It’s officially the offseason, which means the Detroit Red Wings are a few short days away from selecting another cornerstone player for their rebuild.
The 2019 NHL Draft will certainly be unique. Steve Yzerman is now in charge and comes to Detroit with an excellent track record when it comes to the draft, as WingsNation’s Cameron Kuom recently noted.
Then there’s also Detroit’s scouting staff, which has spent the past few years tracking these players. Tyler Wright and his staff have their own tendencies.
On the subject of who’s running the draft, the new general manager tipped his hand a little bit to reporters last week. “I intend to be a part of it,” Yzerman said, “but as the draft goes on, you have to really rely on the scouts. This is what they’re paid to do.”
In this edition of the 2019 Red Wings Summer Rebuild Series, we’ll preview the upcoming draft and the players who would fit in Detroit. Be sure to stick around, as we’ll cover a number of Red Wings topics throughout the offseason:
So how will the Red Wings approach the 2019 draft? Let’s take a look at their 10 picks and potential targets that fit the mold of Yzerman’s ideal team.
Red Wings 2019 Draft Picks
Here are those aforementioned 10 draft choices broken out by round and slot:
- First Round – No. 6
- Second Round – No. 35, No. 56 & No. 60
- Third Round – No. 66
- Fourth Round – No. 97
- Fifth Round – No. 128 & No. 143
- Sixth Round – No. 159
- Seventh Round – No. 190
Detroit’s two additional second-round picks came from dealing away their former future: Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. The No. 56 choice originally belonged to the New York Islanders and was packaged along with the Joe Veleno pick and a 2021 third for Tatar. Nyquist was shipped out to the San Jose Sharks for the No. 60 pick and a 2020 third as well.
In addition, the extra fifth-rounder (No. 143) in Detroit’s pocket actually has a little bit of a backstory to it. Back in 2017, the Red Wings traded Steve Ott to the Montreal Canadiens for a 2018 sixth-round pick. At the draft last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets had their eyes on defenseman Tim Berni and shipped their 2019 fifth-round pick to the Red Wings for the draft slot that formerly belonged to Montreal. Detroit selected goaltender Victor Brattstrom with the very next pick – their own sixth-rounder.
Who knows, maybe Yzerman can parlay that fifth-round choice into a fourth, then a third, then a second, and finally, into a first-round pick – all from trading the now assistant coach of the St. Louis Blues. One can hope, right?
Red Wings’ Pick at No. 6
When Yzerman steps to the podium to make the Red Wings’ first selection, he’ll have a variety of players to choose from. Before getting into his options, let’s make a few assumptions:
- Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko go first- and second-overall, respectively.
- Alex Turcotte and Bowen Byram are both off the board by the No. 6 pick.
- One other player—to be determined—will be gone as well.
So now let’s take a look at the very different players—listed alphabetically—who would be worthy choices for the sixth-overall pick.
The incredible amount of goals scored (72) this season by Cole Caufield shouldn’t be ignored. Nor should the fact that Caufield notched 29 more in USHL play and 14 more at the U18s.
The winger gets knocked for his size, but Caufield’s shot is unreal. Think Sidney Crosby’s accuracy with Alex Ovechkin’s power – all from that 5-foot-7 frame. Dobber Prospects’ Cam Robinson certainly believes in the sniper:
“Hyper-skilled but undersized winger brings all the offensive tools you can handle. Has been clicking at nearly a goal-per-game with The Program with his deadly release. Owns excellent edges, and a non-stop motor but could use that extra gear at his stature.”
Choosing Caufield at No. 6 may be a stretch given the organizational need for a center. But if the Red Wings have the opportunity to move back a couple spots, the pint-size dynamo would be an excellent selection.
Powerful in terms of speed and size, Dylan Cozens has top-six written all over him. He has the talent to be a near-point-per-game player down the middle for the Red Wings. Cozens is both a playmaker and goal scorer – and would pair well with Filip Zadina on his wing.
Cozens has all of the skills you want to see in a top line center. He skates very well, he can make plays from the half wall, has a great release and drives the net very well.
If Cozens is still available when the Red Wings make their selection, the organization should seriously consider the dynamic skill set he’d bring to the table. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Cozens in the NHL by the 2020-21 season.
