Buffalo, N.Y. — Drafting a defenseman would be preferred by the Red Wings, and especially a player who could potentially develop into a star caliber defenseman.
And there could be one available where the Red Wings draft at No. 6 in the first round in Bowen Byram.
But the Red Wings also wouldn’t mind an elite center. No team would turn its back on that. And in the June 21-22 Entry Draft in Vancouver, the top end of the first round will have plenty of outstanding centers available.
“Teams have a selection of wide variety of players to choose from,” NHL’s Central Scouting director Dan Marr said at the NHL Draft Combine. “I don’t think they’ll get carried away analyzing first line, second line, third line. They just want good players to put in their lineups.
“All these players, they bring the right mix of skills and intangibles, and will bring values to their teams.”
The best center is Jack Hughes, but the star from the U.S. National Team Development Program is going either first or second overall (with wing Kaapo Kakko joining Hughes at the top of the list).
After those two players, there’s a mix of players that includes Byram, and centers Dylan Cozens (Lethbridge/WHL), Kirby Dach (Saskatoon/WHL), Alex Turcotte (USNTDP) and Trevor Zegras (USNTDP), all of who project to be impact players some day in the NHL.
“It’s great, it’s kind of the way the league is going,” said Zegras, who might be the most creative of the bunch. “Fast, high skill, and pace. You have to play both ends of the ice, especially if you’re going to expect to go real high in the draft.”
Dylan Larkin proved last season he’s a legitimate No. 1 center, a star who dominates at both ends of the rink.
The Wings played Andreas Athanasiou at center the final month of the season, with mixed results.
If the Wings can snag a legitimate impact center, they’d be fine with playing Athanasiou on a wing where his speed and game-breaking ability have already been evident.
Cozens and Dach are both bigger centers, both around 6-foot-3, and have the capability to grow into the type of hulking two-way centers that simply don’t come around often.
At this point, both need to grow into their bodies. But what they’ve shown at the junior level certainly indicates they could become forces in the NHL.
“It’s pretty neat to kind of see that,” Dach said of the depth at center in this draft. “So many teams are built around their center depth and there are so many great centers here.
“It’s pretty fun.”
Who is No. 1?
Hughes has been projected to be the first draft pick in this class since the start of the season.
But Kakko’s performance at the recent world championships — he was a major reason Finland won the championship — could sway New Jersey to pick Kakko at No. 1 (the New York Rangers have the second pick).
Make no mistakes, Hughes wants to be the first pick.
“That would be unbelievable,” Hughes said. “You always dream about being No. 1. You don’t dream about being No. 2 or No. 3 or No. 4 when you’re a kid. I want to be the first overall pick. That would be a dream come true if that happens.”
Hughes isn’t surprised the media is binding the two young players together.
“It’s good competition, every year it’s Nos. 1 and 2 competing with each other,” Hughes said. “I know he had a great year and we’ll be linked to each other for a lot of years, with the Devils and Rangers right there (close to each other).”
Kakko, incidentally, skipped this week’s combine to remain in Finland.
After the long world championship tournament followed by celebrations and events in Finland after the team won, Kakko chose to remain there rather than travel to Buffalo for a week and then return back to Vancouver later in June for the draft.
“Unfortunately the (world championship) schedule worked out the way it did this year,” Marr said. “Typically, it would be a week earlier. It has zero effect, really. I know he would be here if he could.
“But he’s a world champion before he steps onto the ice in the NHL and that’s a pretty special event in his life. Teams understand that and the teams at the top will have to spend a bit more time with him when he comes over to the draft.”
Dad knows best
Turcotte's father, Alfie, played in eight leagues over his 16-year career, so the younger Turcotte has a wealth of experience to lean on at home.
"He's been through it and he knows what to expect and how to get through it," Turcotte said. "He taught me a lot off the ice and what to expect in situations like these and how to introduce yourself to people in interviews and be yourself."
Alex's grandfather Real played college hockey at Michigan State and his uncle Jeff played major junior.