Why NHL top scout’s draft assessment bodes well for Detroit Red Wings, even at No. 9

Detroit Free Press

As beneficial as it would be for the Detroit Red Wings to move up in the draft and get access to one of the top centers, their pick just inside the top 10 should yield a very good player, too.

“I look at this year’s draft class, and in the top 10 to 15, depending on whose list you’re going to look at, there are some very unique players that are really true stars if they reach their potential,” NHL scouting director Dan Marr said during the combine in early June.

The Wings hold their first pick at No. 9 in the June 28-29 draft in Nashville, Tennessee, staying in place in the draft lottery based on where they finished in the standings. They would have to move up to No. 3 to get their hands on either Leo Carlsson or Adam Fantilli, who are projected to go immediately after consensus No. 1 Connor Bedard. Those are the top-rated centers in what looks to be a deep draft.

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The “whose list you’re looking at” comment matters, of course: Projections only mean so much. Last year, Shane Wright was projected to go first, but he wasn’t picked until fourth. In 2019, Moritz Seider was pegged to go in the mid-teens, but Wings general manager Steve Yzerman took Seider at sixth, and has looked like a genius for doing so given Seider’s impact, which included the 2022 Calder Trophy.

While taking the best available player is generally the mindset with the first selection, the Wings could use somebody who will help them score. Center Will Smith (USNTDP) is an elite playmaker and goal scorer who projects to be a top-line performer. 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. He’s also committed to Boston College this fall.

Center Oliver Moore (USNTDP) is a combination of speed and skill who is committed to the University of Minnesota. 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. He, too, projects top-line creativity. Canadian 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.

The Wings also have the 17th overall pick from the trade that sent Filip Hronek to the Vancouver Canucks, and based on Marr’s assessment, could get another difference-maker there.

“In that next 15, there are also going to be some players that will probably play ahead of some of those in the top 15,” Marr said. “It’s just the way players develop physically, the way they mature mentally, and the way they can handle the adversity and the pressure of playing in the NHL.

“I think this is a really deep draft class in the first round, and the top 50 all are going to be pretty good players down the road. We do our best, and NHL scouts do their best, to get the order correct, but we won’t know for another two or three years.”

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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