Kirby Dach would pair well with Dylan Larkin as a one-two punch for the Red Wings. His right-handed shot and strong hockey IQ would be welcomed additions to a forward group dominated by left-handed shooters.As a big, playmaking center,
The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler is high on the mammoth center from Alberta:
He’s huge, he’s strong on the puck, he handles it well in tight (rare for a player his size), he’s a better skater than he gets credit and his length makes him a lot to handle when he drives the net (which he needs to do more often) or controls the puck on the cycle.
–Scott Wheeler, The Athletic (from ‘Wheeler: Final ranking for the 2019 NHL Draft’s top 100 prospects’ – The Athletic NHL – 5/6/19)
Like Cozens, Dach has top-line potential and should reach the NHL after one more season of juniors. Playing on a middle-of-the-pack Saskatoon Blades team, Dach was relied upon in all situations – from special teams, to late-game pushes and lead preservations.
With Yzerman’s history of successfully drafting Russian players, it should come as no surprise that Vasili Podkolzin has been linked to the Red Wings at No. 6. The Hockey Writers’ Larry Fisher pegged the Russian winger there in his latest mock draft:
“Podkolzin, who dominated his draft peers at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, was every bit as impressive at the World Juniors as Hughes and Kakko,” notes Fisher the analysis of his mock draft. “Podkolzin’s stock took a hit at the under-18 tournament, but he was playing hurt there, and his overall body of work on the international stage suggests he’s the third-best forward available in 2019.”
Others around the scouting world aren’t as high as Fisher is on Podkolzin, often citing his skating and individual play as areas needing work. He’ll go in the first round at some point, it’s just a matter of where.
More of a playmaker, Trevor Zegras has incredible hockey IQ and vision. The center put up outstanding numbers this season for the U.S. National Development Team and in the 2019 World Junior Championships. In 92 total games, Zegras had 40 goals and 96 assists for 136 total points.
The Athletic’s Corey Pronman shared a rave review from Zegras’ coach:
He was our best power play guy at picking apart the opposition, including over Jack [Hughes]. He is that skilled. He’s very quick.
–USNTDP U18 coach John Wroblewski (from ‘Pronman: Trevor Zegras’ incredible playmaking skills make him a top NHL prospect’ – The Athletic NHL – 5/30/19)
Imagine this: Zegras sets up a Zadina one-timer on the power play with Michael Rasmussen screening the goalie. Over and over again.
The Boston University-commit could develop into a first-line center for the Red Wings and run the power play for years to come. If he’s available, there won’t be many better options.
With the Sixth-Overall Pick, the Red Wings Select…
Given the options available, here’s how I’d prioritize the players associated with the No. 6 pick:
- Bowen Byram – Who knows, maybe he’s still available?
- Alex Turcotte – See above.
- Trevor Zegras – Elite creativity and vision.
- Dylan Cozens – Size, offense, power.
- Kirby Dach – Playmaker and driver.
- Cole Caufield – Pure sniper.
- Vasili Podkolzin – High motor and offense to boot.
For Detroit’s selection, Zegras appears to be the likeliest option. Byram, Turcotte, and Cozens will probably be off the board by the time Yzerman makes his first pick as the Red Wings’ general manager.
Related: NHL Draft Guide | 2019 Edition
Red Wings’ 35th-Overall Choice
A number of quality players will be available when the Red Wings make their second pick of the draft. And, like in the first round, each has their own unique style of play. Here’s how my draft board looks entering the second round:
- Tobias Bjornfot
- Pavel Dorofeyev
- Egor Afanasyev
- Maxim Cajkovic
When building for the future, Yzerman wants to emphasize speed and skill. The players above possess one, if not both, of those traits.
While he may not be the most dynamic or offensively dangerous defenseman, Tobias Bjornfot can skate and play in all situations. The blueliner was captain of the Swedish team that won gold at the U18 World Championships and was trusted to play key minutes throughout the tournament.
Up front, Pavel Dorofeyev, Egor Afanasyev, and Maxim Cajkovic may not be the best skaters, but have plenty of offensive skill that they can bring to the table. Fellow Red Wings columnist Rachel Anderson is high on Afanasyev, who spent the past two seasons playing for the Muskegon Jacks of the USHL.
One player I’m particularly interested in is Cajkovic, who received some first-round consideration at the beginning of the year. All this guy does is put up points, even on an abysmal Saint John Sea Dogs team. The winger factored into 27.4 percent of Saint John’s goals this past season and tore up Sweden’s junior leagues the year before. Perhaps playing for a poor team will help Cajkovic slide in the 2019 draft right into the Red Wings’ lap.
