May 5, 2017
Red Wings among big losers in first
experience with NHL draft lottery
By KEITH GAVE
Lost amid all the hoopla surrounding the NFL draft last weekend was another bad day for the Detroit Red Wings – who haven’t played a game in nearly a month but lost big nevertheless.
On Saturday, the NHL had its annual Draft Lottery to determine the order of selection for the non-playoff teams. This was a first-time experience for the Wings since the lottery had been instituted during their 25-year streak of qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And it couldn’t have gone worse for them. In the old days before the lottery, Detroit would have been assured the sixth overall selection by virtue of finish 25th among the league’s 30 teams. But the lottery went something like the Wings’ power play through most of the last season: Everything went wrong.
Ah, what might have been. Based on its regular-season finish, Detroit had a 6.7 percent chance at winning the first-overall selection. But on the Saturday before the Kentucky Derby, the longshots were beating the odds.
In separate lotteries, the first three picks went to teams far down the pack, including two that finished higher than the Wings.
The New Jersey Devils, which had the 27th overall and had the fourth best odds, won the first pick, screwing Colorado (a 17.9 percent shot at the top pick), Vancouver (12.1 percent) and both Arizona and new NHL franchise Las Vegas (10.3 percent each).
Then it got worse. Philadelphia, which nearly made the playoffs and had just a 2.2 percent shot at the top pick by finishing 19th overall, got the second pick. And Dallas, which finished a notch above Detroit in the overall standings and had a 5.8 percent chance at the No. 1 pick, wound up with third overall. As a result, the Wings – which hovered in “top three overall” territory through much of the season, wind up with the ninth overall pick.
Kris Draper, assistant to Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland, attended the lottery in his hometown of Toronto – and he couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
“Been an interesting experience,” he said. “I just hope we never have to go through that again.”
Still, it’s the highest pick the Wings have enjoyed in the draft since before their streak began, when they took center Keith Primeau with the third overall selection in 1990 (and passing up Jaromir Jagr, who went fifth), and right wing Martin Lapointe with the 10th pick in 1991.
So the Wings still should wind up with a pretty good player. Remember, they got winger Anthony Mantha with the 20th overall pick in 2015 and center Dylan Larkin with the 15th pick in 2016.
And considering this is, according to scouts, one of the shallowest draft pools in years, nobody should be terribly crushed with the results of Saturday’s lottery.
Unlike the past two seasons, which produced Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel with the top two picks in 2015 and Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine with the first to last summer, there isn’t anything close to such a generational player in 2017. In fact, scouts whose profession is to evaluate amateur talent can’t even agree on who should be this year’s top pick.
Nolan Patrick, of Brandon in the Western Hockey League, has topped the talent list most of the year, but a series of injuries is a cause for concern. As a result, Gabriel Vilardi, of Windsor in the Ontario Hockey League and Nico Hischier of Halifax in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, are pressing Patrick’s status as the most coveted contact. All three are centers. None are projected as immediate impact players with their NHL teams – unlike Edmonton’s McDavid, who is the odds-on favorite to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP in his second season, or Toronto’s Matthews, similarly the favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the Rookie of the Year.
Eight of the top 10 players in the April edition of the Red Line Report, an independent scouting review, are centers. The other two are wingers. The Wings’ most pressing need – like a lot of teams – is a top-pair defenseman.
But Holland, like the Lions’ Bob Quinn, is one of those “best player available” guys. So it doesn’t seem likely that the Wings will reach for Finn Juuso Valimaki, ranked 13th out of TriCity in the WHL.
One intriguing option for the Wings is Cal Foote, a hulking 6-foot-4, 200-pound defenseman out of Kelowna in the WHL. He’s ranked 15th by Red Line. Foote is the son of Adam Foote, the Colorado defenseman who was a key character in that Wings-Avalanche rivalry in the mid-to-late 1990s that was one of the greatest and most vicious in sports history. Foote’s hatred still runs deep, and he wasn’t shy about expressing it when the alumni for both teams met before the outdoor game last season.
Top defenseman are few in this class, and Dallas GM Jim Nill has made no secret that his top priority in this draft is a defenseman as well.
Detroit has 11 picks in this seven-round draft, but that’s nothing to celebrate, either. Experts say there are, at best, 19-20 players at the top who would be first-round selections in any year. Beyond that, teams will be selecting players who in most other years would be ranked as second rounders.
But no one knows for sure about anything, and we won’t for several years. NFL teams are selecting players typical in age from 20-30 who have played two or three seasons, at least, of college football. Some are still growing and developing, but projecting where they might be in a year or two is infinitely easier than it is in the NHL when most of the drafted players are barely old enough to attend their senior high school prom.
These kids are all 17-18 years old. While nine of 10 of Quinn’s draftees last year made an impact on the field for the Lions last season, we won’t see most of these talented skaters in the NHL for 3-5 years. If at all. Which means Holland needs a lot better luck in the free-agent and trade markets this summer.