Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman ready for NHL draft that has changed

Detroit News

Detroit — Steve Yzerman remembers the draft process when he was entering the NHL as a player in 1983.

The entire process was so much different back then, even for a player who was eventually going to excel and reach the Hall of Fame.

Back then, for a draft pick entering the NHL, the worldview was so much smaller.

“We didn’t have the draft combine, we didn’t have all the access to social media where you saw all the different lists where you were rated, all these reports from people,” Yzerman said. “Right or wrong, these lists didn’t exist. I really only knew the players I played against in Ontario.

“You had so little information. You had no idea. I didn’t have any idea where I stood and what people thought of me as a player.”

Like everything else, things have changed.

When Yzerman announces who the Red Wings pick with the eighth overall pick Thursday in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, it’ll end a long, intensified process after the Wings have combed through reams of information.

“Teams didn’t get near the detail of information we are able to get now,” Yzerman said. “The draft combine is very beneficial for us, the ability to do some fitness testing on players, and see them through the course of the season. You just have way more information on both sides, and in some ways it’s good and some way it’s not so good.

“It raises the expectations to an unrealistic level for a lot of kids.”

Fans, especially, see the gaudy statistics the player produces at the junior level and expects those numbers immediately in the NHL. Maybe, even, some organizations.

But competing in the best hockey league in the world, against the most elite players, presents huge challenges.

“It’s hard to make it in the NHL regardless of where you’re drafted,” Yzerman said. “(And) a lot of times the kids come in and based on what they’re being told and what they hear, and the expectations are out of whack.”

Another major change now, compared to when Yzerman and his generation of players came into the NHL, is the pure skill level of today’s young players.

Kids now play almost year-round, with hundreds of games and practices, and access to specialized coaching in the summer that can improve whatever weakness exists with the player.

Strength training has improved, an emphasis on skating has evolved over the years, and the value of a healthy nutrition has been learned.

So, in all, a better all around athlete is walking into the NHL these days.

“I’d say overall they’re better athletes,” Yzerman said. “They’re higher skilled and better trained and that would be from top to bottom. I go back to, almost really 40 years, and the education they have and the information they have in terms of diet and access to skills coaches and the importance put on it, and the skating instructors, and off season workout programs, it’s all at a higher level.

“These kids are better athletes. They can do things that, we watch the things they can do with the puck and we wouldn’t have even thought of. It’s second nature for these kids.

“You’re getting a better all around athlete, a better, more educated athlete and it’s raising the level of play in the NHL to another level. Every generation is getting better.”

At No. 8 overall, the Wings are confident they will get a player who will ultimately help them be successful.

With the NHL Entry Draft such a gamble, given teams are selecting 17- or 18-year-olds who are still maturing and developing, on and off the ice, most teams select, generally, the best player available in round one regardless of position or position of need within an organization.

“We won’t be making a decision, at least in the first round, based on position,” Yzerman said.

Still, the Wings would like to get a center, if there’s one who they think highly of available.

Centers Cutter Gauthier (United States National Team Development Program), Marco Kasper (Sweden) and Matt Savoie (Winnipeg), plus goal-scoring wingers such as Jonathan Lekkerimaki (Sweden) and Joakim Kemell (Finland) are players who have been linked to the Wings during the draft process.

“We feel pretty good about where we are and we think we’re going to get a good prospect that will help us,”  Yzerman said.

2022 NHL Entry Draft

Where: Bell Centre, Montreal

When: Thursday (first round), Friday (Rounds 2-7).

► Time: Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.

TV: Round 1 on ESPN and streamed on ESPN+. Rounds 2-7 on NHL Network.

Red Wings picks: Round 1: (8th overall); Round 2: (40), via Washington Capitals (52); Round 3: (73);  Round 4: (105), via Vegas (113); via Colorado (129); Round 5: (137); Round 6: pick traded; Round 7: (201), via Los Angeles (212).

Twitter: @tkulfan

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