Detroit — There’s already been a steady amount of speculation and intrigue surrounding this year’s NHL Entry Draft, but it’ll be further ratcheted this week.
The 2023 NHL Scouting Combine takes place in Buffalo, with 106 prospects having arrived Sunday. They’ll go through meetings with the 32 teams during the week and take part in physical and medical testing through Saturday, in what is essentially a face-to-face job interview with prospective employers.
For the Red Wings, who have two first-round draft picks (Nos. 9 and 17) and 10 picks overall at the June 28-29 draft in Nashville, this week always has been a prime opportunity to get to know players on an individual level. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn more about individual players, along with players who were teammates or opponents.
It’s all so much different, general manager Steve Yzerman said when talking last year about how the draft process has changed from his Hall-of-Fame playing days.
“Teams didn’t get near the detail of information we are able to get now,” Yzerman said. “The draft combine is very beneficial for us, the ability to do some fitness testing on players, and see them through the course of the season. You just have way more information on both sides, and in some ways it’s good and some way it’s not so good.
“It raises the expectations to an unrealistic level for a lot of kids.”
Compared to the athletes of 30, 40 years ago, prospects entering the NHL these days are much more advanced than even during Yzerman’s playing days.
Advances in skills coaching, nutrition, skating, and offseason conditioning programs make these young players ready to make the NHL in faster fashion than the old days. Young players are increasingly advanced, having played against top talent from their age group around the world on various occasions.
“These kids are better athletes,” Yzerman said. “They can do things that, we watch the things they can do with the puck we wouldn’t have even thought of. It’s second nature for these kids.
“You’re getting a better all-around athlete, a better, more educated athlete and it’s raising the level of play in the NHL to another level. Every generation is getting better.”
With so many prime draft picks this year — unless Yzerman chooses to possibly trade any of them — this week takes on an even more importance for the Wings.
There will be 65 forwards, 34 defensemen and seven goaltenders in attendance, all of whom are listed in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings of North American and International skaters and goaltenders.
“The NHL Combine is a rite of passage on a players’ path to the NHL and is an event that NHL clubs and prospects look forward to participating in,” said Dan Marr, NHL Central Scouting vice president, on the NHL’s Draft Class podcast. “The NHL combine is the final showcase event before the NHL draft and it’s a week full of interviews, medicals and fitness testing where the players get to interact with NHL personnel and the NHL clubs get to learn as much as possible about the future stars of our game.”
The big names, generally speaking, are forwards Connor Bedard (projected first selection), Adam Fantilli (Michigan) and Leo Carlsson, all of whom should be long gone by the time the Wings pick ninth.
But there are plenty of players to consider for both the No. 9 and No. 17 selections.
▶ Will Smith, United States National Team Development Program: The 6-foot, 180-pound center is a prolific offensive player and has most moved up in most mock drafts from where the Wings are picking. Maybe the Wings move up to draft Smith?
▶ Dalibor Dvorsky, Slovakia: The third-ranked skater among international players, Dvorsky (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) already has an NHL body and could slip to the Wings with a surprise, or two, near the top of the draft. He has the leadership traits and impressive two-way play the Wings like.
▶ Nate Danielson, Brandon (WHL): Another solid center (6-foot-1, 185-pounds) who plays well at both ends of the rink and has improved his offensive game every season. A definite Red Wings type of prospect.
▶ David Reinbacher, Switzerland: The Wings have talented defenseman prospects, but if he’s available at No. 9 they’d gladly take the mobile, smart Reinbacher (6-foot-2, 185 pounds), who has no glaring weaknesses to his game.
▶ Gabriel Perreault, U.S. National Development Program: Perreault (5-foot-11, 165-pounds) isn’t the biggest or fastest player, but he knows how to score and create goals, scoring 132 points this season. He’s a terrific passer. But he has to get stronger.