June 27, 2017
Red Wings draft strategy baffling;
Pistons fill big need with Kennard
By KEITH GAVE
The experts say an NHL team’s draft class cannot be accurately judged for years – as many as four or five since the league is essentially drafting boys for a men’s league. But what fun is that?
Within hours after making their 11th pick in the seven-round entry draft that concluded Saturday, the Red Wings were being universally panned. In fact, some of the so-called experts in my line of work were saying Detroit had the worst draft of the 31 teams, all things considered.
I won’t go that far, but at first blush, it’s not unreasonable to describe the Wings’ two-day haul as a hot mess. It started with their first-round pick when they chose 6-foot-6 center Michael Rasmussen with the ninth overall pick, which immediately called into question general manager Ken Holland’s annual “best-player-available” philosophy.
He’s made no secret that his team’s greatest need, by far, are defensemen who can move the puck. Top-pair defensemen are the most coveted position players in the game, and when teams are lucky enough to get one – usually near the top of a draft class – they keep them.
There were two highly rated defensemen still on the board when Detroit was on the clock, including Erik Brannstrom, whom scouts compared favorably to Ottawa’s Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, who is frequently compared favorably to Detroit Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom. The Vegas Golden Knights took Brannstrom at No. 15. Timothy Liljegren, another elite defenseman, went 17th to Toronto.
Panning the pick for that reason is nit-picking, considering the Wings’ second greatest need is for center-ice men who can anchor a top line. But Rasmussen, described by the scouting service Red Line Report as “the most physically gifted player in the draft,” wasn’t even the best center available when Detroit picked, according to most scouts.
Most felt the best player available then, by far, was Gabriel Vilardi, the 6-3, 203-pound center who led Windsor to a surprising Memorial Cup crown as the best team in the Canadian major junior leagues. While his foot speed is a bit of a concern, Vilardi’s compete level is off the charts. All he does is win, and many felt it would have been a no-brainer for Detroit to select him. Instead, Vilardi went two picks later to Los Angeles.
It’s remindful of the last time the Wings had a high pick and took 6-5 center Keith Primeau with the third overall pick in 1990. Some of their scouts argued strenuously to draft winger Jaromir Jagr.
It got even stranger in the second round on Saturday, when the Wings went way, way off the reservation for a defenseman, selecting 6-2, 187-pound Gustav Lindstrom, of Sweden, with the 38th overall pick. He was widely projected to go in the third or fourth round. One pick later, Dallas chose left wing Jason Robertson – a player ranked No. 9 overall by Red Line Report, which described Robertson as “the most underrated player in the draft. Period.”
My point: Again, the Wings seem to deviate from that “best-player-available” attitude. They need puck-moving to be sure, but there were many, many defensemen rated ahead of Lindstrom when Detroit was on the clock.
After that, the Wings took nine more young players, none of them household names, who may or may not ever see the inside of an NHL arena. Only time will tell, but if you’re looking for trends, the Wings did seem to put a premium on size and defense in this draft. They took three players listed at 6-6, only three listed at under 6-2. Five defensemen, three centers, a winger and a goalie. Six Canadians, two Americans, a Swede, a Finn and a Dane.
Curiously, for someone who made so much noise about big changes in the aftermath of a season in which his team failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, Holland didn’t make a trade. And it’s only going to get harder as he tries to unload Petr Mrazek, whom the Wings failed to unload in the expansion draft – a critical error by Holland.
The goalie market is soft, and if the Wings are to acquire a veteran defenseman or two, as Holland said he hoped to do, the price keeps going up. They have about $8 million to spend, and there won’t be a lot to play with after signing their restricted free agents, including Tomas Tatar and Andreas Athanasiou.
The pool of unrestricted free agents is weak, and teams can start signing them on July 1.
Red Wings 2017 Draft Class
1st (9th overall), Michael Rasmussen, C, 6-6, 215, Tri-City, WHL, native of Surrey, British Columbia
2nd (38th overall), Gustav Lindstrom, D, 6-2, 187, Almtuna IS, Sweden, native of Ostervala, Sweden
3rd (71st overall), Kasper Kotkansalo, D, 6-2, 196, Sioux Falls, USHL, native of Helsinki, Finland
3rd (79th overall), Lane Zablocki, C, 5-11, 179, Regina Pats, WHL, native of Wetaskiwin, Alberta
3rd (83rd overall), Zach Gallant, C, 6-1, 198, Peterborough, OHL, native of Oakville, Ontario
3rd (88th overall), Keith Petruzzelli, G, 6-6, 185, Muskegon, USHL, native of Wilbraham, Mass.
4th (100th overall), Malte Setkov, D, 6-6, 192, Malmo, Sweden, native of Denmark
5th (131st overall), Cole Fraser, D, 6-2, 195, Peterborough, OHL, native of Smith Falls, Ontario
6th (162nd overall), Jack Adams, RW, 6-5, 204, Fargo, USHL, native of Boxford, Mass.
6th (164th overall), Reilly Web, D, 6-3, 198, Hamilton, OHL, native of Stoney Creek, Ontario
7th 193rd overall), Brady Gilmour, C, 5-10, 170, Saginaw, OHL, native of Grafton, Ontario
Pistons fill a big need in NBA draft
In Thursday’s NBA draft, the Pistons missed out on the guy coveted by many Detroit fans when Portland made a deal to move up into the 10th spot to take Gonzaga freshman Zach Collins, a true 7-footer who can play inside or drain threes, reminiscent of the Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki.
But the Pistons had a great Plan B, taking Duke sophomore Luke Kennard, considered to be the best pure shooter available in the draft.
Kennard, 20, a 6-6 guard, isn’t the kind of game-changer for the franchise like the two or three players taken at the top of the first round. But he’ll contribute off the bench and provide the kind of scoring prowess so badly needed. His minutes will increase if he shows he can hold his own on the defensive end.
Detroit did not have a second-round pick.