No more sleepless nights for Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman: NHL draft finally here

Detroit Free Press

So much in a rebuild rides on making the right selections at the NHL draft that it can leave a general manager restless.

Steve Yzerman, about to embark on his fifth draft as general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, shed some insight into what it is like.

“I can tell you, it’s nerve-wracking,” Yzerman said last week. “We’re very prepared and organized. But those couple nights leading up to the draft, the uncertainty of it is, you don’t sleep a lot. You do a lot of thinking and you try not to second guess yourself.”

POSSIBILITIES: 9 options at No. 9 for Red Wings in 2023 NHL draft

Connor Bedard is the consensus No. 1 pick and Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson are expected to be the next players selected. Beyond that, it’s harder to predict. Depending on who is still on the board at No. 9, options for the Wings could include Matthew Wood, Matvei Michkov, Ryan Leonard, Oliver Moore, Gabe Perreault, Nate Danielson, David Reinbacher, Colby Barlow, Zach Benson, Axel Sandin Pellikka, Dalibor Dvorsky and Brayden Yager.

The Wings also hold pick No. 17 going into Wednesday’s round one in Nashville, Tennessee, and hold picks 41, 42, 43, 73, 117, 137, 169 and 201 on Day 2. Yzerman and his amateur scouting staff, led by Kris Draper, have gone into great detail doing their own rankings on who they like best. As Yzerman put it, at some point you have to stop debating.

“You put a list together and you follow your list,” Yzerman said. “For whatever reason you may change your mind at the last minute. Some of these players, it’s so close. Who is going to be the better player in five years – the ninth or the eighth pick or the 11th? Your mind gets wandering a little bit or you start debating your options. But generally I think the rule for all of us is, you put a list together and when pick nine comes up, that ninth player is who we take.

“We try to get it right and Kris has worked really hard at it.”

Pressure eases as the picks get into later rounds, but that first pick is vital. Yzerman certainly got it right when he selected Moritz Seider at No. 6 in 2019; the defenseman won the Calder Trophy in 2022. Forward Lucas Raymond, picked fourth in 2020, dipped in his second year but there’s no question he is a skilled offensive player. Defenseman Simon Edvinsson, the first pick in 2021, had a bit of an audition this spring and is expected to challenge for a spot on the roster next season, as is forward Marco Kasper, the No. 8 pick in 2022.

This is considered an excellent draft class, and it is especially heavy on forwards — but if the best available player at No. 9 is a defenseman, so be it.

“I’m not sure it’s ever really the right thing to target a position,” Yzerman said. “We’ll go with who we think the best prospect is at that point in the draft. We need players at every position.”

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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