We have cap space, but I try to use it wisely because it can disappear in a hurry,” he said.