Red Wings not lacking for choice of star-caliber centers, offensive wingers at NHL Draft
Detroit — If you listen to many NHL teams, they’ll have the same wishes for the NHL Draft.
They’d love to have a franchise-type center, capable of producing offense and neutralizing the other team defensively.
Or, a gifted, goal-scoring winger. Or a franchise-altering defenseman who, judging from the last couple of seasons around the NHL, must be paid a premium (in contracts or trades) to acquire.
Friday’s NHL Draft will be a chance for teams to acquire that organization-revolutionizing young player.
Some positions are stronger than others this year.
While there were an impressive crop of defensemen in the 2018 draft; the 2019 crop isn’t as deep.
But this season, more than in recent memory, there are a list of top-flight centers who could become fixtures on their teams for a decade, or longer.
Also, some very impressive impactful wings, who have scored goals and are capable of initiating offense, too, will be picked off the board quickly.
As for goaltenders, there is one that very well will be selected in the first round, which in itself is a unique occurrence.
The Red Wings have 10 picks in this weekend’s draft — one in the first round (No. 6), three in the second (Nos. 35, 54, and 60), third (66), fourth (97), two in the fifth (128 and 143), and one pick each in the sixth (159) and seventh (190).
The Red Wings have 10 picks in this weekend’s draft — No. 6 in the first round; Nos. 35, 54 and 60 in the second; No. 66 in the third; No. 97 in the fourth; Nos. 128 and 143 in the fifth; No. 159 in the sixth; and No. 190 in the seventh.
Who are the top players at the different positions? Who are some sleepers to keep an eye on later in the draft the Wings might be interested in?
Here is an analysis by position:
Among centers, the talk begins around Jack Hughes.
He was the Plymouth Township-based U.S. National Team Development Program was a prolific, all-time leading scorer, and plays with the speed that has drawn comparisons to Connor McDavid.
The Red Wings aren’t going to get Hughes, who’ll likely be taken first by New Jersey.
But a group that includes Dylan Cozens (Lethbridge/WHL), Kirby Dach (Saskatoon/WHL), Trevor Zegras (USNTDP), Alex Turcotte (USNTDP) and Peyton Krebs (Kootenay/WHL) are all bunched together in many scouts’ minds after Hughes.
Cozens and Dach are big centers who are outstanding passers, while Zegras, Turcotte and Krebs are two-way centers who have dominated in junior.
All are on the Wings’ radar.
But keep an eye on lesser-heralded players such as Shane Pinto (USHL), Jamieson Rees (OHL) and John Beecher (USHL), players generally rated between the 30-50 range of top prospects, all centers who have attributes that will get them drafted early in this draft.
Kaapo Kakko, a man-child from Finland, will be either the No. 1 or 2 player picked Friday night.
Kakko (6-foot-2, 195-pounds) excelled at the recent world championships, playing against some of the best players in the NHL.
Kakko has size, skill and a fearlessness to his game that some scouts believe he should be drafted before Hughes.
Either way, the Devils, picking first, or the Rangers, picking second, aren’t going to be disappointed with their selection.
Generally speaking, Matthew Boldy (USNTDP) and Vasili Podkolzin (Russia) are the two top-rated wings after Kakko.
Boldy, who plays left wing, is 6-foot-2, 187-pounds and has scored goals at every level. He’s commited to Boston College and already plays the type of game that will be well suited for the NHL.
Podkolzin (right wing) plays with the passion that reminds some scouts of fellow countryman Alex Ovechkin. He has many of Ovechkin’s attributes. But the fact Podkolzin is committed to his KHL team for the next two seasons is a risky proposition for many NHL organizations who either may not be willing to wait, or aren’t sure if Podkolzin will ever decide to play in North America.
Cole Caufield is another intriguing winger. A 5-foot-7, 160-pound right wing, Caufield isn’t big physically, but he’s a natural goal-scorer who has one of the best shots in this class.
Wingers who could be available to the Wings on Saturday, early on, include Jakob Pelletier (LW/QMJHL), Samuel Poulin (RW/QMJHL) and Simon Holmstrom (Sweden), each of whom are considered players who’ll likely make the NHL.
Judging by scouts’ estimations, the one sure-fire bet appears to be Bowen Byram (Vancouver/WHL). He has been an offensive-machine whatever level he’s played at, and is the prototypical, modern-day defenseman with his skills and skating ability.
