For just the third time since 2010, the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft is going to the worst team in the league.
The league’s efforts to curb the amount of teams eligible for that coveted spot apparently seemed to work, as just one team jumped into the top two — the expansion Seattle Kraken, who entered with the third-best odds — and the Buffalo Sabres stayed put at No. 1 to earn their second prime pick in four years.
Did we get any clarity about which players those teams might take? Not really. And yet, there’s something about bad teams making high draft picks that just feels more predictable. So let’s see if we can lay out a couple different scenarios for who might be available for the Detroit Red Wings at No. 6.
First, though, let’s do a little background on the Wings’ prospect situation and what people are saying about the talent of this year’s draft class.
Before we begin …
The Red Wings in recent years have turned their defense prospect pipeline into a strength. They have two exciting Swedish wingers coming to North America next season in 2020’s No. 4 pick, Lucas Raymond, and 2018 second-rounder Jonatan Berggren, who put up a point per game in the Swedish Hockey League this season.
In an ideal world, the Red Wings are able to find an elite No. 1 center via the draft in their next two shots. The trouble is that this draft class is widely heralded as one of the weakest in years — while the next two are loaded, especially at center. So the odds of finding that need here aren’t great, although Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman doesn’t exactly give off draft-for-need vibes.
Lastly, the projected strength of the draft class should be taken with a grain of salt. A widely panned 2017 class churned out 22-year-old Norris Trophy hopeful Cale Makar at No. 4 and Elias Pettersson, a point-per-game player in his age-20 NHL season, at No. 5.
Michigan prospects lead the way
Most mock drafts tend to have Michigan products Owen Power and Matt Beniers going Nos. 1 and 2, in either order. It’s highly unlikely that one of them falls to Detroit at sixth, but either of them would likely end up a Red Wing if they did.
Power is a 6-foot-6, 214-pound defenseman who is an extremely well-rounded prospect. There are concerns that his balance as a player presents a limited upside, since no part of his game has yet to separate itself as elite. Beniers plays a Patrice Bergeron-like, two-way game that probably makes him the most NHL-ready prospect in the class; he helped Team USA win Gold at the World Juniors in January and made the American men’s World Championship team after a stellar season at Michigan with 24 points in 24 games.
What the chalk says …
Longtime NHL reporter Bob McKenzie’s draft rankings have a scary good track record. They are akin to polls with NHL scouts, and Power has been the wire-to-wire No. 1 on McKenzie’s lists. After that is Western Hockey League (Canada) winger Dylan Guenther, SHL defenseman Simon Edvinsson, Beniers and United States Development Program (USDP) defenseman Luke Hughes.
Should the draft fall that way, the Red Wings have one option remaining in the run on top-tier defensemen in the smooth-skating, 6-foot-2 Canadian Brandt Clarke. He could end up as the best defenseman to go in his own right, especially with a defensive game that’s already more mature than most of his peers.
They’d have a lot to choose from at forward, and there’s plenty to like about the choices remaining in this scenario. Swedish center/winger William Eklund excels at both ends of the ice and gives the Wings some chance at solving that void.
Canadian center Mason McTavish also fills that order. He’s a physical two-way center with a deadly release and crafty playmaking ability. McTavish could be the most NHL-ready player available at sixth.
And then there’s flashy forwards Fabian Lysell and Kent Johnson. Lysell is a bit on the smaller side at 5-foot-10, but he plays an impressive defensive game to complement a high-level offensive game and blazing quickness. Johnson, another Wolverine, could be a project due to some early turnover troubles at Michigan, but he’s a fantastic creator poised for a monster sophomore season.
American centers Chaz Lucius and Cole Sillinger rank in the early teens across most draft boards, but Yzerman has taken a player projected in the teens with the sixth-overall pick before. Both have great finishing ability with question marks surrounding their skating ability, but are in play for the Red Wings to draft.
… But if the chalk’s wrong?
OK, now let’s say that McKenzie is off-base. We already covered Beniers and Power, but what about the others? It’s possible that all of Guenther, Edvinsson and Hughes are there for the Red Wings.
Guenther would be a nice option to bolster the winger pipeline with a right-hand shot that has terrific finishing ability, and Edvinsson is a 6-foot-5, 207-pound defenseman who terrorizes with his combo of size and skating ability. Both present high upside, which isn’t the worst guiding draft principle.
Speaking of upside, the last time the Wings passed on a Hughes brother in the draft at No. 6, Quinn went on to finish runner-up for rookie of the year. Luke Hughes has all the offensive tools to deliver the same regret; he needs some work on the defensive game, but at still only 17 years old, Hughes has no problem commandeering an in-zone attack. He possesses elite skating ability that devastates in transition.
Jesper Wallstedt: Probably not to Detroit?
To close out his draft-lottery press conference on Wednesday night, Yzerman alluded to having players at all positions in the top 10 of Red Wings’ draft board. He then corrected himself.
“Well, maybe not goaltender.”
That was a devastating blow to the fan club of Swedish goaltender Jesper Wallstedt, but it also could have been a Stevie-Y smoke screen. Goalies in recent years have started inching toward being worth a selection in the top 10 for a few years now, and the emergence of Florida 2019 first-rounder Spencer Knight in this year’s playoffs has only added intrigue to that option.
Wallstedt ranks better than Knight and 2020’s 11th-overall Yaroslav Askarov, and despite general anti-goal bias, is No. 4 according to Dobber Prospects and No. 6, per Elite Prospects. There’s a genuine case Wallstedt could one day become the best goaltender in the league, and the Wings’ goaltending pipeline is an area of deficiency. It’d be a fun pick, if nothing else.