Joe Veleno 2.0?
It was recently reported that potential top-10 draft pick Peyton Krebs tore his Achilles during offseason training. If the dynamic forward begins to fall as a result, the Red Wings should absolutely consider moving up to select Krebs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins could be a good trade partner – the organization is without a second- and third-round pick this year and down their second in 2020. Detroit could potentially package the 35th-overall pick and either a 2019 or 2020 second-rounder to move up to No. 21 and nab Krebs if he’s still available there.
Red Wings’ Picks at No. 54, No. 60 & No. 66
Moving into the latter half of the second round and early stages of the third round, this is the point where the Red Wings really need their homework to pay off. To become a competitive team, they need to find prospects who can become NHL contributors without a first-round pedigree.
Luckily, Yzerman’s experience with Tampa Bay could help the Red Wings nab a few gems. He and his scouting staff were able to scoop up Nikita Kucherov late in the second round and Brayden Point in the third.
Like I did for the two earlier picks, below is a list of players who I want the Red Wings to target with their three picks at 54, 60, and 66th-overall.
- Players leftover from above.
- Tuukka Tieksola
- Pyotr Kochetkov
- Jamieson Rees
- Mattias Norlinder
- Mads Søgaard
- Vladislav Firstov
It’s possible that Cajkovic is still on the board when the 54th-overall pick rolls around. But if not, there are still plenty of talented players available who possess high-quality skills.
Small in stature, Tuukka Tieksola skates very well and is an excellent playmaker. The right-handed right wing racked up a league-leading 45 assists in 51 games playing in Finland’s Jr. A SM-Liiga. If he can learn to hold his own against physically imposing men, Tieksola could turn into a steal.
Jamieson Rees’ combination of tenacity and creativity could be appealing as well for the Red Wings. The same could be said about Vladislav Firstov’s skating and release. The latter has a couple more years of development time on his side, though, as the Russian winger is slated to suit up for the University of Connecticut starting next season.
On defense, adding Mattias Norlinder alongside Bjornfot would give the Red Wings two fleet-footed defensemen with some offensive upside. The former could still be around when Detroit makes their only selection of the third round.
In net, both Pyotr Kochetkov and Mads Søgaard would instantly become Detroit’s best goaltending prospect. Kochetkov, in particular, was named the top goalie of the 2019 World Junior Championships after he helped Russia to the medal round. The Russian goaltender moves very well around the crease, has excellent lateral pushes, and plays an aggressive style that he’ll need to learn how to control at the NHL level.
Once you reach the later rounds, teams start drafting players with one or strong attributes that they can build on. That was the case when the Red Wings drafted Andreas Athanasiou 110th-overall in 2012 for his elite speed and budding goal-scoring abilities.
The past two drafts have served as prime examples of what to do and what not to do. In 2017, the Red Wings focused primarily on size – that clearly did not pan out.
But in 2018, the organization used every selection after Alec Regula to draft project players with extended developmental timelines. The Red Wings have until at least 2022 to sign those five prospects. In Ryan O’Reilly’s case, 2023.
This year, Yzerman should follow suit and focus on those with long-term development paths when making selections for the 97th-, 128th-, 143rd-, 159th-, and 190th-overall choices. One, maybe two picks could be used on CHL players with one or two outstanding skills to build on, but, in general, prospects playing abroad or bound for the NCAA should be prioritized.
In alphabetical order, here are a handful of players who I’d consider drafting in round four or later:
- G Hugo Alnefelt – Led Sweden to U18 World Championships gold.
- C Tag Bertuzzi – Talent is there, but injuries cost him most of the season.
- D Semyon Chistyakov – Furocious blueliner with great mobility.
- D Dominick Fensore – Small defenseman, but elite skater.
- C Lucas Feuk – Point-per-game player in Sweden’s U20 league.
- D Drew Helleson – Reliable defensive defenseman with size.
- C Henri Nikkanen – First-round upside, but plagued by injuries.
- RW Kirill Slepets – Overager with outstanding shot.
Yzerman and his staff have a tall task ahead in finishing off the rebuild. Drafting another stellar class will certainly speed up the process. School may be over for most this time of year, but not for the Red Wings and their scouts – it’s time for their homework to pay off.