The Wings would love to get Byram, but it’s doubtful — although, not impossible — he’ll fall to No. 6.
After Byram, it’s generally a grab bag, with no other defenseman a lock to be a top-10 pick.
Victor Soderstrom, Philip Broberg and Ville Heinola are generally considered first-round picks, but each has to grow physically and don’t have completely polished games yet.
Sleepers on day two include Mattias Norlinder (Sweden), Lassi Thomson (WHL), Ryan Johnson (USHL) and Matthew Robertson (WHL).
Simply put, like kickers or punters in the NFL, goaltenders aren’t generally picked in the first round in the NHL.
It’s such a unique, specialized position, success is fleeting, and goaltenders, generally, aren’t ready for the NHL until their mid-20s.
But the USNTDP’s Spencer Knight is likely to change things this year.
Knight will likely be picked somewhere in the latter half of the first-round, with several teams appearing to be in need of a sure-thing goaltending prospect.
Mads Sogaard (WHL), Ethan Haider (NAHL) and Hunter Jones (OHL) are goaltenders to keep an eye on Saturday.
BEST BY POSITION
Jack Hughes, USNTDP: Has been generally been considered the best player in this draft for several years.
Dylan Cozens, Lethbridge/WHL: A big, 6-foot-3 center who can control the puck, find open teammates, and has good speed for a big man.
Alex Turcotte, USNTDP: Is drawing some comparisons to Jonathan Toews for his approach to the game on and off the ice.
Trevor Zegras, USNTDP: Excellent two-way player who’ll be a factor in the NHL. Scouts love his creative ability.
Kirby Dach, Saskatoon/WHL: At 6-foot-4, Dach is an elite playmaker who grades highly on the power play. Needs to get more physical.
Kaapo Kakko TPS/Finland: Was one of the best players in Europe while playing against men this season. Very NHL ready.
Vasili Podkolzin SKA/Russia: Plays hard, plays with passion, and isn’t afraid of mixing things up with opponents. Definitely a top-six forward. But is commited to play in Russia for two more years.
Matthew Boldy, USNTDP: A prototypical power forward, Boldy has a big shot and the big body to handle things around the net.
Cole Caufield, USNTDP: Fine, Caufield is only 5-foot-7. He also scored 72 goals and has, obviously, one of the more wicked shots around.
Arthur Kaliyev, Hamilton/OHL: A 50-goal scorer in junior this season, Kaliyev has shown the ability to score, but he has to round out the rest of his game.
Bowen Byram, Vancouver/WHL: The prototypical defenseman for the NHL. Drives the play with his mobility and create offense.
Victor Soderstrom, Brynas/Sweden: Isn’t big (5-foot-11, 175-pounds) but is extremely mobile, he’s a great passer, and has good judgment on the ice.
Philip Broberg, AIK/Sweden: Has good size (6-foot-3, 203-pounds), skates well, but needs to fill out physically and mature defensively.
Cam York, USNTDP: Another puck-transporter who plays with a lot of savvy and can out-skate his mistakes. York is commited to Michigan next season.
Ville Heinola, Lukko/Finland: Scouts love his hockey sense, and to many scouts, Heinola reminds them, to a degree, of Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen.
Spencer Knight, USNTDP: Not many goalies are first-round picks, but scouting Knights’ intangibles, he’s as safe a goalie pick as you can get.
Hunter Jones, Peterborough/OHL: At 6-foot-4, Jones takes up much of the net, but he's raw.
Mads Sogaard, Medicine Hat/WHL: A 6-foot-7 project who had a fine season in junior (2.64 GAA, .921 SVS).
Ethan Haider, Minnesota/NAHL: Minnesota native had an excellent season (2.35 GAA, .926 SVS), but hasn’t faced elite competition.
Isaiah Saville, Tri-City/USHL: The Alaskan was outstanding this season (1.90 GAA, .925 SVS) and will play collegiately at Nebraska-Omaha.
When: First round Friday, rounds 2-7 Saturday
Where: Rogers Arena, Vancouver
TV: 8 Friday on NBCSN, 1 Saturday NHL Network
Red Wings: Ten picks — First round (No. 6), three in second round (Nos. 35, 54 and 60), third round (No. 66), fourth round (No. 97), two in fifth round (Nos. 128, 143), sixth round (No. 159) and seventh round (No. 190).