NHL mock drafts: Who experts have Detroit Red Wings taking Thursday

Detroit Free Press

Projecting where prospects go in any professional sport is always tough.

It becomes even more difficult for a team whose general manager is known to trust his gut over the consensus of scouts and draft pundits.

Steve Yzerman’s calls have worked out well in recent years, including his first season in charge of the Detroit Red Wings, when he went way off the board and drafted German defenseman Moritz Seider at No. 6 overall.

Last month, Seider won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, after leading Detroit in ice time as well as pacing all rookie defensemen in points and assists and finishing second in goals.

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So, knowing that there may be some mystery on who the Red Wings will take when they’re on the clock at No. 8 overall during the 2022 NHL Draft on Thursday night, here’s who a group of experts see becoming the newest player to put on the winged wheel.

The Red Wings have been viewed as a team that needs help on defense, but ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski sees them grabbing a forward in Marco Kasper.

Kasper, 18, just finished his first professional season in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), with seven goals and four assists in 46 regular-season games.

Kasper was elected captain of Austria’s World Junior Championship team and played in two games before the tournament was canceled in December. Standing 6 feet 2 and 187 pounds, he’s known for his speed and agility and is seen as someone with a high floor.

“The words ‘consensus choice’ and ‘Steve Yzerman’ don’t usually coexist,” Wyshynski wrote. “That said, too many pundits and insiders see this match between a versatile, high-character Austrian center and the Red Wings for us not to concede the choice here.

“He’s a terrific competitor, albeit with a lower ceiling than some of the other options available here.”

Once projected as someone who would go in the middle of the first round, Kasper continues to rise up draft boards.

“He plays a pro-ready game. He plays with pace,”  McKeen’s Hockey’s Brock Otten wrote. “The last time the Wings took a swing on a player who looked great at the World Championships, it worked out pretty well for them (Moritz Seider).

“Kasper could end up really being a terrific support piece on this Wings roster moving forward and I think Detroit could see him being an elite-level middle-six player that could help them win in the playoffs in four/five years.”

Lekkerimaki is seen as possibly the best pure scorer in this year’s draft.

Lekkerimaki, a 5-11, 172-pound right-handed shooter, has a stellar slap shot but also isn’t afraid to get in front of the net and grind his way to a goal.

“He’s an excellent skater with good offensive instincts,” Adam Kimielman wrote. “A future top line with Lekkerimaki on one wing and Lucas Raymond on the other could be dynamic for the Red Wings.”

He tallied seven goals and two assists in 26 games for Djurgarden of the SHL. The 17-year-old — he turns 18 on July 24 — led the World U-18s in points (15) and assists (10) for the gold medal-winning Swedes.

Mike G. Morreale described him as “a pure sniper with a hard wrist shot who plays a two-way game with good hands and explosiveness.”

The near-consensus seems to be growing that Kasper will make a solid fit for the Wings. (Though, knowing Yzerman, that means he may go another direction.)

But The Athletic’s Corey Pronman has linked the Wings to the Swedish center since the beginning of the process; on Wednesday, he wrote he has seen nothing to make him change his mind.

“I just see so much that makes sense from a talent, positional and stylistic fit,” he said. “If they went in a different direction, my best bet would be for either (Matthew) Savoie, Joakim Kemell or (Kevin) Korchinski.”

Contact Tony Garcia at apgarcia@freepress.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.

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