Detroit — A top-pair defenseman is a valuable commodity in the NHL. The price on them in trade discussions is sky-high, so it’s best to draft them — if you can.
Don’t be surprised if the Detroit Red Wings concentrate heavily on defensemen this weekend with their 11 total selections during the NHL Draft in Chicago.
The Red Wings need defensemen — at the NHL level, and also developing in the organization.
The depth they once enjoyed at the position has gradually disappeared — and could be dented further Wednesday if the Vegas Golden Knights select Xavier Ouellet in the expansion draft.
Regardless, the Red Wings will focus heavily on defensemen, knowing age and contract situations are creeping up at the NHL level — Niklas Kronwall, Mike Green, and Jonathan Ericsson — and trading for a top-pair defensemen doesn’t seem to be in the works.
There are defensemen in the Red Wings’ range at the No. 9 selection who could help them — just not immediately.
“Where they’ll be picking, they’ll be able to get one of the better defensemen available,” said Jeff Marek, Sportsnet draft analyst. “Now, we’re talking about 17-year-olds, and you never know how it’ll go. And in this draft, after the first two players (forwards Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier), they’re all wild cards.
“But there are good players available. It’s just going to take them time to develop.”
Here are five defensemen who could be available at No. 9 when the Red Wings pick Friday night:
Timothy Liljegren (6-0, 192), 18, Sweden
Scouts, generally, love his offensive game but he can provide the occasional nightmare defensively. Liljegren played for a bad junior team in Sweden (Rogle) and probably took too many chances, and tried to do too much, and often it cost him. Having to deal with mononucleosis early in the season didn’t help, either.
But once healthy, Liljegren also showed all the positives in his game. He’s an elite skater, has a great shot, can run a power play, and he is speedy. If Liljegren is available at No. 9 when the Red Wings draft, it would be surprising if the team doesn’t grab him.
Cal Foote (6-4, 210), 18, Kelowna (WHL)
The name, and the position, should sound familiar. He is the son of former Colorado Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote, who had his share of run-ins with the Red Wings during the glory days of the rivalry. There are a lot of similarities between father and son.
They’re built similarly, Cal likes to play a physical, hard-hitting game like his dad, and defensively, the younger Foote is as responsible as Adam was.
But Cal, 18, is further ahead offensively than his dad at a similar age. Cal’s a good passer, has a hard shot, and his mobility keeps improving.
Some scouts are a bit worried about Foote’s skating, though that likely will be cleared up by his body maturing. The ingredients are there to be a top-pair defenseman eventually.
Cale Makar (5-10, 175), 18, Brooks (Alberta Junior Hockey League)
Several scouting reports compared Makar to former Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski, and you can understand why. They are similar size-wise, both are great skaters, and have tremendous offensive skills and instincts. Makar is hindered defensively by his size, but he’s tenacious and sound defensively.
Another area that makes Makar a question mark in many scouts’ estimation is coming through the Alberta Junior League. The competition is much weaker, compared to Junior A, and it’ll be interesting to see how Makar does as he advances through the ranks. He’s likely at least two years away from the NHL.
Juuso Valimaki (6-2, 200), 18, Tri-City (WHL)
A sturdy two-way defenseman who has had peaks and valleys in junior, Valimaki is all over the board on mock drafts. Some have Valimaki going in the top five, others falling into the teens. It took a while for Valimaki to adjust from Finland to North American junior hockey — especially the smaller rinks — but he’s adapted quite nicely over time.
A good puck mover, Valimaki had 61 points (19 goals) in 60 games in Tri-City this past season. His skating was an issue at first, but it has improved considerably over time.
Nic Hague (6-5, 215), 18, Mississauga (OHL)
Scouts love Hague’s size, his instincts and smarts grade out superbly, and the shot is real strong. But there are other areas that might push Hague out of the top 10.
His skating remains a work in progress, and while Hague has put up decent numbers offensively (46 points in 65 games at Mississauga), most scouts feel he’ll develop into a defensive defenseman in the NHL with his attributes.
NHL Draft preview
Who will Wings lose?
The Red Wings, and every other NHL team, will finally see who the expansion Vegas Golden Knights have plucked off their rosters as they unveil their selections in the expansion draft during Wednesday’s NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas (8 p.m./NBC Sports Network).
Vegas’ picks will be interspersed during the two-hour show. All 30 teams will lose one player.
Among the players left unprotected by the Red Wings were goaltender Petr Mrazek, forwards Darren Helm and Riley Sheahan, and defensemen Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson.
When: 7 p.m. Friday (Round 1); 10 a.m. Saturday (Rounds 2-7)
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBCSN on Friday, NHL Network on Saturday.
Red Wings: They have 11 picks — the No. 9 pick in the first round; No. 38 in the second; Nos. 71, 79, 83 and 88 in the third; No. 100 in the fourth; No. 131 in the fifth; Nos. 162 and 164 in the sixth; and No. 193 in the seventh.