Krupa: Defense a big need, but Wings stick with best available

By Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Filip Zadina was ranked the third or fourth best prospect in the NHL Draft by most scouts.

Detroit — On a night when they absolutely needed to ace a pick, the Red Wings selected the forward with perhaps the best scorer’s shot in the NHL Draft — a player who already is noted for playing the game all along the 200 feet of ice.

Filip Zadina, ranked third or fourth in the draft by most authoritative scouts, came sixth to a club that needs solid NHL careers from more of its entry draft selections, as certainly as it needs stars to stock its next Stanley Cup contender.

The 18-year-old, 6-foot-1, 195-pound native of Pardubice, Czech Republic, could well play in the NHL by 20, a month into the 2019-20 season.

That hope and those attributes spurred GM Ken Holland and his team of managers and scouts to opt for a young forward over a plethora of young defensemen, including the University of Michigan’s outstanding Quinn Hughes, Adam Boqvist, Evan Bouchard, Noah Dobson, and another forward who may be destined to score a lot, too, Oliver Wahlstrom.

If Hockeytown were the Land of Oz, all those young defensemen would have fallen to the Wings. They need them, each and every one.

And while Zadina’s shot is more accurate, Wahlstrom’s is harder. Wahlstrom also has the reputation for sticking his nose into things along the boards, and coming out with the puck.

There is, of course, some chance Wahlstrom and the quartet of defensemen will have a better career than Zadina.

But there were few doubts, that when Holland rose from the Wings’ table in Dallas to approach the stage and announce the pick, of the six prospects generally considered “in play” at that point, Zadina stood the best chance of having a successful NHL career.

Lots of positive attributes

There are three good reasons for such assurance.

Zadina’s is a fine skater. He can explode with pace. His shot comes from a release likely the most accurate among the top forwards available. What distinguishes his shot is an effectiveness beyond power, because he is so often on target.

But the mortar that establishes the bricks is Zadina’s firm intention to see how he can affect the play anywhere it is occurring.

Less physical than Wahlstrom, Zadina nonetheless intends to create problems for opponents all over the ice. And his awareness and hockey sense often afford him plenty of ability to get the job done.

He will set an example for other developing Red Wings of how the Wings would prefer to play the game, with pace, all along a 200-feet line, producing offense, in part, as a byproduct of both intentions.

“It was a nervous day,” said Zadina, who faced questions about a later selection, by a couple of slots, than most anticipated. “It feels awesome. I don’t get it yet, that I’m in Detroit. I haven’t realized it, yet.”

The fact of the matter is Zadina likely heard so often that the Canadiens, Senators or Coyotes would be his landing spot, he could hardly have expected Detroit.

“I’ve heard about it a lot, though,” he said, expressing the same sentiments of many young European players. “When you play in Detroit, it’s like the best players in the whole history of the NHL I would like to get my spot on the team.”

More good fortune

The Red Wings departure from their expected sequence of picks, which many thought would focus on several defensemen, came when they selected another skilled offensive player with their second pick in the first round, at 30, Joe Veleno.

While one scouting service ranked Veleno 37th in the draft, several others put him from 10th to 14th.

Veleno is out of Montreal, and if the stereotype of touted forwards from that geography is about pace and offensive skill, then he certainly fits the bill.

But he plays defensively, too. A frequent description of Veleno is “all-around player.”

He “fell” considerably farther in the draft than Zadina, and the Red Wings were no less pleased.

“Yeah, we were surprised,” Holland told NBCSN of the Wings good fortune.

“We thought Zadina was going to go in the top five, and we’re certainly thrilled to get him. He’s a guy who can score. We always need more scoring.

“And, Joe Veleno’s got great speed. We thought he would go in the league early, so we’re excited to get him.

“Great draft for us, so far.”

As for nine picks over the last rounds, beginning Saturday, Holland said, “We want to get some D, at some point in time. But we just know we couldn’t pass these forwards up.”  

Change is coming

Zadina and Veleno arrive on a day when the Red Wings announced Dan Bylsma as an assistant coach.

Bylsma is the head coach who beat them the last time they were in the Stanley Cup Final, 10 seasons ago.

In April, Holland said he felt the need for another senior presence in the front office.

The departures of Mike Babcock, Jim Nill, Steve Yzerman, Scotty Bowman and Jim Devellano perhaps spending more time in Florida, the days, than in years past, has been a significant drain on the franchise, in the past several years.

Bylsma is not a manager, of course. But the same could be said of the Red Wings, behind the bench.

Bylsma said he is looking forward to the continual direct contact with players role of an assistant, while allowing Blashill to deal with the media.

Expect Bylsma’s profile to be purposefully low, and his impact significant.

He is unlikely to turnaround a moribund power play, until the next generation puck-moving, high-percentage shooting defensemen finally arrive on the roster. But Bylsma has played a key role in the sport played at its best. It is a useful quality, especially for a club enduring a reconstruction.

Bylsma is already talking about his interest in seeing Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha “take the next step.”

He saw Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin do it for the Penguins. Bylsma hoped he would see Jack Eichel do it for the Sabres. But, there are those who say Eichel contributed to getting Bylsma fired in Buffalo two years into a five-year deal. Reportedly, the relationships between some Sabres and their coach turned rocky.

That may well say far more about Eichel and the Sabres, that it does about Bylsma.

As Jeff Blashill continues to prod some of the developing Wings to have more impact on each shift, and on more shifts, Bylsma is a veteran voice who can explain there is likely no other way. They can soon point to Zadina, who already knows hockey players can have an impact, everywhere, on the ice.

“It’s just a cool moment I’ve got, right now,” he said in Dallas on Friday.

“I’m just drinking it in. I just want to train myself and to be ready for the NHL.”