How Steve Yzerman can use 2023 NHL draft to push Detroit Red Wings towards playoffs

Detroit Free Press

With enough draft capital to feed the farm and the family, general manager Steve Yzerman appears to be in a position to edge the Detroit Red Wings closer to competing for a playoff spot.

Yzerman holds five picks within the first 43 selections ahead of the June 28-29 NHL draft in Nashville, Tennessee: Nos. 9, 17, 41, 42, and 43. Conceivably, Yzerman has enough draft capital to use some of the picks on prospects and some on adding a player or two who can come in and help the Wings right away.

“I don’t know that there’s a real science to it,” Yzerman said Tuesday, “but we gauge how interested we are in the player, what the fit is for our organization, what the cost to acquire the player is, and then it’s just simply, would we rather have Pick X, or that player.”

ONE POTENTIAL PICK: Why Matthew Wood would make sense for Red Wings at No. 9

ANOTHER POTENTIAL PICK: Why Wings could take a chance on Matvei Michkov

TAKE NO. 3: Why speedy center Oliver Moore could be right fit for Red Wings

From the moment Yzerman was named GM in April 2019, he has been resolute in not predicting when the Wings might return to the playoffs. But this spring marked seven years of packing up when the regular season ends, and while Yzerman said pressure isn’t growing “from my perspective,” it would behoove the Wings to start looking more like a playoff team.

“I’d rather make them sooner than later, but it’s really not affecting what I’m doing right now,” Yzerman said. “Using any of our high picks will be for players that are going to be here for a long time, that will be part of our core for a long period of time, not just to hopefully improve us enough to get into the playoffs.”

“Pick X” may look good, but does it look better than potentially packaging something that will entice the Ottawa Senators to agree to an intradivisional trade that will bring two-time 40-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat to his hometown Wings? DeBrincat is 25 and fits right in with the core group that is aged from around 20 to 26.

“What I’m trying to build is a nucleus of young players that is going to be the core of the team for a significant period of time,” Yzerman said. “If we give up those pieces, and these draft picks, there are no guarantees they are going to turn into that, we have to feel that the player that we would be acquiring is going to be a part of that core for a long period of time.”

Yzerman has had the added challenge of building in the draft despite some unluckiness in the draft lottery. When he got to Tampa Bay in 2010, the Lightning already had center Steven Stamkos (No. 1 overall in 2008) and defenseman Victor Hedman (No. 2, 2009), two pieces central to the squads that won Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021. But since the Wings entered the draft lottery in 2017, they have picked no higher than fourth — and that was in 2020, after finishing the season in last place.

The only way to move up is to do it himself. The Chicago Blackhawks aren’t going to relinquish taking Connor Bedard with the No. 1 pick and the Anaheim Ducks are best served by retaining the No. 2 pick (and using it on Adam Fantilli), but Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen did tell the Columbus Dispatch he has gotten calls about the No. 3 pick. (He also said that so far nothing has “been even close.”) Should Yzerman pull that off, he could add highly touted center Leo Carlsson to the rebuild — or maybe Will Smith, a highly touted center out of the USNTDP.

SWEDE SUCCESS: Red Wings doing due diligence on top prospect Leo Carlsson, likely a top-3 pick

Yzerman and his crew head to Nashville this week, as will the brain trusts for the other 31 teams. Last year, Yzerman made a trade on the second day of the draft when he swapped a third-round pick to St. Louis for the rights to goaltender Ville Husso. If a blockbuster trade doesn’t materialize, maybe Yzerman can turn one of his second-round picks into something more helpful in the present.

“I’ve never had three picks in a row, particularly in the second round, that’s interesting,” Yzerman said. “Those picks tend to be valuable. A lot of teams don’t have first-, don’t have second-round picks, and are potentially looking to acquire that. So those would be options, but again, those are more things that will happen at the draft, really on the floor in all likelihood. But it does give you options, they’re all some form of currency, whether you are using them to move up in the draft, back in the draft, acquire more picks, or acquire players. In the position we are in, it’s nice to have a lot of draft picks.”

Contact Helene St. James at 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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