Detroit Red Wings take us behind NHL draft first-round strategy, why they like their haul

Detroit Free Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Steve Yzerman and Kris Draper addressed two of the Detroit Red Wings’ bigger needs in the first round of the 2023 NHL draft on Wednesday.

No. 9 pick Nate Danielson is a right-shot center and No. 17 selection Axel Sandin Pellikka is a right-shot defenseman. Considering the Wings have had to rebuild since 2017 without ever getting inside the top three selections, the newest first-round picks look like solid prospects that will help the team be more competitive. Danielson is similar to 2022 first-round pick, Marco Kasper, while Sandin Pellikka adds depth on the right-side defense.

“Coming away from the first round, we added a centerman, happened to be a right-shot centerman, which is great, and we added a right-shot defenseman, too, that we’re excited to bring in,” Draper said after Wednesday’s opening round at Bridgestone Arena.

Draper, the team’s director of amateur scouting, and Yzerman, the general manager, had final say on how the Wings finalized their internal rankings of possible choices.

Of Danielson, Yzerman said, “we like all parts of his game. He’s got pretty good size, he’s a good skater, he’s got good skills, he’s a good two-way centerman, so there’s a lot to like about him. He’s just a solid all-around prospect.”

Sandin Pellikka is a “good offensive d-man,” Yzerman said. “He skates well, he’s got good puck skills. He’s got very good hockey sense. Little bit different than what we have in our system, so I think it’s a good fit.”

Yzerman indicated earlier this month he wasn’t sure how much a team really gets out of combine interviews — it’s 20 minutes with a player — but both Danielson and Sandin Pellikka aced theirs, for what it was worth.

“Both of them were nice, normal young men,” Yzerman said. “They spoke well, they look you in the eye, they’re articulate. We liked both.”

Nate Danielson’s appeal

Danielson (6-foot-2, 186 pounds) led Brandon (Western Hockey League) in goals (33), assists (45), points (78), powerplay goals (13) and short-handed goals (three), and tied for the lead in game-winning goals (five) in 68 games. He’s dynamic and trustworthy, the type of player coaches love because he’ll do what is asked and do it responsibly.

“He’s a guy that plays in all situations,” Draper said. “He plays the game the right way. He’s an impressive young man the way he talks, the way he presents himself. We feel we have a player that’s real passionate towards the game. Last year we added Marco in the first round, a centerman, and this year we were able to add Nate. We’re trying to get some centers, trying to build through the middle, and it’s another piece for us going forward.”

It was what Connor Bedard, taken at No. 1 by the Chicago Blackhawks, had to say about Danielson that also tipped the scales in his favor.

“One of the things that was interesting for us was Connor Bedard talking about, in the (Western Hockey League), Nate Danielson was one of the toughest players to play against,” Draper said. “That stands out in an interview. When we heard that, that was something that put a little smile on our faces.”

Axel Sandin Pellikka’s appeal

There’s a nice bit of symmetry in that Sandin Pellikka (5-11, 180) was taken with the draft pick the Wings got when they traded right-shot defenseman Filip Hronek.

“It was important to find a right-shot D and what we felt was the right kind of right-shot D,” Draper said. “We really like his hockey sense, we really like his poise with the puck. He was another impressive young man the way he speaks.

“He was 17 years old, he played in the World Juniors, by the end of the tournament, he was running the power play, a big part of it. That was the thing you just kept coming back to, is he’s really smart, he knows how to manage the game, he knows how to manage the puck, he has deception with it, and he really moves well on the offensive blue line as well. We felt it was something that was important to bring into the prospect pool. We don’t have a lot of right shot d-men, either.”

On the road: Red Wings’ Axel Sandin Pellikka’s incredible journey to the 2023 NHL draft

Holding his picks

Yzerman said the week before the draft he anticipated using his selections where they fell — but he did entertain talks to move around.

“We had some discussions with teams with both picks, even to think about moving up, moving back,” he said. “With both, we chose not to move up. When our picks were coming up the options to move back were interesting, but we had two particular players in each case that we wanted to use the picks on.”

Swedes on the road

Yzerman had heard that Sandin Pellikka had to drive from New York to Nashville because the air problems created in the U.S. by Canadian wildfires has impacted air travel. While Sandin Pellikka had to make it to the draft, Nicklas Lidstrom opted to skip the event and drive straight to Detroit instead.

“We had a lot of guys had trouble,” Yzerman said. “Nick Lidstrom didn’t even make it, I think he got to New York City and he’s driving to Detroit. They told me Axel had a heck of a time getting here.”

Yzerman smiled as he noted what Sandin Pellikka’s determination said about him.

“He can drive, too, that’s a bonus.”

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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