Rimer’s Reactions to the Red Wings 2023 Draft Class

The Hockey Writers

The 2023 NHL Draft started as everyone anticipated, with Connor Bedard being selected first overall, but then it became a little chaotic with unanticipated picks being made. By the end of Day 2, the Detroit Red Wings had walked away with 11 new additions to their prospect pool: two goaltenders, five defensemen, two centers, and two wingers.

Nate Danielson Detroit Red Wings
Nate Danielson, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now that the team’s development camp is coming to a close, it’s time for me to share my thoughts on the 2023 Red Wings draft class. We got to see all of the new prospects in action for the first time and gained some insight into why they stood out to the scouting department. All that being said, here are my casually late reactions to the new additions to the organization.

9th Overall – Nate Danielson (Center)

I’d be a liar if I said that I saw this selection coming. Nate Danielson wasn’t one of my top picks at ninth overall, but the selection makes sense. When I heard his name called, I was truly surprised as there were so many other players left on the table that I thought would be impossible to pass up. However, the Red Wings needed right-handed centers heading into the draft, and Danielson is exactly that and then some.

Danielson can consistently drive offensive rushes from anywhere on the ice and create plays that result in scoring chances. He played 68 games as the captain of the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League and finished the year with 33 goals and 45 assists. Oftentimes compared to Elias Lindholm, Danielson is an incredibly solid and well-rounded player with a strong shot and speedy skating. What truly made him stand out to Kris Draper was that Bedard regarded him as one of his most difficult opponents, which means a lot coming from a future generational talent.

17th Overall – Axel Sandin Pellikka (Right-Handed Defenseman)

Now this is the pick that I was most excited about. Axel Sandin Pellikka is an awesome offensive defenseman (easily the best in this draft class) and will fill a well-known vacancy on the right side. He excels at puck-handling, playmaking and has a certain level of confidence that follows him through both zones. Named the Defenseman of the Year in the Swedish J20 Nationell league, he has the potential to become a true NHL defenseman in the next few seasons. His offensive upside was on full display at the 2023 U18 World Junior Championship (WJC) as he tallied 21 points through 19 games, which also put him higher up on the radar of most scouts and analysts.

Related: Red Wings Draft Targets: Axel Sandin Pellikka

Sandin Pellikka went through quite the ordeal to end up at the draft in Nashville, driving 15 hours from New York due to a canceled flight. Funny enough, fellow Swedish Red Wings prospect Liam Dower Nilsson was with him for the lengthy car ride — perhaps a sign that he would join the organization just a few hours later. If there’s one thing that I can predict about the Red Wings’ draft strategy, it is that there has to be some Swedes chosen at one point or another. That being said, I’m glad that Sandin Pellikka is joining the lengthy list of Swedish players in the organization.

41st Overall – Trey Augustine (Goalie)

Heading into the draft, Steve Yzerman had mentioned that he would like to draft some goaltenders and he did just that. A product of the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) and a commit to Michigan State University, Trey Augustine is a great addition to the prospect pool. He’s on the shorter side for a modern day NHL goaltender standing at 6-foot-1, but what he somewhat lacks in size, he makes up for in pure athleticism and skill. His puck tracking skills are excellent and so is his hockey IQ, making him a great addition to the depth charts for the Red Wings.

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He’s coming off of an incredible season with the USNTDP, where he had a .928 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.34 goals-against average (GAA) with the NTDP Juniors in addition to two medals with Team USA. He had a stellar 6-0-0 record, a .934 SV%, and 1.61 GAA at the U18 WJC, where he brought home a gold medal. Hailing from South Lyon, Michigan, he now gets to continue playing hockey in his home state as a member of the Red Wings organization. Hopefully, he will go on to earn some time in the league one day after getting some college and lower-level pro experience under his belt.

42nd Overall – Andrew Gibson (Right-Handed Defenseman)

The second right-handed defenseman of the Red Wings 2023 Draft class, Gibson is a solid selection at 42nd overall. He’s not the most skilled puck handler or crafty player on the ice, but he’s competitive, strong, and can consistently lay into the opponent in an effective manner. Gibson is a two-way defenseman who tallied seven goals and 14 assists with the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this past season — a career best for him at this level.

