I was thinking during the Red Wings’ 5-4 loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday night about Toronto rookie Mitch Marner.
Marner was drafted fourth overall in 2015. He was probably NHL-ready at the time, but the Maple Leafs returned him to junior for one more season with the London Knights.
You have to think that having Marner in the lineup would have earned the Maple Leafs at least a couple more points over the 2015-16 season. That would have lifted them out of last place in the NHL and instead put the Edmonton Oilers in position to draft Auston Matthews in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
I’ve long held the belief that a team shouldn’t be able to pick in the top five for consecutive seasons. If you pick a guy and he ends up being horrible, you shouldn’t get a do-over. If he gets hurt, or if you deliberately bury him in juniors so he can’t help you, you shouldn’t get to double-up on high picks.
(Of course, this would have prevented the Oilers from getting Matthews a year after winning the Connor McDavid lottery, but whatever.)
But my belief isn’t how the NHL works. And, as such, the Red Wings should take advantage of that, too.
This summer, the Red Wings will have their highest draft pick in decades. At one point they were fighting with the New Jersey Devils for the third-worst record in the league, which (barring draft lottery weirdness) would have given them the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft (due to the Vegas Golden Knights slotting in at #3). Per the playoff probabilities report at Hockey Reference, after their string of overtime games last week, the Wings can now be expected to battle the Dallas Stars for the sixth overall pick.
This isn’t regarded as a particularly deep draft anyway, but whoever the Red Wings pick, they should follow Toronto’s lead with Marner and leave him in junior.
I’ve argued against the Wings’ plan of “over-ripening” prospects for years. I find it ridiculous that Anthony Mantha didn’t have a roster spot in Detroit to start this season. So why the switch?
This isn’t about helping the 2017-18 Red Wings. The modern NHL rebuilds through the draft and one draft isn’t enough. Burn off another year of some bad contracts, finish in the bottom-five again next season, and then come back for the 2018-19 campaign with two top-ten draft picks on the roster.
In Toronto they called that the Shanaplan. In Detroit it wouldn’t be a tank, it’s just the Red Wings’ Way.