The 2020 NHL Entry Draft was always going to be a monumental occasion for the Detroit Red Wings. As you may recall, the team bottomed out during the 2019-20 season which was (might I say mercifully) cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the only time since their rebuild began in 2017, the Red Wings entered the draft lottery with the best odds at winning the first overall selection in the draft. But, as was the running theme throughout that season, the Red Wings could not catch a break. Instead, they slid all the way down to the fourth pick in the draft, a pick that to this day still stands as the highest pick they have had throughout their rebuild.
Fast forward to today, and nobody seems to care that the New York Rangers won the right to select Alexis Lafrenière with the first overall pick that year. That’s because with the fourth pick, general manager Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings took Swedish winger Lucas Raymond, a player who finished fourth in voting for the Calder Trophy last season as the NHL’s top rookie. In 82 games last season, Raymond put up an impressive 57 points; through 135 regular season games, Lafrenière sits with 52 points despite playing for a Rangers team that made the Eastern Conference Final last season.
You’ll have to forgive Red Wings fans if they believe their team did manage to win the draft lottery in 2020 because, right now at least, it sure seems like they did.
Raymond put the league on notice last season. Now gearing up for his second season in the NHL, all the ingredients are there for the 20-year-old forward to break out and become an elite winger this season.
Raymond’s 2021-22 Season Left Room for Improvement
It is no small accomplishment when a 19-year-old produces north of 50 points in their rookie season. Heck, if it weren’t for the otherworldly play of his teammate, Moritz Seider, Raymond probably would have garnered a lot more national attention last season. But, to be clear, there’s a reason the young winger faded from the Calder conversation last year, and it’s the same reason why Red Wings fans have to be very excited about what the 2022-23 season has in store for him:
There are still areas in his game he can improve on.
While Raymond started the season strong (nine goals and 21 points through the end of November), he scored just two goals and 14 points through the months of December and January. After coming back to life in February in March, he finished the month of April with just three goals and seven points. This up and down play speaks to a lack of consistency, but it also points to something else: fatigue.
At the end of the season, Raymond decided to opt out of joining Team Sweden at the World Championships, citing a need for rest after the long season.
“[Raymond] needs this time this summer to recharge his batteries,” Peter Werner, Raymond’s agent, told the Swedish news outlet Aftonbladet. Prior to last season, Raymond had never played more than 47 games in one season (2018-19 split between the Swedish Hockey League and their J20 league). Not only did he play in all 82 of the Red Wings’ games last season, but it was also his first year in North America. That means it was his first year living away from his family over in Sweden, and it was his first year enduring the physical toll that an NHL season takes on all of its players. Needless to say, there were times throughout the 2021-22 season where Raymond was both physically and mentally exhausted.
Entering his second NHL season, Raymond now has a much better idea of what life in the NHL is like, and what he has to do to manage it. When you factor that in with the on-ice areas of his game that experience will help him improve upon (consistency and two-way play), it is clear that he is positioned for success even more so than he was entering last season.
“Everything,” Raymond answered when he was asked what improvements he wants to make in his game this season. “Just trying to evolve everything. Trying to skate more, trying to take the puck to the net more, and more shots….hopefully that leads to more production as well.”
That should be a scary thought for opposing defenses.
Raymond’s Next Steps
Given where the Red Wings drafted Raymond (and what they had to endure to secure that pick) there will always be a high level of expectations for the highest-drafted member of Detroit’s roster. And let’s face it – while his 57 points last season gave fans every right to be excited about him, the expectation is that he will become one of the most lethal wingers in the league by the time he’s in his prime. His ascent towards that status could take place this season, with a 70-point season seeming like a pretty fair goal to set for his sophomore campaign.
With the opportunity to spend another season playing alongside Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, the Red Wings’ top line from last season should be able to improve upon their results from last season not only because of their familiarity with each other, but because of the scoring depth Yzerman added to the roster in the offseason. New head coach Derek Lalonde has plenty of options available to him as he works to construct the lineup on a nightly basis, meaning that Raymond, with his talent level, could find himself playing alongside many different talented forwards this season.
As great as that top line of Raymond, Larkin and Bertuzzi was last season, Raymond, in particular, was not nearly as effective away from them as he was with them. For Raymond to take that next step towards becoming an “elite” talent in the NHL, he has to be able to produce regardless of who he lines up with. If he can take that next step this season, it will be interesting to see how Lalonde utilizes him in the lineup, especially when other lines look like they need a spark.
Raymond Could Become an “Elite” Player This Season
Is Raymond an “elite” player right now? No, but his first season showed that he has the potential to become one. Among Lalonde’s many challenges as the Red Wings’ head coach is to help guide Raymond towards reaching that level. He’s got a lethal shot that is reminiscent of Brett Hull, and he’s got playmaking abilities that will remind Red Wings fans of another great Swedish player: Henrik Zetterberg. With a developing two-way game that is already in a pretty good place, this is a player that is on the cusp of becoming everything the Red Wings were hoping to get when that miserable 2019-20 season finally came to a close.
And that’s why if you ask a Red Wings fan about the 2020 draft, they’ll tell you that their team won the draft lottery.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.