Red Wings get a lift from draft being ‘top-heavy’ on defense

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Vancouver, British Columbia – There are a lot of areas in the Red Wings organization that need to be upgraded.

Defense might be the highest priority item.

Albert Johansson

The Red Wings addressed that over the weekend at the NHL Draft. Of their 11 picks overall – they acquired an extra pick Saturday in Buffalo – they selected five defensemen, including three of their first four overall selections.

The five defensemen collectively have good size – something, it appears, many organizations took account of watching St. Louis’ and Boston’s big bodies in the Stanley Cup Finals.

“As a staff, we identified this as being a pretty deep draft defensively,” said Tyler Wright, the Wings’ director of amateur scouting. “I don’t think we’re quite in a position where we have to start really picking by position. It just happened to be that defense was kind of top-heavy in this draft.

“You watch the playoffs and you see the size of these guys with St. Louis and Boston being in there – that doesn’t mean they’re just big.”

Meaning, size with skill. And the Wings are optimistic they picked some big bodies who can do a variety of things.

Moritz Seider (first round) and Antti Tuomisto (second round) are both 6-foot-4 with mobility and offensive skill, while being stout defensively.

Getting Tuomisto with Saturday’s first pick was an aim for the Wings, who had targeted the Finnish defenseman for some time.

“We think he’s a good prospect,” general manager Steve Yzerman said. “He’s a big kid with a good shot. He’s a smart player. He moves well for a big guy and he plays hard.

“We just like the way he thinks the game. We like his tools and size. Somewhat like Seider. They’re different players, but big right-shot defensemen that move pretty well, that can pass the puck and defend reasonably well.”

Albert Johansson (second round), Cooper Moore (fifth round) and Gustav Berglund (sixth round) are generally regarded as more offensive defensemen, but each are at least 6-foot.

Johansson, for his part, could develop into an interesting selection, a player who is growing into his body and is improving rapidly.

“I’m very excited about his talent,” said Hakan Andersson, the Wings’ director of European scouting. “There was another scout that told me he thinks (Johansson) might be the best of them all – and I kind of agree. He’s a great skater and is very good with the puck.

“But he has to fill out. His dad (Roger Johansson) played in the NHL and Swedish league and was on the national team. His older brothers are big. If he (Johansson) grows, it’s going help his career more, but even right now as a 6-foot kid, he’s a very good hockey player.

“He dominated in junior in Sweden – just dominated. He was voted the best defenseman in the junior playoffs in Sweden.”

The Wings will be in transition on defense in the near future. Niklas Kronwall is deciding whether to retire, and will inform Yzerman of his decision by training camp. Trevor Daley, Mike Green and Jonathan Ericsson will be unrestricted free agents next summer (and none are likely to be retained).

There’s not enough youth ready to step in right now. Only Filip Hronek appears NHL-ready. Dennis Cholowski might need more minor-league seasoning, newly acquired Oliwer Kaski (undrafted free agent) is unknown, and Gustav Lindstrom (last year’s second-round pick) is still developing in Europe.

The Wings took a large step, they hope, toward replenishing that position.

“I can say I’m pleased how it played out,” Yzerman said. “Once you get into the later rounds it’s a little bit of a guessing game as far as who might be there. Each pick we had was a player we knew well and had interest in picking in that spot.

“All things considered it worked out OK. Keep our fingers crossed.”

Twitter @tkulfan