Detroit Red Wings hold ninth pick in 2023 NHL draft. Here are Steve Yzerman’s options

Detroit Free Press

General manager Steve Yzerman’s job didn’t get any easier, but at least he stayed in the top 10.

Now that Monday’s NHL draft lottery is over, and the Detroit Red Wings hold the ninth pick in the 2023 draft, Yzerman can turn to finalizing his list of who he and his staff see as the best players likely to be available at that spot when they make their first selection at the June 28-29 draft in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Chicago Blackhawks lucked out and moved up one spot to select first overall, while the Anaheim Ducks moved back to second. The Wings had 5% odds to get the first pick and get their hands on consensus No. 1 Connor Bedard, and they could have been pushed back as far as 11th.

The Wings haven’t had the good fortune to pick first, or even second or third, since their 25-season playoff streak ended and they became an annual lottery team in 2017. But Yzerman has turned the hand he has been given into players who have helped the rebuild, or project to do so in the near future. This year, he could also get creative and use his draft capital in different ways.

Since being named GM in 2019, Yzerman has used his first picks on defenseman Moritz Seider (No. 6, 2019), forward Lucas Raymond (No. 4, 2020), defenseman Simon Edvinsson (No. 6, 2021) and forward Marco Kasper (No. 8, 2022).

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For all the projections going into a draft, outside of the sure-fire bets like Bedard, players don’t necessarily go where pundits have them pre-slotted. Seider, for example, was projected to go in the mid-teens.

The top of the 2023 class is considered heavy on forwards, with Bedard and Michigan’s Adam Fantilli coming in as the top two. They have good company. Center Will Smith (USNTDP) is an elite playmaker and goal scorer who projects to be a top-line performer. Center Leo Carlsson (Orebro, Swedish Hockey League) is a multidimensional power forward with great mobility and high-end puck skills. Yzerman has chosen a European player with his first pick four years running.

Matvei Michkov, a Russian winger who played in three leagues including the KHL this past season, is an elusive playmaker with an eye for sneaky moves and a willingness to go to or through hard areas. His creativity is top-line quality.

Ryan Leonard (USNTDP) stood out at the U18 World Championship, where his eight goals and nine assists in seven games helped the U.S. win gold. He’s a high-end competitor equally adept at shooting or making a play, and he thinks the game at an elite level.

Zach Benson is both forceful and elusive, maneuvering the puck in tight areas and going to the net to position himself for tips or rebounds. He’s an all-situations type of forward, trusted by his coaches to be on the ice when the game is on the line.

David Reinbacher is the top-rated defenseman, and a coveted right-shot. He’s a key part of his native Austria’s national team, and spent this past season playing in Switzerland. Uses his reach (he’s 6 foot 2) to take away time and space and plays both special teams. Potential to run a power play with his ability to distribute or get his shot through from the point.

The Wings also hold the New York Islanders’ pick at No. 18 (via the Vancouver Canucks from the Filip Hronek trade) as well as three picks in the second round. Yzerman could use some of his draft capital to move up in the draft — he’s not going to get his hands on Bedard, but if there’s a player he really likes, maybe he can swing a deal to advance a handful of spots. He could also decide to use one of his first-round picks in a package deal to acquire a marquee player who can come in and help the Wings right away.

Good teams run into salary cap issues, and sometimes are forced to unload a player in order to keep others. The Wings have salary cap space, and enough draft picks to swing such a deal. They haven’t made the playoffs for seven years, and adding a proven performer could change that.

The last time the Wings held the ninth pick, they chose forward Michael Rasmussen, in 2017.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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