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Red Wings' plan centered on building 'a nucleus' through draft

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Steve Yzerman is in the midst of one of his busiest times ever as a general manager.

The NHL Entry Draft is next Tuesday, finally, after being delayed for about almost four months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Unrestricted free agency begins Oct. 9, and there is a dizzying amount of trade talk going on because of so many teams coming close to the salary cap.

But through it all, Yzerman’s plan for the Red Wings isn’t changing. Accumulating and using all their draft picks wisely — the Wings are picking fourth in the first round and have 10 picks overall, including three in the second round — still is the main plan.

Wings GM Steve Yzerman

“Our plan right now is to draft and try accumulate, or add, additional picks along the way. Draft, be patient, and hopefully we draft well,” Yzerman said during a Zoom interview Thursday with media. “(And) build a nucleus of a team. To try and build it through free agency is impossible. It just doesn’t work, and to do it through trades is entirely difficult because they (other teams) want your good assets and our assets are young players and our draft picks, right now, and that’s what we’re trying to build around.”

With the Wings in the middle of a rebuild, they aren’t targeting a specific position group. At this point, they simply want to add the best prospect available.

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“The kids (being drafted) are 17, 18, 19 years of age, and the vast majority of them are three, four, or five years away from playing in the NHL,” Yzerman said. “Your needs as an organization will (change) over time, so we try to draft the best prospect available with that current pick.”

There was much hand-wringing and social media outrage when the Red Wings fell in the draft lottery from a possible No. 1 pick overall — they did have the worst record in the NHL — to fourth.

But with a fairly deep pool of talent available in top half of the first round, the Wings will likely get a player who eventually will help them at No. 4 overall.

Alexis Lafreniere, Tim Stutztle and Quinton Byfield are generally considered the top three players. The Wings have a group of prospective players to choose from that generally is thought to include forwards Cole Perfetti, Marco Rossi and Lucas Raymond, and defensemen Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson.

Yzerman, as expected, was giving no clues Thursday as to which direction the Wings are leaning. 

When asked about Perfetti and Drysdale, specifically, two players who most mock drafts have headed to the Wings, Yzerman said "they're both real good, young players."

With three picks in the second round to swipe potential NHL talent, Yzerman acknowledged it's always important to find players deep in the draft.

"In order for your prospects to turn into players, you need draft picks,” Yzerman said. “It’s important for us to hang on and try to add to the number of picks each year, and ultimately we need some of them to turn into players.

"Within each round and from round to round, the percentage of likelihood of that prospect turning into a player shrinks, so the more picks we have gives us better odd and increases the odds of turning them into players.

"You're not going to hit on your first-round pick every year, unfortunately. History has shown teams don't, so you need players coming in later in the draft to keep you on target or expedite the process."

No one knows how next week in the NHL will unfold, given economic consequences the pandemic has caused the NHL — there will be a flat salary cap of $81.5 million for the immediate future — and teams looking to unload high-priced talent either before the draft or the start of free agency.

Yzerman expects a lot of phone calls, but is unsure about the level of action taking place. The Wings, with plenty of salary cap space, could be involved in some of the trade talk.

"There will be a lot of phone calls made, every team is doing that," Yzerman said. "What we do whether prior to the draft or leading up to free agency, I cannot tell you how much action there will be. But I do know we're in constant communication. You're on the phone every day leading up to the draft.

"There's just a lot of uncertainty around the league. No one really knows what is going to happen Oct. 9 with free agency, what is going to happen in the market. Is it going to be business as usual or will teams be more conservative. 

"I really don't know."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan