Steve Yzerman on draft strategy, trades, Red Wings’ rebuild, free agency, more

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit – Steve Yzerman is confident the Red Wings will be able to acquire key players for their rebuild during next week's NHL Draft.

Yzerman, the Red Wings' new general manager, spoke to reporters Thursday at Little Caesars Arena and touched on a variety of subjects.

Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman talks to local media at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday.

Foremost, with the draft coming June 21-22 in Vancouver, Yzerman believes this draft could significantly help the Red Wings.

The Wings will have 10 picks overall in the seven rounds of the draft, three in the second round (35, 54, 60). Their first-round pick is No. 6 overall.

“The big two (Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko) are up top, and they get a lot of attention and they deserve it,” Yzerman said. “But we’re excited, maybe it’s a different level of prospect, but we’re as excited about the 35th pick and don’t know who that will be at this time, but we’re exited and we think there’s a good group of players.

“We’re excited about every step of the way.”

The importance of every draft, but especially for an organization in a rebuild, cannot be overstated, said Yzerman.

The Wings have a good amount of prospects currently in the organization, but Yzerman stressed that each draft is critical.

“Ideally we hit on all these prospects and have players who turn out for us,” Yzerman said. “There’s no guarantee of that. You look back through the history of the draft, and percentages of players playing for us, it’s more difficult than it seems.

“It sure speeds things up the more players you can get out of each draft, it speeds up the process.”

Other subjects Yzerman addressed Thursday:

On whether he’s been in contact with prospective unrestricted free agents Niklas Kronwall, Luke Witkowski and Thomas Vanek: “I haven’t talked to Thomas Vanek. I have been in contact with both Nik and Luke.”

On Kronwall’s decision to either retire or play one more season: “I’ve had some discussions (with Kronwall). He can take as much time as he wants. I don’t need to know (by July 1, the start of free agency). I’m fine either way. Absolutely if he wanted to play (the Wings would want him back). Absolutely.”

On the level Yzerman expects the Wings to be active in unrestricted free agency beginning July 1: “We have spots on the roster available. I would look toward free agency to fill those roster spots (before trade), but we also do want to have some opportunity for some of our younger players to fill those spots. We will look at free agency, but I’m not going to sign a free agent to just sign a free agent. The player has to fit what we’re trying to do, the value of the contract has to fit. I can’t tell you how active we’ll be, but we’ll certainly reach out to players and agents of guys we think can fit into what we’re trying to do.”

On whether the Wings, or other teams, would sign a restricted free agent among a talented pool of such players this summer: “I don’t know what other teams are thinking. There’s a lot of talk within the media. But the position we’re in today, I don’t say definitely I wouldn’t consider it, but it’s unlikely.”

On whether the Wings would consider buying a player out in the upcoming buyout period: “Today, I would say likely not.”

Steve Yzerman on the Red Wings' draft plans: “We’re excited about every step of the way.”

Has there been an uptick in phone calls regarding trades, leading up to next week’s draft? “We’ve been in pro scouts meeting this week. Every team has done it at different stages of the offseason. We just finished this week. I have started to work the phones, so to speak, and find out what everybody is trying to do. Everyone is kind of focused on the draft, but you do kind of prepare a little bit, and checking with every team to see if there’s any fit for anything. We’re kind of halfway through that process.”

On if there’s a group of players expected to be available when the Red Wings draft at No. 6, and if there’s a group they are focusing on: “I would say a group of six or seven. It’s pretty certain two players (Hughes, Kakko) will be gone, 1 and 2, what order I’m pretty certain but no point in us worrying about it. From that third pick to 12th or 15th, you ask all 31 teams and it could be a very different order. There’s a group there that we think our No. 6 will come out of.”

Will the Red Wings target a specific position at No. 6 or simply draft the best player available? “At this stage, generally with every draft, you’re just trying to find the best prospect by each position. We’re not targeting a particular position. Our philosophy is we need the best player available.”

Has Yzerman met with current Red Wings players yet? “I had a chance before the players left Grand Rapids at the end of their season to meet the young players there. I talked to a couple of the current Red Wings but my intention will be after July 1, to get a hold of (players). Ideally I would have done it earlier but you run out of hours during the day. I intend to touch base with all the players, yes, but at this point, other things have tied up my time.”

On what Yzerman thinks of the depth of young players in the organization: “The last two drafts we’ve had a lot of picks and they’re all encouraging. At this point, getting them from the draft to the NHL, even for first-round picks, there’s not a guarantee. But I’m excited. Filip Hronek is one who played in the NHL and did well at the world championships – he’s coming along. (Joe) Veleno will play and come in and turn pro this year. Obviously with (Filip) Zadina and (Michael) Rasmussen, there are kids coming, and (Jared) McIsaac will play another year of junior. There’s a couple of Swedish kids that look promising. So there are a lot of kids and what will really expedite the process would be a couple of the kids will take steps forward. There are certainly a lot of young kids and that gives you more chances.”

Joe Veleno

On the decision by Ken Holland to leave the Red Wings to become general manager in Edmonton: “He’s one of the people I’m closest to in the game, so we talk a lot. Going through the process I understood what he was thinking and ultimately when he took the job in Edmonton, I wasn’t surprised. Ken has a lot of energy and passion and he loves the job, so I wasn’t surprised he elected to become a GM again. I wasn’t surprised he would take it, but I do know it was a hard decision. He was in this organization a long time.

“I’m going to miss him. He’s been a huge influence on my career playing and post-playing career, and a great resource for me. I’m going to miss having him here.”

On who will run the Red Wings’ draft table next week: “I intend to be a part of it. The scouting staff, led by Tyler (Wright, director of amateur scouting), has been doing the work all year. I intend to be a part of it. But as the draft goes on, you have to rely on the scouts. This is what they’re paid to do.”

On newly signed, undrafted free agent defenseman Oliwer Kaski: “He’s definitely in the mix (for an NHL job). He has a good shot, I watched him play in the world (championships) and based on what we saw – and Jiri (Fischer, director of player evaluation) has watched him for two years – he is a candidate to play on our team. He’s a very good power-play guy. Can he adjust to playing on a smaller ice surface? He did that in college (Western Michigan). He’s going to get a good opportunity. We’re optimistic he can play in the NHL this year and we’re going to give him a good opportunity to be among the six defensemen on opening night.”

On his personal expectations for this season: “I’m not going to make any predictions at all. I have an idea of what I want to do behind the scenes. What the team eventually is able to accomplish by the end of the season, we will see.”

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