Red Wings could get big assist if NHL moves up draft

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit – The NHL might be headed toward a June draft after all – and one that benefits the Detroit Red Wings.

Team executives were briefed by commissioner Gary Bettman Monday during a Board of Governors meeting on the somewhat controversial plan within the league to move the Entry Draft to early June. Reportedly, the new draft dates are June 5-6.

Quinton Byfield

Some general managers, including the Wings' Steve Yzerman, have objected to moving the Entry Draft before the current season – on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic – is completed.

But the NHL’s thinking in moving the draft up is that it will alleviate a time crunch later in the year, if the current season is completed with a full postseason, and preparations for the 2020-21 season begin.

Also, given the huge exposure the NFL generated with its recent draft, the NHL believes it has an opportunity to command the news cycle during the draft’s timeframe, with so little other live sports news being generated.

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The Entry Draft was scheduled to take place June 26-27 in Montreal but was canceled due to the pandemic. The NHL scouting combine was supposed to take place June 1-6 in Buffalo but was also scrapped. 

From the Wings’ perspective, the amended rules to this year’s draft should benefit the organization.

In the proposed format for this year’s draft, no team would move up more than four picks in the lottery.

The Wings, who have the NHL’s worst record, would be assured of either selecting first or second overall. Ottawa, which also has San Jose’s first-round draft pick (the Sharks had the third-worst record) are guaranteed of no worse than third and fourth overall.

The draft order would be based on points percentage, and current standings would determine the lottery teams. The 15 teams that would be out of the playoffs would be in the lottery – and the remaining 16 teams would be placed in inverse order based on points percentage.

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It’s expected that the No. 1 pick will be forward Alexis Lafreniere, the junior sensation from the Quebec League who had 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in 52 games for Rimouski.

But after Lafreniere – who has been considered the top player in this class for several years – there are three other players generally considered close to Lafreniere’s level.

Forwards Quinton Byfield and Tim Stuetzle, and defenseman Jamie Drysdale, are players the Wings would consider at No. 2 overall.

Byfield is a 6-foot-4, 215-pound center who draws numerous comparisons to Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, while Stuetzle was rookie of the year in Germany’s men’s league, notching 34 points (27 assists) in 41 games. Drysdale (5-11, 175 pounds) isn’t big, but he reminds scouts of exciting young defensemen such as Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar, who electrified the NHL this past season with their skating and offensive ability.

One item to the NHL draft format to be ironed out is how to handle conditional trades.

The Red Wings have one such circumstance, having dealt defenseman Mike Green to Edmonton for the Oilers’ 2020 fourth-round draft pick that could have turned into a 2021 third-round pick if Edmonton reached the Western Conference finals and Green played half of the games.

The NHL has recommended, in a memo sent to its teams last weekend, that teams in such scenarios would have seven days to rework the framework of trades or accept the league’s solution to the trade.

Twitter @tkulfan