Detroit Red Wings’ 2018 Draft Regrets

The Hockey Writers

We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t move forward if you’re always looking back”. This rings true for the Detroit Red Wings organization when you refer to the mishap that occurred during the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas, Texas. The majority of the hockey world was stunned when they saw top goal-scoring prospect Filip Zadina still available at the sixth overall spot in the first round.

Most analysts had the 6-foot-1 scoring dynamo going third overall to the Montreal Canadiens after a stellar draft season that saw him put up 44 goals and 38 assists for the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). He seemed to possess all the elite tools that NHL teams crave – a natural goal scorer with a wicked shot to go along with a high-end hockey IQ. A projected 35-40 goal scorer was just what the doctor ordered for Detroit, and management was thrilled to land him at that spot. The future, all of a sudden, began to look bright for an organization that had just entered the early parts of a long overdue rebuild. Zadina was supposed to be the face of the next generation of Red Wings’ superstars.

Filip Zadina Red Wings
Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings, 2018 NHL Draft, Dallas, TX, June 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 2018 Draft did not pan out the way most pundits predicted it would. The Canadiens opted to take center Jesperi Kotkaniemi at third overall, the first real surprise of the draft, after the Buffalo Sabres and the Carolina Hurricanes selected Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov with the first two picks. The Ottawa Senators then took winger Brady Tkachuk at four, followed by the Arizona Coyotes going off the board by selecting center Barrett Hayton with the fifth pick.

Former Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and his staff couldn’t get to the podium fast enough to snatch up Zadina in what appeared, at the time, to be the steal of the draft. Hockeytown rejoiced as the Czech native promised to “fill Ottawa’s and Montreal’s nets with pucks” after they passed on him. It looked like Detroit had found their next elite, goal-scoring winger. But things don’t always play out the way we expect. Trying to project an 18-year-old’s future is an extremely difficult challenge for scouts and sadly things did not go as planned for the highly touted forward.

It’s safe to say Zadina’s time in Detroit was anything but a disaster. His goal-scoring prowess never translated to the pros and his frustrations – as well as the organization’s – mounted. In five seasons with the Red Wings, he posted 28 goals and 40 assists in 190 games. Not exactly the return the team was hoping for from the former junior star. Prior to the start of the 2023-24 season, Zadina’s camp asked Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman for a trade as maybe a change of scenery was needed. There was little to no interest around the league for Zadina’s services which led the club to place him on unconditional waivers for purposes of “mutual contract termination”. He had two seasons remaining on the three-year, $5.475 million contract he signed during the 2022-23 offseason. He then inked a one-year contract with the San Jose Sharks for the 2023-24 season, but struggled to produce there as well, producing 13 goals and 10 assists in 72 games.

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Zadina will no doubt go down as one of the biggest busts in Red Wings history. This missed opportunity should sting for some time. But what would Detroit’s current trajectory be if he had gone earlier in the draft like everyone predicted he would? Who would Holland have selected? Red Wings fans may want to look away while I mention some of the players chosen shortly after his name was called. Let’s take a look at three franchise-altering players that could have been selected by Detroit in the 2018 Draft.

Quinn Hughes – LHD – Vancouver Canucks (7th Overall)

Remember when I said look away? I wasn’t joking. Quinn Hughes is an elite, puck-moving defenseman; a perennial All-Star who looks to be a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He posted 17 goals and 75 assists for 92 points this season, while being named a finalist for the Norris Trophy – awarded to the league’s top defender. In six seasons with Vancouver, he’s registered 333 points in 365 games (43 goals, 290 assists). He grew up in nearby Plymouth and attended the University of Michigan, so you have to assume Detroit scouts were familiar with his game.

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Hughes, the older brother of both Jack and Luke, is a generational talent, and picturing him paired with Moritz Seider should leave Detroit fans wondering about what could have been. The 5-foot-9 blueliner may have fallen to seventh overall because of his lack of size and physical play, but make no mistake – he is a superstar. Before the start of the 2023–24 season, Hughes was named the 15th captain in team history, making him both the youngest active captain in the NHL and the first American-born captain of the Canucks. This one is a hard pill to swallow, especially when you consider where the Red Wings would be today had he been chosen.

Evan Bouchard – RHD – Edmonton Oilers (10th Overall)

But wait there’s more. Four picks after Detroit made their selection, the Oilers nabbed Evan Bouchard. Many analysts had projected the Ontario native to Detroit at six but as we all saw, things turned on a dime after Zadina dropped. He elevated his play during his draft year with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) potting 87 points (25 goals, 62 assists) while serving as the team captain. The 6-foot-3, 194-pound defenseman has slowly reached star-level status after registering 18 goals and 64 assists this past season. He quarterbacks Edmonton’s top power play unit and is quickly becoming a household name in Canada as the Oilers get set to take on the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup Final. He currently ranks third overall in playoff scoring with 27 points in 18 games. Bouchard is a top-ten defenseman in the game today and possesses a big right-handed shot from the point – something that Detroit desperately needs.

Noah Dobson – RHD – New York Islanders (12th Overall)

Had enough yet? Last one I promise. Noah Dobson was taken with the 12th overall pick and he has emerged as one of the top two-way defenders in the NHL. He’s put up 191 points in 317 games with the Islanders including a career high 70 points (10 goals, 60 assists) this past season. The 6-foot-4 blueliner plays in all situations and blocked 180 shots this season, good for 13th overall among blueliners. While he’s not overly physical, the Prince Edward Island native played close to 24 minutes a night – tops on the team. His game continues to trend upward and the Islanders will look to lock him up long-term when he becomes a restricted free agent after the upcoming season. Detroit struggled mightily in their own end during the 2023-24 season. Dobson would have made a huge difference.

What Could’ve Been

Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s not hard to imagine the Red Wings ending their eight-year playoff drought this season had they selected any one of these three players. I will readily admit, at the time, I was thrilled with the Zadina pick. I thought Detroit had hit a home run and couldn’t help but envision a long, successful career in the Motor City where he dominated on the power play with his rocket of a one-timer from the top of the faceoff circle. But this scenario plays out year after year with top prospects. Not all of them pan out as GMs are consistently second-guessing themselves in these types of situations. Yzerman has done a much better job with his first-round selections and has built one of the top defensive prospect pools in the game. But can you picture Hughes, Bouchard or Dobson wearing the Winged Wheel? I can and it’s scary to think what could have been.

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