John Niyo, Ted Kulfan and Gregg Krupa look at the Red Wings and what the team should do in the offseason to turn things around.
Detroit — Tyler Wright, the Red Wings director of amateur scouting, had a message for the rest of his staff — more than a dozen scouts scattered across North America and Europe — before they packed up and headed to Detroit this weekend, for the pre-draft meetings which began Sunday at Little Caesars Arena and will run through Thursday.
“Bring your pillow,” Wright said, “and your boxing gloves.”
He laughs, knowing cooler heads will prevail. This won’t be some old-time hockey line brawl.
But the 45-year-old Wright isn’t joking when he talks about some of the “long, drawn-out meetings” that’ll eventually produce the Red Wings’ prospect rankings for next month’s NHL Draft in Dallas.
A draft that general manager Ken Holland has described as a 2-for-1 deal for Detroit, considering the team holds a league-high 11 picks, including two picks in each of the first two rounds — that’s four of the first 36 selections overall — and three more in the third.
“We debate everything,” said Wright, who joined the Wings organization in July 2013 after spending six years prior to that with the Columbus.
“It’ll be respectful, but these meetings can get heated at times, which I enjoy. I like it. I encourage it, actually.”
Likewise, he’s embracing the moment, prepping for his fifth draft with a full understanding of what’s at stake, the Red Wings now fully invested in a organizational rebuild after spending most of the last 25 years with a decidedly different outlook.
“I mean, I think there’s pressure on any draft — for any team,” Wright said. “But we’ve got a great challenge in front of us. It’s on our shoulders right now, and everybody knows that. It’s an exciting time.”
‘More kicks at the can’
It’s nearly time to put it all together, the months and months of scouting legwork — years, in many cases for the team’s area scouts — that’ll go into setting the Red Wings’ draft board.
Whatever happens in June, whether they ultimately get it right or wrong, “it’s not going to be for a lack of trying, or a lack of due diligence,” said Wright, who has made nine trips to Europe himself in the last year to watch draft-eligible prospects. Kris Draper, a special assistant in the Red Wings’ front office, has done much the same since last summer, traveling extensively to see prospects — Russia, the Czech Republic, Nova Scotia and so on.
Holland, too, has spent more time on the road scouting this winter, well aware the games that mattered most weren’t the ones being played in Detroit.
Nothing’s set in stone, Wright cautions, and there’s still more scouting to do, with junior-hockey playoffs ongoing in Canada and the U.S.
There’s also formal interviews and fitness testing for the top 100 prospects at the NHL scouting combine a few weeks from now in Buffalo.
But the plan is to leave this week’s meetings with a “pretty hard copy” of the rankings the Wings’ brass will take to the draft table six weeks from now in Dallas.
This is viewed as a solid draft class with good depth, and with four picks in the top 36 — courtesy of the Brendan Smith and Tomas Tatar deadline trades the last two years — Wright says he’s confident “we’re going to walk away with three out of our top 30” rated players in June.
Maybe even four if things fall in their favor.
“You’re obviously not going to accomplish everything in one draft,” Wright said. “But the more picks that you’ve got, the more kicks at the can you have to add depth and to hit with some high-end prospects.”
They can’t afford to miss with the sixth overall pick, obviously. The Wings haven’t had a selection that high since 1990, and while the lottery didn’t afford them a chance to draft Swedish phenom Rasmus Dahlin, there’s still an opportunity to land the potential top-pairing defenseman they desperately need.
‘Get some good players’
Three of the next four picks after Dahlin goes to Buffalo figure to be forwards — Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina and Brady Tkachuk — and if so, the Wings will get a crack at a blueline prospect like Michigan’s Quinn Hughes or OHL star Evan Bouchard or 17-year-old Swede Adam Boqvist. (Noah Dobson in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is another possibility.)
They may be tempted to draft one of those wingers if they fall, and there’s also an intriguing option in Oliver Wahlstrom, coming off a breakout year (22 goals in 26 games) with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in Plymouth.
But the Wings have invested four of their last five first-round picks in forwards, including Wright’s first draft here in 2014, when the Wings’ grabbed Dylan Larkin. So at the very least, the safe prediction is that two or three of Detroit’s first four picks this year will be defensemen.
And after that?
Well, that’s what this week’s meetings are all about, frankly.
Everybody has heard the top-40 hits by now, but once they’ve made that list and checked it twice, “that’s where we need to rely on our area scouts,” Wright says. “That’s where these guys, they need to pound the table and say, ‘I want this guy in the fifth round’ or ‘I want this guy in the sixth.’”
“I mean, we think we’re gonna get some really good players, and address a lot of areas of need throughout the organization in this draft,” he added.
But before they do, they’ve got some things to hash out.
When: June 22-23
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas
Format: Round 1 on June 22, Rounds 2-7 on June 23
Red Wings: They have the sixth pick in the first round
Who’s No. 1
Top Red Wings draft picks the last 10 years:
2017: C Michael Rasmussen (Round 1/ Pick 9)
2016: D Dennis Cholowski (1/20)
2015: F Evgeny Svechnikov (1/19)
2014: C Dylan Larkin (1/15)
2013: F Anthony Mantha (1/20)
2012: F Martin Frk (2/49)
2011: F Tomas Jurco (2/35)
2010: C Riley Sheahan (2/21)
2009: C Landon Ferraro (2/32)
2008: G Tom McCollum (1/30)