Editor’s Note: Formerly of The Production Line, Michael Petrella is known for his NHL Entry Draft previews, having provided his thoughts on previous drafts here. Now he takes a look at options and issues the Red Wings might have with their first-round pick as we wait for the Draft Lottery to find exactly where that pick will land.
My favorite thing to do leading up to the NHL Draft is to try and build a consensus. I’ll find as many reputable lists as I can, see how they line up with one another, and try to order the players in such a way that – usually – plays out fairly predictably on Draft Day.
This year, outside of #1, there’s very little consensus. That would be exciting any other year – but as a Red Wings fan with a vested interest in the Draft Lottery, it is absolutely terrifying. By the end, I’ll hope to make a convincing argument that “winning” the second or third pick might actually be a little bit of a disaster for the Red Wings – not because they won’t get a great player, but because they’ll get a great player that, perhaps, they don’t need as badly as others.
The one spot where there’s a consensus is at the top. Aside from a list or two trying their best to build some suspense, the prize of this year’s Draft is Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. Whichever team wins the lottery will be selecting Dahlin, regardless of organizational need. Period, full stop.
Things start to get murky (though not as murky as they’re about to) at 2. A pair of wingers have emerged as the next tier of players available for this Draft. One of them – Evgeny’s little brother Andrei Svechnikov – seems to be gaining an edge, but no one would call you an idiot if you preferred Czech LW Filip Zadina. For what it’s worth, the Wings seem to be leaning Zadina, who The Athletic named as the one guy they’d go off-script to grab, if given the chance. More on that later.
After the top three, things go off the rails. A more-or-less consensus Top 10 does seem to be coming into focus, but the rankings therein vary wildly. Let’s look at a few examples.
Brady Tkachuk, son of Keith and brother of Calgary Flame Matthew, is another winger who plays with an edge (like the rest of his family) but seems to possess a better nose for the net. He’s ranked 4th in a bunch of places, in the 5-6 range in a bunch of others, somewhere around 9 in a few, and even – in one place – outside of the top ten.
There’s a trio of defenseman who find themselves in this tier, as well. Swedish defenseman Adam Boqvist, U of M blueliner Quinn Hughes, and London Knights captain Evan Bouchard are all reasonable selections in the top five. Boqvist is usually the one listed highest (in other words, the second best defenseman in the Draft), but no one should be shocked if all three are taken in the top six selections. Hughes is listed 3 or 4 a few times, but 5-7 a few more times. Bouchard, the year’s more impressive Draft riser, may be taken before Hughes – with size as a primary reason why (Bouchard is 6-2, 192 compared to Hughes’ 5-10, 174), as is the great attribute of being a “one-man breakout.”
Dahlin is all alone in Tier I. Zadina and Svechnikov headline Tier II, which likely includes the rest of the guys mentioned so far. A third tier is headlined by the next three.
A fifth defenseman who will likely go in the top ten is Noah Dobson, a 6-3 player from the QMJHL. He sometimes hops one of the above listed guys, but he’s more often found in the 6-9 range.
A pair of centers round out what’s shaping up to be top ten-ish picks. They are USNTDP player Oliver Wahlstrom and the first player to gain Exceptional Status from the Q, Joe Veleno. Neither seem like they’re in play in the top five, but you never know how things shake out on Draft Day. After the top ten, things go even further off the rails, but since the lowest the Wings can pick is 8th (until the Vegas pick), that’s where we’ll stop exploring for the time being.
WHY THIS MATTERS
The Red Wings can select 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th, pending the results of the Draft Lottery. The top three selections are made via lottery, and Detroit has a fairly equal chance at any of those picks (8.5% for first, 8.7% for second, and 8.9% for third). They have an 8.4% chance at remaining at fifth, a 34.5% chance at sliding down to sixth, a 26.7% chance at sliding to seventh, and a 4.3% of ending up at eighth.
One of the following statements will be painfully obvious, and the other will seem like absolutely nonsense, but bear with me.
Winning the Draft Lottery would be the best possible scenario (duh).
Winning one of the other two spots – 2nd or 3rd – would be a minor disaster (allow me to explain).
If they get the first pick, we’ve already established it’s a no-brainer. Dahlin is the pick, and they get the best defensive prospect to come through the Draft in literal decades. He’s the best player by a mile, and he fills a glaring need for Detroit, who hasn’t had a bluechip prospect on the back end in some time (also literal decades).
Things start to get weird if they’re picking 2nd or 3rd. It’s no secret that they’re desperate to pick a defenseman, and have no real organizational need for another winger. Aside from Dylan Larkin, most of their young players and prospects are on the flanks: Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Givani Smith, and Michael Rasmussen are all being used (or will be used) as wingers at the NHL level. So, if defenseman is the priority for their first round pick, a center (which you can never have enough of) is a secondary priority.
Picking 2nd or 3rd, and taking any of the non-Dahlin defensemen or centers might be a bit of a stretch. So the Wings are left with a few options: do they take the best player, even if it doesn’t help fill their glaring needs? Do they select a player they really like, regardless of Draft position, possibly reaching to get a guy outside of his pedigree? Do you fantasize about trading down before realizing this is Ken Holland we’re talking about, and moving from 2nd to 5th doesn’t really benefit the also-bad team that is selecting 5th in this scenario?