“Gibson is a clear NHL athlete. He’s a big right-shot defender who is quite mobile for a guy his size. He has a smooth, powerful stride and is easily able to both evade pressure and close on checks like a pro. He projects to a strong defender versus men who can kill penalties and play in tough defensive situations due to his feet, size, and strong physical play.”

– Corey Pronman (from “Detroit Red Wings 2023 NHL Draft grade: Corey Pronman analyzes every pick,” The Athletic, June 28, 2023)

He’s another player who went higher than expected by most ranking sources, but he checks off some important boxes for the Red Wings. Adding depth on the right side of the blue line was crucial heading into the draft, and Gibson is a good player to have in the system.

47th Overall – Brady Cleveland (Left-Handed Defenseman)

It’s no secret that the Red Wings have been lacking some grit and players willing to drop mitts, so it makes sense that Yzerman made the call to scoop up Brady Cleveland. Committed to play at the University of Wisconsin of the NCAA this fall, he’s a well-trained wrecking ball on ice and is by no means afraid of getting in a scrap here and there. Not only is he bringing much-needed physicality, he’s a solid defenseman who will put himself in front of both the opponent and the puck behind the blue line.

Stats-wise, he has not scored a goal since the 2020-21 season, but he did lead the USNTDP in penalty minutes last year with a whopping 106; he received 30 of those minutes in a single game when he dropped his helmet and pummeled an opposing player. As I said, grit and aggression is his game.

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There are few things more fun to watch than a solid and aggressive defenseman lighting up his opponents, so he’s a welcome addition to the system. He wasn’t drafted for his finesse with the puck or for generating points, but rather for his ability to truck through the opposing offense. At 6-foot-5 and 209 pounds, Cleveland is just slightly bigger than Moritz Seider and has the potential to be a bottom-pairing defenseman in the NHL one day.

73rd Overall – Noah Dower Nilsson (Left Wing)

This is another player that I was really rooting for the Red Wings to select and boy, I am so happy that they did. You might recognize his name because of his older brother, Liam Dower Nilsson, who was drafted by the Red Wings in 2021. Dower Nilsson is a great selection at 73rd overall; he truthfully could’ve gone a bit higher than that because of his raw offensive talent. He was slotted between 40-60 in most rankings, but this draft class was so overwhelmingly skilled that he dropped down to 73rd, making him an obvious choice for the Red Wings.

“It begins with his offensive play and how much command he has over the play at any given time. This season at the J20 level over in Sweden, Dower Nilsson blossomed into a true facilitator in the offensive zone, leading his team in points (54) and goals (26). Overall, his points per-game rate of 1.46 was easily the best rate on his team. When Frölunda J20 was scoring goals, he more than likely had his fingerprints all over them.”

-Devin Little

He spent most of the 2022-23 season with Frölunda HC J20, where he tallied 26 goals and 28 assists in 37 games. All of his strengths lie in the offensive zone, where he possesses a tactful and strong shot, playmaking abilities, and a good understanding of the game around him. While they could potentially pass as twins, he differs from his brother in the sense that he lacks some of the defensive capabilities that Liam has.

117th Overall – Larry Keenan (Left-Handed Defenseman)

When the front office said that they were looking to acquire more defensemen in this year’s draft, they weren’t kidding. Larry Keenan just wrapped up his season with Culver Military Academy Prep, where he scored 11 goals and 26 assists through 49 games. Next season, he will be with the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) before he heads to the University of Massachusetts starting in the 2024-25 season. 

“Keenan’s defensive profile is defined by aggression. Always jumping up into the neutral zone and on his own blueline, he sprints to start early perimeter, guides, and then disrupts poorly protected entry attempts with his probing stick. Manipulation is layered upon Keenan’s game, both with his feet on retrievals and with his body on controlled north-to-south carries.”

– Elite Prospects 2023 NHL Draft Guide

Keenan is a skilled skater and has a high hockey IQ, which makes him a strong presence on the blue line as well as in the offensive zone. The 6-foot-3 defenseman is more of an offensive defenseman and plays a valuable role with any team he may find himself on. I was not familiar with him heading into the draft, but I am interested to see how his game translates to the BCHL and the NCAA and if he will have similar levels of production in those leagues.

