Nate Danielson Signs Entry-Level Deal with Red Wings

The Hockey Writers

Just a few short weeks after selecting him with the ninth overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, the Detroit Red Wings have signed Nate Danielson to an entry-level contract. The 18-year-old center was one of the most complete forwards in this year’s draft and the Red Wings decided to silence all questions about their center depth once and for all, taking him just a year after selecting Marco Kasper, another center, in the 2022 Draft.

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

Danielson is very well-rounded for his age, possessing a two-way game with plenty of offense that should translate very well to the NHL, especially given his 6-foot-2 frame. Let’s take a look at the conversation around him in the leadup to the draft, the implications of this deal on his NHL timeline, and my general scouting report on the player as fans continue to familiarize themselves with the team’s newest members.

Draft Conversations About Danielson

You may have heard people talking about Danielson as a safe pick in this year’s draft, but the Red Wings clearly believe he’s got some serious upside as a potential top-six center, and I tend to agree with them. When making those arguments, people would point to his early birthday (he was born just a couple days away from being eligible for the 2022 Draft), and would bring up the fact that his production wasn’t stellar this year.

Related: 2024 NHL Draft Rankings – Horn’s Super Early Top 16


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I understand the age argument to an extent, but I don’t doubt that he’s still got plenty of time and room for growth both skill-wise and physically. I also think that people undersold his offensive production because scoring 78 points in 68 games in your draft season is pretty impressive, good enough for 22nd in the WHL in fact. That’s also in spite of the fact that Danielson played on a Brandon Wheat Kings that didn’t give him a whole lot of help (but we’ll get into that a bit later). 

Some people thought that Danielson would be a stretch as a top-10 selection on draft day, but I think he’s got a more pro-ready frame and NHL-style game than many other players who went in the top-10 this year. 

NHL Timeline Implications

This deal is currently set to expire following the 2025-26 season, though it is likely to slide at least one year as I doubt he’ll be an NHL regular next season. However, an interesting wrinkle here is that Danielson’s deal is actually eligible to slide twice as he was 18 years old when signing and he signed before the September 15 cutoff. This means that, as long as he doesn’t play 10+ NHL games in either of the next two seasons, Danielson will be on an entry-level deal until the conclusion of the 2027-28 season. 

Another interesting piece of this situation is that the NHL/CHL agreement allows a player to play in the American Hockey League (AHL) if they’ve completed four full seasons in the CHL. The 2023-24 season will be Danielson’s fourth with the Brandon Wheat Kings, meaning he would be eligible to play for the Grand Rapids Griffins in just over a year. I think that his game is quite well suited for pro hockey and I would not be surprised at all if he makes that jump next summer.

Scouting Report

Few centers in junior hockey enter their draft year as well-rounded as Nate Danielson. His consistency, effort, speed, and skill make him a coach’s dream. Danielson is great at attacking the middle of the ice which leads to a plethora of chances that better line mates would finish at a solid clip. He also took a significant step forward in production from his draft-1 year to his draft eligible season.

Danielson is a two-way center with the strength and skating ability to be an effective NHL player in all-situations. I think he’ll be the  type of player who can handle tough defensive assignments fairly well and produce top-six level offense of his own. It’s common to watch Danielson play a game and wonder how he ended up with 1 point instead of 3 or 4 because he creates so many chances that his teammates aren’t always capable of finishing, partly because he’s thinking a play or two ahead of many junior players at any given time. 

It wasn’t uncommon to see him retrieve the puck in the D-zone, motor around or through multiple opponents and make a great play to an open teammate who couldn’t quite finish the play. Better linemates will be able to play at the same pace as him and hopefully finish a few more goals as well. It’s also worth mentioning that Connor Bedard named Danielson as the hardest player to play against in the WHL, which has to be worth something.

Comparable

A recent player who I’d compare Danielson to is Dylan Cozens, who had detractors saying similar things about him around the 2019 Draft, calling him a safe pick with limited offensive potential. Cozens has already blossomed as a legit top-six two-way center in the NHL, scoring 68 points last year in just his third NHL season. 

Dylan Cozens Buffalo Sabres
Dylan Cozens, Buffalo Sabres, first NHL game (Photo by Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images)

Elias Lindholm is another player who Danielson reminds me of with the defensive game to be a legit two-way force and a good enough shot to be a real goal scoring threat from range with the right linemates. Obviously both of those players are stylistically similar to Danielson and I’d say that him becoming as good as either of them would be a massive success. If he just gets 75% of the way there he will be a great second-line center in the NHL soon.

Danielson’s Future Is Bright

Adding Kasper and Danielson in 12 months seems to answer the question “who will play down the middle behind Dylan Larkin?” for the next decade. I think Danielson will be a very good NHL center for Detroit and I’m thrilled that they landed him this year. It would be awesome to see him in the AHL as soon as the 2024-25 season and hopefully he has a great final year in the WHL this upcoming season. 

Nate Danielson Team White
Nate Danielson, Team White, 2023 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (Ryan Molag / Langley Events Centre)

If Danielson can maintain his recent trajectory, then I expect he’ll bring a ton of value to the Red Wings while on a super cheap entry-level contract. He’s got the potential to be a very solid second line center, bumping Kasper either to the wing or the third line, both of which are good problems to have. Detroit’s future down the middle has improved significantly in the last year and I wish Danielson the best of luck in becoming the next great center for a franchise in great need of just that.

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