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Red Wings could get closer look at European prospects ahead of NHL draft

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — This already has been a wacky NHL season given the pandemic, the fact playoffs haven’t even begun yet, and now an undetermined playoff-caliber team has won draft lottery.

But get ready for more subtle twists and turns.

Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov could be an option for the Red Wings at No. 4.

For instance, in September and October, just weeks before the NHL Entry Draft, many of the European prospects in this draft class will be playing hockey again.

With the pandemic easing in Europe, at least for now, most of those leagues should be up and running in the autumn.

The North American junior leagues likely will not be.

So, for Red Wings’ general manager Steve Yzerman and his staff, it’ll be another valuable scouting opportunity and chance for those European players to sell themselves on the ice — while comparable North American prospects are sitting.

“That could just confuse the situation even more,” Yzerman said. “We thought about that. In all likelihood, you’ll have some of these kids playing, the way it looks right now, and potentially, some of the North American kids not playing.

“So, depending on who’s playing, who’s not playing, who plays well, who doesn’t, it can complicate your decision-making even more.”

It certainly does offer, everyone around the NHL agrees, the unique opportunity for a young player to give himself a second chance to move himself up in the draft.

It's another subplot in an unexpected, crazy hockey season.

“These kids may play more hockey in September, maybe late August; the European leagues start earlier. If they’re playing, we’re probably going to watch them,” Yzerman said. “It will have some influence on our decisions, good or bad.

“There’s work to be done.”

The Red Wings dropped to fourth overall in the draft lottery. But given the options near the top of this draft class, the Wings in all likelihood will get an impactful player.

Given the certainty knowing where the Wings are finally picking helps narrow the focus, Yzerman said.

“We can really focus on the kids in that spot,” Yzerman said. “I know our guys, myself, we’ve watched a lot of video on them. We’re going to go back now and we’ll watch even more. That’s all we can do right now.

“Kris Draper (director of amateur scouting) and his staff have interviewed  a lot of the kids in this type of (video) format, and have spent a lot of time with them and a lot of time with the people around them, getting to know them from different perspectives.

“There’s still work to be done, and like I said, if there’s more hockey to be played, which it looks like there will be prior to the draft, we’ll watch it.”

There are several players who instantly become possible prospects the Wings could be interested in at No. 4, given this scenario of getting another chance to scout and analyze one more time.

Swedish forwards Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, and Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov are viable options where the Wings are picking.

Raymond already has been pegged the favorite by many draft analysts as the player the Wings will pick.

A 5-foot-10, 175-pound winger with a playmaker’s mentality, Raymond also grades out well defensively and does a great job stealing pucks.

But Raymond is a pure goal scorer, and showed it with a three-goal game for Sweden in the 2019 world junior gold medal game.

Holtz, at 6-foot 185 pounds, had 16 points in 35 games as a 17-year-old playing against men in Sweden. He’s an elite playmaker, but some scouts believe Holtz could be the next best goal-scorer in this class behind presumed No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere.

Askarov long has been the biggest question mark in this class.

Conventional wisdom in hockey is, you don’t draft a goaltender this high in the draft.

But it has been done, and Askarov is the type of prospect a team such as the Wings could attempt to grab.

At 6-foot-3, 176 pounds, Askarov has the athleticism in net that scouts feel could make him a Vezina Trophy winner someday.

Twitter: @tkulfan