NHL mock draft: Why Matthew Wood would make sense for Detroit Red Wings at No. 9

Detroit Free Press

Remember that Halloween game in which the Detroit Red Wings were lit up by Buffalo Sabres forward Tage Thompson to the tune of six points?

A prospect who has drawn comparisons to Thompson just might be available to the Wings later this month: Matthew Wood. He’s a 6-foot-4, 197-pound right wing who is ranked among the top five North American skaters entering the NHL draft June 27-28 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Wings hold their first pick at No. 9.

“We see similarities to Tage Thompson,” NHL chief scout Dan Marr said at the combine in early June. “It might take a little longer to get to his true top form, but the package is there and the player is there.”

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Thompson recorded three goals and three assists in that 8-3 thumping of the Wings in Buffalo. It was part of a 47-goal, 94-point season for the 25-year-old, originally selected by the St. Louis Blues at No. 26 overall in 2016. (That was the year the Wings took Dennis Cholowski at No. 20; that turned out to be a bust pick, with the Wings dumping Cholowski to Seattle in the expansion draft.)

As much as the Wings could use a center — beyond 2022 first-round pick Marco Kasper, there isn’t much depth in the system — they will take the best available player. That might be Wood. He has a booming shot and makes fancy plays, displaying a high-end hockey IQ. He’s the type of player who draws defenders to him in and has them engaged as he finds an open teammate. He plays with size and skill. And at 18, he already has played one year at the University of Connecticut (which is also where Thompson played, for two seasons) to his credit: he led the Huskies in scoring with 34 points in 35 games, including being tied for third on the team with 11 goals. Internationally, he posted 13 points in the Under-18 World Junior Championships.

“What you could see was how he adapted to the level that he was playing at, how he adapted his foot speed to keep his feet moving,” Marr said. “His skating habits changed considerably over the course of the season to where he was maybe watching a little bit and gliding rather than maintaining stride. That changed over the course of the season.

“And then the more it changed, the more his true game came into focus that in the offensive end, he’s a very dangerous player. He can set up plays, he sees the ice, and then when he has the puck on his stick, he’s got one of the best releases and best shots and a finishing touch.”

The Wings have Lucas Raymond, the fourth overall pick from the 2020 draft, heading up the depth chart of right-shot wingers. Veteran David Perron also shoots right, but he is in the final year of his contract. Wood is committed to UConn next season, so he wouldn’t be entering an NHL system until 2024 at the earliest.

Marr described Wood as “one of the best players in this draft class,” when it comes to playing down low in the offensive zone — the area that is crucial to scoring. That’s an area where the Wings have struggled, and with that as a principal area that needs to be addressed, Wood could turn out to be a smart choice if he’s still on the board at No. 9.

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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