On May 8, the future will change for two NHL teams.
That is the night of the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery, the annual process of determining the order of the first 16 picks in the upcoming draft. Teams that have been rebuilding for a while now know what is at stake that night, and fans of those teams know just how unpredictable the lottery is.
One such team is the Detroit Red Wings. Since their rebuild began in 2017, the Red Wings have crossed their fingers and hoped that Lady Luck would grace them with a lottery win for six drafts. In that time, the highest they have picked is fourth overall back in 2020, and that was the year they fell back three spots after entering the lottery with the best odds of securing the top pick. Needless to say, Lady Luck hasn’t been kind to the winged wheel.
This year, the Red Wings enter the draft lottery with just a 5% chance at winning the top pick and only slightly better odds (5.2%) of landing the second pick. Despite those long odds, it cannot be overstated just how momentous it would be for the Red Wings to land one of the top two picks in this year’s draft.
If they do win the lottery, it could very well put the Red Wings on a path to Stanley Cup contention beginning next season.
Bedard & Fantilli Headline 2023 Draft
In case you haven’t heard, the crown jewel of the 2023 Draft is Connor Bedard, a 5-foot-10 centerman from North Vancouver. To put it bluntly, he is one of the most talented prospects we’ve seen come through the draft in the last 10 years.
Related: Ranking the Best Landing Spots for Connor Bedard in 2023 Draft
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It begins and ends with his high-end offensive abilities. Bedard possesses the innate ability to make things happen on the ice and bend the game to his will. He is effective as both a shooter and a playmaker, and the amount of power he gets behind his shot is quite impressive given his overall lack of size. His release is similar to Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, the top pick of the 2016 draft and two-time Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goal-scorer. Bedard can simply whip the puck past the goaltender when he has time and space, and it’s not hard to envision him putting up 50-goal seasons in the NHL when he is in his prime.
But what really sets Bedard apart from the crowd is how he combines his natural talents with a work ethic that is second to none. His competitive drive is reminiscent of Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, the top pick of the 2005 draft and one of the most decorated players in the sport’s history. Nobody has higher expectations for Bedard than Bedard himself; as the captain of the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, he often put it upon himself to elevate his game and deliver a victory for his team.
When teams land the first pick in any draft, they dream of landing prospects like Bedard. But in this year’s draft, landing the second overall selection would be just as good as landing the top pick in previous drafts. That’s because Adam Fantilli is one heck of a prospect too.
This season, Fantilli won the Hobey Baker Award – awarded to the top collegiate player – as a Freshman with the University of Michigan. To put that into perspective, a he was just the third Freshman since 1993 to win the Hobey Baker. The other two to do it: Jack Eichel (2015) and Paul Kariya (1993). In 36 games with the Michigan Wolverines, Fantilli had 30 goals and 65 points.
Fantilli, also a center, stands at 6-foot-2 and already possesses the ability to take over a game. With a turbo-charged motor and top-tier skating mechanics, he attacks with speed and is able to make creative, decisive plays with the puck in milliseconds. Like Bedard, he is a two-way threat in terms of being able to finish plays just as well as he creates them – though Fantilli doesn’t quite have the goal-scoring “it” factor that Bedard does. Instead, Fantilli excels at bringing out the best in his linemates – a trait that will greatly benefit the team that adds him to their prospect pool.
Fantilli and Bedard are both projected to become top line centers that are capable of becoming top-10 players in the NHL. In Bedard’s case, he has the potential to become a top-5 player in the league. They are both first overall-caliber players that will arrive in the NHL with high expectations placed upon them, fair or not. They are poised to become difference makers for their teams, and that’s exactly what teams in the draft lottery are hoping to add.
Red Wings’ Rebuild Needs Finishing Touches
Despite their lack of lottery luck, the Red Wings’ rebuild continues to move in the right direction. Under general manager Steve Yzerman, the organization has added many quality prospects; their prospect pool has been ranked as one of the NHL’s best every year since the turn of the decade. They’ve seen players such as Moritz Seider exceed expectations after being selected with the sixth pick in the 2019 draft, and they will need more players to do the same so long as they continue to pick outside of the top three.
The Red Wings’ prospect pool is headlined by defenseman Simon Edvinsson, center Marco Kasper and goaltender Sebastian Cossa, among others. They have high-caliber prospects available at almost every position, and they currently hold five picks through the first two rounds of this year’s draft. Needless to say, Yzerman is poised to add even more depth to the Red Wings’ pool of prospects.
Despite that depth, however, there are still some pieces missing from the puzzle. The Red Wings currently have plenty of players that can create opportunities for themselves and their teammates, but they lack pure finishers that excel at cashing in on those opportunities. They also lack a full succession plan for when Dylan Larkin can no longer shoulder the load as the team’s top center (Kasper looks promising, but he still has much to prove before anyone can label him as a future top center.)
Those are just two reasons why the Red Wings should be salivating at the idea of selecting either Bedard or Fantilli. Both players would elevate a Red Wings offense that took a step back this season, and Bedard, specifically, would add a lethal goal-scoring threat that could challenge Larkin for the top center role sooner rather than later. It goes beyond the needs those players could fill, however. If the Red Wings win one of the two lottery picks, they would return to the national spotlight in a big way.
Bedard or Fantilli Would Complete the Puzzle
The Red Wings were able to hang around the playoff picture this season until shortly after the trade deadline. They struggled with inconsistency this season, but when they were at their best, they were able to hang with the very best the NHL has to offer. They are on an upward trajectory already, but the dynamics of the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference as a whole currently have them in a tough spot when it comes to ending their playoff drought.
If the Red Wings are lucky enough to add one of the top two prospects in this year’s draft, it would reverse their fortunes now and into the future. They would suddenly have the offensive potential to keep up with the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs. They would possess the depth of talent necessary to go toe-to-toe with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins. The path to ending their playoff drought runs through the Atlantic Division, and the talent available at the top of this year’s draft would help them close the gap between them and their divisional rivals.
There is also the fact that the teams that land Bedard and Fantilli will become appointment viewing across the NHL. Both players seem destined to become marketable superstars in the same way that Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were in their primes. That will draw international attention to them and the teams they play for.
The Red Wings are one of the most recognizable brands in all of sports – the winged wheel is as iconic as the New York Yankees’ “NY” logo or the Los Angeles Lakers’ purple and yellow uniforms. The Red Wings are an Original Six franchise that used to dominate national media because of stars like Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. But since those days have come and gone, the Red Wings haven’t quite recaptured the magic that made them a huge draw in terms of ticket sales and television viewers. As one of the biggest brands in the NHL, the Red Wings’ success directly translates to leaguewide success (i.e. revenues). Bedard or Fantilli landing in Detroit would be huge not just for the Red Wings and their fans, but for the league as a whole.
The stage is set for the Red Wings to become huge winners this offseason. Their core is slowly starting to come together, and they have plenty of cap space to play with as they try to fill out their roster in the summer. And after years of rotten lottery luck, winning this year’s lottery would make it all worth it.
The odds are long, but the end of the Red Wings’ rebuild could be just a lucky bounce away.