Red Wings Prospect Rankings: #2 Nate Danielson

The Hockey Writers

Nate Danielson was a bit of a controversial figure amongst Detroit Red Wings fans in the lead-up to the 2023 Draft, with most people understanding why the team would be drawn to him while having reservations about his ultimate offensive potential. However, following a strong showing at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament and some exciting play early in the preseason, it looks like more and more fans are warming up to him. Taken by Detroit with the ninth overall pick, Danielson is a two-way center with size, skill, and a great shot.

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

By using back to back early first rounders on center prospects in Marco Kasper and Danielson, the Red Wings have done their best to answer any questions about their future center depth while also adding players who fit the style they want to play going forward. Danielson is a hard working player on both ends of the ice and will make Detroit harder to play against once he establishes himself in the NHL.

Scouting Report

Danielson is a two-way center with the strength and skating ability to be an effective NHL player in big minutes either at even strength or on whichever special teams unit the team needs him to play on. I expect he will handle tough defensive assignments fairly well while producing significant enough offense of his own. Danielson has a ton of traits that scream “NHL centerman” from his size (6-foot-2) to his strong motor.

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He kills penalties well, killing tons of plays with his energy and stick work, and he provides good value on the power play as well where his shot and playmaking make him a dual-threat. One of the most important aspects of Danielson’s game is that he plays with a ton of pace and I’m not concerned about his ability to think quickly enough to succeed in the NHL when the time comes. I expect Danielson will be a do-it-all, top-six center in the NHL during his prime, possibly even surpassing Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin in the lineup toward the end of Larkin’s current contract. 

NHL Comparable

My favorite NHL player comparable for Danielson is Dylan Cozens. Both players are big, right-shot centermen with respectable two-way games and a strong motor. Cozens scored 53 points in 57 WHL games in his draft-1 year for a points-per-game (PPG) rate of 0.93, while Danielson scored 1.08 PPG. Cozens followed that up with a 1.24 PPG in his draft year and Danielson and scored 1.14 PPG in his.

Not only is their production similar, but they have a lot of the same strengths with a great shot, compete level, and excellent puck skills being among them. I think Cozens has better hockey sense, which helps him on both ends of the ice, but there are no glaring weaknesses in Danielson’s game so I expect him to be a great player. In just his third NHL season, Cozens scored 68 points in 81 games. If Danielson can score 50+ in his third season in Detroit, I think some fans might start planning the parade route. Another possible comparable is Elias Lindholm, especially if you’re a big believer in either Danielson’s shot or his defensive game.

Draft Year

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 even though he doesn’t have the dynamic offensive qualities of some of his peers. That lack of flashy offense led to many people pegging him as a prospect with very limited offensive upside, but that’s just untrue. 

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Danielson is great at attacking the middle of the ice which leads to a plethora of scoring chances both for himself and his linemates. The supporting cast around him with the Brandon Wheat Kings was really lacking last year and it’s not uncommon to watch back his junior play and see Danielson streaking through an entire opposing team before passing to a wide open teammate who puts the puck right into the goalie’s chest. He took a big step forward in terms of production during his draft year, despite this, clearing his previous career-high of 57 points by 21 and totalling 78 points in 68 games.

What’s Next for Danielson?

Danielson is almost certainly heading back to the WHL this year where he will likely be one of the best two-way forwards in the league. The Wheat Kings will hopefully be a bit stronger around him after another year of development for guys like Carson Bjarnason, 2024 Draft prospect Charlie Elick, and 2025 Draft prospect Roger McQueen. I expect Danielson to take another step forward offensively and to push toward the 100-point mark in a full season. 

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He has a great chance of making Team Canada for the World Juniors this December in Gothenburg, Sweden where Canada will look to win their third straight Gold Medal and their fourth in five years. I expect Danielson to play a significant role unless Shane Wright, Connor Bedard, or Adam Fantilli leave the pros to join Canada once again and take a top-six center spot. Regardless, I expect Danielson’s size, speed, and shot to make him an important member of this team.

At the conclusion of this coming season, Danielson will have played four full seasons in the WHL, making him eligible to play in the AHL rather than being forced to stick in the WHL for another year. While there’s certainly a chance he makes the NHL team right out of training camp at the start of the 2024-25 season, Detroit’s improved center depth (Larkin, J.T. Compher, Andrew Copp, and Joe Veleno) will make it difficult to crack the lineup down the middle. 

When Could Danielson be in Detroit?

I expect a great WHL season out of Danielson this year which he would follow up by joining the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL for at least one season before entering the Red Wings lineup on the wing as a call-up. Danielson is exactly the type of player that could crack the NHL lineup one year from now, bypassing the AHL entirely. Lots of prospects, especially ones coming out of the CHL (Canadian Hockey League), need time in the AHL to adapt to the speed of the pro game but I don’t think Danielson will need much help with that.

If we assume he starts the 2024-25 season in the AHL, then I expect Danielson to be in the conversation as a call-up candidate by the end of that season. The 2025-26 season feels like a realistic time to expect him to be a regular in the lineup, though the plan is for the team to be significantly stronger at that time which should theoretically make it more difficult to crack the lineup for a youngster. 

Bottom Line

Danielson is an incredibly important prospect for Detroit going forward, with a physical profile and play style that shares some similarities to a younger Dylan Larkin. The difference between him hitting as a top-six center and as a middle-six one is significant and a great development curve for Danielson could be a difference maker, raising the ceiling for this era of Detroit Red Wings hockey.

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