Wings load up on defensemen hoping to strike gold

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
The Wings took Keith Petruzzelli with their final pick in the third round.

Chicago — Defensemen are prized commodities around the NHL these days.

If a team really wants to acquire one, it will pay through the nose, either with an elite young forward — like Tampa’s Jonathan Drouin going to Montreal — or multiple early-round draft picks — like Calgary sent to the New York Islanders for Travis Hamonic.

Going into this past weekend’s Entry Draft, the Red Wings were intent on drafting defensemen.

They wanted to get as many as they could out of their 11 total picks to cultivate and develop them over the next few years.

It’s the way to go currently in the NHL.

“Everybody knows the price of what it is to get a defenseman in this league,” said Tyler Wright, the Red Wings’ director of amateur scouting.

To that end, the Red Wings got all kinds while selecting six defensemen. They drafted offensive-minded ones like Gustav Lindstrom (second round), Kasper Kotkansalo (third round) and Malte Setkov (fourth round), and defensive-minded defensemen such as Cole Fraser (fifth round) and Reilly Webb (sixth round).

Red Wings' 2017 draft class breakdown

“You can’t have enough of those guys that can skate and move the puck. That’s why we tried to load up on those guys,” Wright said. “We wanted to get bigger. But we wanted to get bigger but also keep the identity for what we’re known for, and that’s skill and hockey sense.”

What the Red Wings’ scouting staff likes about this particular group is its potential and work ethic.

Lindstrom and Setkov are two prime examples of each of those characteristics.

Hakan Andersson, the Red Wings’ director of European scouting, said the progress and determination both of have shown over the last year gives the Red Wings optimism.

Setkov lives in Finland and plays for a junior team in Sweden roughly an hour away.

While conditioning in the offseason, Setkov makes the commute twice daily and has never asked to continue his training at home rather than drive back and forth daily.

Setkov, a 6-foot-6 defenseman who is still growing, was on the "B” team of the junior organization but worked his way onto the "A" team through pure work.

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“The junior A coach me told me, ‘When I was watching the junior B team practice in August, I kind of laughed at this big, wobbly kid,'" Andersson said. “Then the coach says, 'Come January and February, he (Setkov) was on my power play on the ‘A’ team.'

“He developed like that. Now, he’s on a mission.”

Lindstrom, too, moved his way up his Swedish team, while playing with a calm presence on the ice.

“You tell him something and he learns,” Andersson said.

Proud dad

If you were in the United Center on Saturday and heard a loud noise coming from where goalie Keith Petruzzelli was sitting, that was when he was drafted by the Red Wings’ in the third round.

And it was Dave Petruzzelli, Keith’s proud dad, who was making the noise.

“My dad might have been the loudest guy in the building,” Petruzzelli said. “He was going a little crazy. There were tears from my mom, so it was awesome.”

Petruzzelli could turn out to be a sleeper in the draft haul.

While playing for Muskegon in the United States Hockey League, Petruzzelli was 22-10-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.

Many scouting services had Petruzzelli in the top two or three goalies available in this draft.

With the last of their four draft picks in the third round Saturday, the Red Wings couldn’t resist any further.

“He’s got size, he’s athletic, our goalie coach Jeff Salajko has already been working with him a couple weeks ago at a camp in Boston,” Wright said. “(Salajko) gave us good feedback on him.”

Petruzzelli is from outside of Boston, and grew up a huge Bruins fan. But you could tell the overwhelming feeling of being drafted by the Red Wings.

“It’s a huge honor,” Petruzzelli said.

Free agent frenzy

Teams can begin making contact with prospective unrestricted free agents at midnight Sunday — and continue through Friday.

Players can begin signing with teams Saturday at noon.

Don’t expect the Red Wings to be overly aggressive in free agency.

They have 17 players signed through next season at a cost of roughly $67 million. The salary cap is expected to be $75 million, so that leaves roughly $8 million for six players.

The Red Wings will gain some flexibility when Johan Franzen (concussion) goes on the long-term injured list.

But with restricted free agents Tomas Tatar, Xavier Ouellet and Andreas Athanasiou still to be re-signed, there’s not going to be a lot of money to spend.

The Red Wings are likely to find a veteran defenseman on a one- or two-year contract who could be easily dealt at the trade deadline if the season goes sour again.

Twitter: @tkulfan


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