Marco Kasper shouldn’t have any trouble fitting in here.
The newest member of the Red Wings organization speaks three languages — German, Swedish and English — and they’ll all come in handy whenever he joins his NHL team in Detroit. Or more specifically, when he joins the rest of the young core of talent that Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman has assembled through the draft, including the trio of recent first-round picks from Europe in Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond and Simon Edvinsson.
To no one’s great surprise, Yzerman took that route again Thursday night, quadrupling down on the Wings’ scouting savvy overseas while also striking a balance between talent and need at the top of the draft. Kasper, an 18-year-old Austrian, was a popular pick for the Wings in mock drafts, and in hindsight, this match was pretty obvious.
“I really like everything about the way he plays,” Yzerman told reporters in Montreal, a few hours after he announced Detroit’s pick at No. 8 overall on stage at the Bell Centre. “He’s got good size, he’s a good skater, I think he’s got good hockey sense. … We just think he’s a really good, solid, all-around hockey player.”
Kasper can play all three forward positions, but Yzerman made it clear the plan is for him to find a home in Detroit as a center. Preferably sooner rather than later, though it’d be no surprise if Kasper spent one more season playing professionally in Europe — finishing out the final year of his contract with Rogle BK in the Swedish Hockey League — before making the jump to North America.
“We think he has underrated skill and we think he has the ability to play in our top six one day,” Yzerman said. “I can’t tell you if it’s next year or the year after, but we have high hopes for him.”
They have a huge need as well, and it’s one that Kasper seems ideally suited to fill in Detroit, where the search for a No. 2 center behind Dylan Larkin remains a top priority.
Kasper’s a do-it-all, two-way forward with a competitive nature that’s almost unmatched in this draft class. Kris Draper, the Wings’ amateur scouting director, described Kasper’s work ethic and compete level as “off the charts.” And at 6-foot-1 and a solid 185 pounds, he plays the game with a persistent tenacity and an aggressive style that should translate well to the smaller NHL rinks.
“I hope so, and I think so, too,” Kasper told reporters in Montreal.
Don’t sleep on the rest of his game, though. Yzerman’s reference to Kasper’s “underrated skill” on the ESPN broadcast sounded a bit intentional Thursday. And when asked about it later, he explained what he meant.
“He’s not super-flashy with backhand toe-drags and all that stuff,” Yzerman said. “He just kind of makes the right play. He can make a pass, he’s got a good shot, he can carry the puck up the ice. He’s not flashy. He’s very efficient.”
And while Kasper may not have the same offensive upside of some of the top forwards selected earlier Thursday night, Detroit is banking on Kasper being a better bet to reach his full potential than some of the other prospects that were still on the board at No. 8. (That might even include the No. 9 pick, Matthew Savoie, an undersized center who likely will end up on the wing in Buffalo.)
The fact Kasper spent last year playing regular shifts in the SHL as a 17-year-old should add to that confidence, too.
“Sweden’s a great hockey country,” said Kasper, who actually left home two years ago to join Rogle’s academy. “It’s really good competition there. So I decided to go and play against the best competition and I think it was a good decision. … It’s tough to play against men, but I think it’s helped me to see how it is to live like a pro.”
Kasper only managed 11 points in 46 games in the regular season as the youngest player on a Rogle roster that also includes Red Wings prospect William Wallinder. (Theodor Niederbach, another Detroit second-round pick in 2020, will join Rogle this upcoming season.)
But Kasper’s confidence grew over the winter and he graduated from an initial fourth-line role to a larger one for head coach Cam Abbott as the season progressed. In the playoffs, he chipped in with six points (three goals, three assists) in 13 games, which reaffirmed the Wings’ thoughts.
“To me, he was one of the best players on the ice as a 17-year-old kid,” said Draper, who estimates he saw Kasper play in person a dozen times this past season. “He just seemed to embrace the moment. It seemed like as the games got bigger, he got better.”
Kasper also played a key role on Austria’s national team at April’s world championships in Finland, where the Austrians recorded a historic win over a Czech team that included the Wings’ Jakub Vrana and Filip Hronek. He had a chance to reconnect with Seider there, too. They were teammates in Rogle two years ago — Seider said Kasper brought a “good energy” to the team even as a 16-year-old — and Kasper actually assisted on Seider’s first SHL goal that season.
We’ll see how long it takes for the reigning Calder Trophy winner to return the favor in Detroit. But Kasper certainly sounds eager for it to happen soon, much like it did for Raymond, who spent one more season after his draft in Sweden before earning a spot on the Red Wings’ NHL roster last fall.
“I’m gonna do my best to get to the NHL as soon as possible and help the Detroit Red Wings win,” Kasper said.
Some patience is required, obviously, but it’s worth noting Kasper’s a quick study, by all accounts. When he committed to play in Rogle a few years ago, he didn’t know any Swedish. Within six months, he was speaking it fluently.
“Pretty impressive,” Draper said.