Craig Custance had a really great article on The Athletic a few weeks ago. In it, he identified a pool of eight players that, even in the worst-case scenario where the Wings move down to 8th, one or more will be available for selection. They are the same eight players listed above (before discussing Wahlstrom and Veleno).
Custance also mentions that Svechnikov and Tkachuk don’t fit any organizational need. And then there’s this tidbit: “The Red Wings like both players but the crucial need is on defense and it would be hard to pass on a potential top pair defenseman for another winger in the system. The one exception would be Filip Zadina. The organization is well aware they need a game-breaker to compete with the best teams in what’s becoming a one-goal league. Zadina is that guy.”
Considering how important this Draft is for the Red Wings, taking a guy that doesn’t necessarily fit an organizational need would be really disappointing, despite Zadina (or Svechnikov for that matter) being an excellent player. Perhaps “DISASTER” is over-selling it a touch, but it’s not ideal for the team to take someone they don’t NEED when they’re picking as high as they have in 28 years. A similar situation arises if they’re picking 6th or lower, which we’ll explore in a moment.
SO WHO’S THE PICK
I ran Tankathon’s Draft Lottery Simulator a bunch of times. The Wings won the Lottery a little less than 10% of the time, as the numbers above suggest would be the case. They picked in the top three about 20%, again in line with the numbers. They picked 6th or 7th more than 50% of the time, so it’s difficult to gauge who their selection could be until the Lottery is complete. But, we can mock out who it might be at any of those potential spots.
If they win the Lottery, and select first overall, they will add D Rasmus Dahlin to the team.
If they select second overall, Custance’s article seems to point to their preference for LW Filip Zadina. Though a defenseman is of the utmost importance, the gap between Zadina and Boqvist, et al, might be too wide to pass on the Czech winger. They’re in the same tier, yes, but that tier is leaning a little top-heavy to the wingers.
If they select third overall, there’s a decent chance that whoever selected above them took Andrei Svechnikov, so they may still get Zadina here. If Zadina is picked second, I don’t have a clue what they’ll do. A fair bet would be D Adam Boqvist, or whoever they have as the second-ranked defenseman, drafting him a slot or two above where they could probably get him otherwise.
They cannot select fourth overall. Better hope Svechnikov, Zadina, and Tkachuk go in order!
If they select fifth overall, and the three wingers are taken, they have their pick of the remaining defensemen, with Boqvist, Evan Bouchard, or Quinn Hughes all available – and they get to select the one that fits their needs the most. If, however, it goes Dahlin-Svechnikov-Zadina-Boqvist (for example), they’re left with two of those three. Still an okay position to be in.
If they select sixth overall, there will either be two of those three defensemen on the board… or one of those three and Tkachuk, which means their pick will likely be made for them, letting Tkachuk slide to 7, and taking whichever D is still unselected. The pressure to make the “right” choice would come off, which might be a good thing, but if they have their lists ranked differently than this one, perhaps all of their guys are gone.
If they select seventh overall, they’re in trouble. It’s possible that all four of those defensemen are gone, as are the top two wingers, leaving them Brady Tkachuk, who we’ve already established they don’t really need, one of the centers that are probably being selected a little bit too high, or Noah Dobson, a defenseman who, again, is very good but seems to be ranked a touch lower than the others. If someone above them loves Tkachuk, great – there’s one of Boqvist/Hughes/Bouchard left, and he’s your choice.
If they select eighth overall, things are rough. It’s possible that Tkachuk is there, who at this point you almost have to take… or they take one of the “third tier” players in Dobson, Veleno, or Wahlstrom – all wonderful hockey players, but two tiers below where you want your highest pick in generations to come from. The best case scenario for the 8th pick is someone above them really needing a center and taking one of them, or someone really loving Tkachuk (neither of which is that difficult to believe, really), and there’s still a Tier II defenseman on the board, and he falls into Detroit’s lap.
1st overall (8.4%) – Rasmus Dahlin. This would be a franchise-altering pick.
2nd overall (8.7%) – Filip Zadina. Purest goal-scorer in the organization, will have to find D elsewhere.
3rd overall (8.9%) –Zadina OR Adam Boqvist. Boqvist is a hell of a “consolation” prize.
5th overall (8.4%) – Evan Bouchard OR Quinn Hughes. Either would immediately be the team’s top prospect, and either would invigorate a less-than-exciting D corps, which has plenty of second pair-type guys, and no first pair-type guys.
6th overall (34.5%) – Hughes OR Bouchard. Less decision-making on their part, but still get a great player.
7th overall (26.7%) – Hughes OR Noah Dobson OR Brady Tkachuk OR Oliver Wahsltrom OR Joe Veleno. Hughes may still be around, but if he’s not, they’ve got the entire next tier of players to choose from and Tier II leftover Tkachuk.
8th overall (4.3%) – Dobson OR Tkachuk OR Wahlstrom OR Veleno. Maybe they get lucky and someone above them loves one or more of these guys, and a Tier II defenseman falls into their lap.