Striking gold in second, third rounds of NHL draft could hold key for rebuilding Red Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — So much emphasis has been placed on the Red Wings’ first-round draft pick, and that’s to be expected.

They stood a good chance to landing the No. 1 overall pick, given their NHL’s worst record.

The Red Wings selected defenseman Filip Hronek in the second round of the 2016 NHL draft.

But, of course as events played out last week during the lottery, the Wings suddenly dropped to selecting fourth in the NHL draft while some unknown team at this time, that’ll be competing in the play-in round of the playoffs, will get the No. 1 overall pick (likely Alexis Lafreniere).

Now, first-round picks are important. But for an organization like the Wings, those picks in the second, third, and fourth round and beyond are just as vital.

“You need some of those picks to turn into players,” general manager Steve Yzerman said. “If it’s just going to be we’re going to draft and count on our first-round pick playing every year, it’s going to take forever to build a good team.”

Given their trading of veterans on expiring contacts at the trade deadline the last several years, the Wings have stockpiled a particularly deep treasure chest this year.

The Wings have three second-round picks (their own, Washington’s and Edmonton’s) and two third-round picks (their own, and San Jose’s) in this year's draft.

In recent years, they’ve added prospects such as defensemen Gustav Lindstrom (second round, 2017),  Antti Tuomisto (second round, 2019), Albert Johansson (second round, 2019) and Jared McIsaac (second round, 2018); and forwards Robert Mastrosimone (second round, 2019) and Jonatan Berggren (second round, 2018) beyond the first round.

“We’re going to need players to come in the second and third rounds, later rounds, year to year,” Yzerman said. “You’re not going to hit on every pick every year, obviously. You’re not going to hit on your first pick every year, as much work as we do on it.

“It’s imperative (second-round and beyond picks make it), that speeds up the (rebuilding) process.”

The Wings were a picture of stealing Hall-of-Fame talent in late rounds their dynasty years, drafting unknowns and watching them develop into legends in the game.

Nicklas Lidstrom (third round, 1989), Sergei Fedorov (fourth round, 1989), Vladimir Konstantinov (11th round, 1989), Tomas Holmstrom (10th round, 1994), Pavel Datsyuk (sixth round, 1998) and Henrik Zetterberg (seventh round, 1999) are some of the Wings who built incredible resumes considering where they were drafted.

On a much different scale, players such as forward Tyler Bertuzzi (2013) and defenseman Filip Hronek (2016) were recent second-round picks who’ve developed into important fixtures in the Red Wings lineup.

“You look at our team, with Tyler Bertuzzi and Filip Hronek, second-round picks, guys that are really having an impact,” Yzerman said. “We’ll definitely need those guys (later-round picks) to turn into players and that’s why having more picks increases the odds of more of them becoming players.”

There was much hand-wringing by Wings fans after last week’s lottery disappointment.

But the true test of this draft will not be known for years. By that time, players who will be selected deep in the later rounds could some day surpass first-round picks who are much more publicized and scrutinized right now.

“Ultimately, let’s see in a few years, see how this draft shakes out and who becomes a good player,” Yzerman said.

Twitter: @tkulfan