5th-7th Round Picks

Since these are such late-round picks, I don’t have incredibly strong opinions about them. However, it’s important to include them as they are now part of the organization. Rounding out the 2023 Draft class we have two forwards, a defenseman, and a second goaltender.

137th Overall – Jack Phelan (Defenseman)

Committed to the University of Wisconsin, Jack Phelan will be teammates with Brady Cleveland this fall. He just finished up his first season in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede. He had one goal and four assists through 59 games with the Stampede in 2022-23, which is on par with previous seasons. From what I can tell, he’s a strong defensive defenseman who can shut down the opponent in his own zone and is a fine pick this late in the draft.

147th Overall – Kevin Bicker (Left Wing)

Hailing from Schwabach, Germany, Kevin Bicker is a skilled player who has a solid drive in the offensive zone. He was eligible for the 2022 NHL Draft but was not selected and got to give it a second shot this year, which ultimately worked in his favor. With Jungadler Mannheim U20 of DNL U20, he had 10 goals and 11 assists through 20 games in 2022-23. He also made an impact for Team Germany at the U18 International Junior tournament, with three goals and two assists in five games.

“Bicker plays fast, but doesn’t overextend, he applies intense pressure, but only after eliminating the puck carrier’s options. Comes across the hips to force dump-ins or get the steal. Has some playmaking touch. Deceptive and precise, his passes bypass defenders and connect with teammates in the slot.”

-Elite Prospects 2023 NHL Draft Guide

169th Overall – Rudy Guimond (Goalie)

You know the saying, the more goalies, the merrier. The second goalie drafted by the Red Wings was Rudy Guimond who played at the 18U AAA and USHS-Prep levels this past season. His numbers were solid, with a .939 SV% with the Yale Jr. Bulldogs and then a .940 SV% with Taft School. He will be spending next season with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL and is committed to Yale University starting in 2024-25. Guimond is 6-foot-4 and has shown flashes of real athleticism, so he’s a good pickup for the Red Wings in the seventh round.

201st Overall – Emmitt Finnie (Center)

Coming off of a strong season in the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers, Emmitt Finnie is a fine center to have in the system. He had nine goals and 26 assists through 64 regular-season games, and four goals and three assists through 14 postseason games in 2022-23. One of his strengths is his hockey IQ, which has helped him grow into a better player quickly, and he’s also grown taller and stronger.

“Finnie was 5-foot-3, 110 pounds when drafted by Kamloops, and his performance on the ice has gotten better, and he has filled out physically. Finnie has good hands, good offensive instincts and is worth the gamble this low in the draft.”

– Ted Kulfan (from “Meet the newest Red Wings picks from the 2023 draft,” The Detroit News, June 29, 2023)

Red Wings Draft Takeaways

Overall, I am not upset with this year’s draft class. That being said, I had hoped the Red Wings would have jumped at the chance to draft Oliver Moore at ninth overall, as he would’ve been a really fun prospect to have in the system. The Danielson pick is growing on me the more that I see him play, but I still believe that there were stronger options available at that slot.

Axel Sandin Pellikka Detroit Red Wings
Axel Sandin Pellikka, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

My favorite picks have to be Sandin Pellikka, Augustine, and Dower Nilsson. Each one of them brings something special to their position and has the potential to make a genuine impact at the NHL level one day. The Red Wings did a good job of addressing their needs that they stated heading into the draft. These needs included drafting more strong players in the offensive end, defensemen (especially on the right side), and more goaltenders. If I had to give out grades for these selections, I’d give the forwards a B+, defense an A-, and goaltenders an A, so average that out to a rough B+ or A- overall. 

All the members of the 2023 Red Wings Draft class have the potential of being something special one day whether it be at the NHL, AHL, or ECHL level. Not every player is going to be a superstar, but if one to three players make it that far, that’s a win. The new additions all looked solid at development camp this past week, and it will be exciting to see who shows up at training camp this fall.

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