John Niyo and Ted Kulfan preview the NHL Draft with TSN director of scouting Craig Button and John Wroblewski, the coach of the USNTDP U-18 team. The Detroit News
Detroit — It used to be July 1 was the most exciting time of the year for Red Wings fans, with big-money, big-name free agents added to the organization’s cupboard.
Those days are done.
With the Red Wings in the middle of a rebuild, it’s draft weekend that’s the biggest of the hockey offseason.
The NHL Entry Draft begins Friday with the first round, and concludes Saturday with Rounds 2 through 7.
The Wings have 10 picks — three in the second round — and general manager Steve Yzerman is excited about what this particular draft will do for the organization.
“We think we’re going to get a good prospect,” Yzerman, said of the Wings’ first pick, No. 6 overall. “We’re excited. Maybe it’s a different level of prospect, but we’re as excited about the 35th pick (overall, in the second round) and don’t know who what will be at this time, but we’re excited and we think there’s a good group of players.”
Yzerman has made it clear the Wings aren’t necessarily looking to strengthen or deepen a particular position group.
“Our philosophy is we need the best player available,” Yzerman said.
Jack Hughes (U.S. National Team Development Team) and Kaapo Kakko (Finland) are likely to be the top two players picked in the draft, by New Jersey and the New York Rangers, respectively.
Beginning with Chicago's pick at No. 3, a lot of mystery and speculation surrounds which player will be picked by which team.
At No. 6, the Wings will have an impressive array of talent from which to choose.
Defenseman Bowen Byram (Vancouver/WHL), and forwards Cole Caufield (USNTDP), Dylan Cozens (Lethbridge/WHL), Kirby Dach (Saskatoon/WHL), Vasili Podkolzin (SKA/Russia), Alex Turcotte (USNTDP) and Trevor Zegras (USNTDP) are among the players who likely will be there for the Wings.
Here’s what Yzerman and the front office have on the agenda this weekend in Vancouver:
Tyler Wright, the Red Wings’ director of amateur scouting, will run the draft table but Yzerman obviously will have substantial input.
“These guys have, the scouting staff, led by Tyler, has been doing the work all year,” Yzerman said. “I intend to be a part of it. But as the draft goes on, you have to really rely on the scouts.
“This is what they’re paid to do.”
The Red Wings have been fortunate the past few years in the second round, getting players such as defenseman Filip Hronek (2016) and forward Jonatan Berggren (2018), two players who could be important pieces of the rebuild.
TSN draft analyst Craig Button said this week the Wings should be able to get possible NHL talent again this week in the second round, given the depth of the draft.
The Wings have five pick in the top 66 of this draft, and six picks in the top 97.
“Ideally we’d hit on all of these prospects and have players that turn out for us,” Yzerman said. “But there’s no guarantee of that. When you look back at the histories of drafts and the percentages of players playing for us, it’s more difficult than it seems
“(But) it sure speeds things up the more players you get out of each draft. It speeds up the (rebuilding) process.”
This weekend has become the busiest time of the year when it comes to trading.
With the salary cap for next season likely being revealed Saturday — modestly increased to about $82 million — teams will need to make moves to get under the cap, or strengthen rosters up to the cap.
Teams also will want to move up in the draft.
The Vancouver Canucks, hosting this draft, are rumored to be wanting to move upward from their current No. 10 slot.
There’s been speculation this week the Canucks are eyeing the Red Wings’ No. 6 spot, with the two front offices looking to find the right pieces for a swap.
The Red Wings would have the room to house a player’s inflated contract from a roster looking to unload, but only if a key prospect is attached to that older player, giving the Wings another valuable piece in their rebuild.
Preparing for free agency
Free agency begins July 1, but the interview period for unrestricted free agents to speak with teams other than their own will open Sunday at 12:01 a.m. (EST).
The restricted free-agent period — and there are some big-name restricted free agents this summer that could entice teams despite the quantity of draft picks they’d lose — opens three days later on June 26 at 12:01 a.m. (EST).
During this period pending free agents are able to meet with prospective teams — but not permitted to discuss contract terms.
Yzerman is cautious about jumping in the free-agent pool just yet, with where the Red Wings currently are in their development.
“We have spots on the roster available,” Yzerman said. “Before doing it through trade, I would look at free agency to fill those roster spots. We also do want to have some opportunity for our younger players to fill those spots.
“But I’m not going to sign a free agent just to sign a free agent. The player has to fit what we’re trying to do. The term of the contract and the value (of the contract) have to fit.
“I can’t tell you how active we’re going to be. But we’re certainly going to reach out to players and agents of guys we think could fit into what we’re doing.”
NHL Entry Draft
► When: First round, 8 p.m. Friday, Rounds 2-7, 1 p.m. Saturday
► Where: Rogers Arena, Vancouver
► TV: Friday, NBCSN; 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).