Red Wings pick Liam Dower Nilsson not worried about draft slot: 'The work starts now'
Detroit — The waiting was difficult, especially considering Liam Dower Nilsson.
The Swedish center was expected to go anywhere from the second to the fourth round in many mock drafts. But, it didn't work out that way.
Nilsson finally heard his name called Saturday, in the fifth round, by the Red Wings, the 134th pick overall.
"I was pretty sure my name was going to be called some time," Nilsson said during a Zoom media call afterward. "I was thinking the third or fourth round, but it went to the fifth round.
"I was just hoping."
Nilsson is a crafty passer, was Sweden's under-18 team captain, does everything necessary to win — but, at 6 feet, 176-pounds, isn't the biggest player around.
Nilsson is also confident in what he can do. Not in a brazen, cocky way. But he's self-assured.
“I would say that I’m a competitive center who loves to win and hates to lose,” Nilsson said. “My strong area of the game is in the offensive zone, around the net, sneaky with passes and also with my shot. I’m a leader on the ice and off the ice, too. I love to (make) my teammates better and win games.”
Being passed over so often Saturday will push Nilsson harder.
"I see myself as a steal because I know I have that (motivation to prove people wrong) in me," Nilsson said. "I know I'm going to make the NHL in four or five years, or three years, I know some day.
"The most important skill you have is motivation, and being patient, and being aware of what it takes to get there. I have those things and I know those things.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again — the draft isn't the most important thing in your career, because the work stars now. The most important thing is to work every day and try to get better.
"I was just hoping, but I felt I was going to go (earlier in the draft) for sure."
Nilsson was a teammate of Wings' first-round pick defenseman Simon Edvinsson at Frolunda, of the Swedish Elite League. The two celebrated when Nilsson's name was called.
"True moment of happiness," Nilsson said.
Along with Nilsson and Edvinsson, recent Wings' draft picks Lucas Raymond, Theodor Niederbach, and Elmer Soderblom are all Frolunda products.
Frolunda has become a sort of pipeline for the Wings, although director of amateur scouting Kris Draper calls it a coincidence that so many recent picks have come from the Swedish club.
"They run an amazing program from youth hockey all the way up," Draper said. "These guys are coached the right way, brought up the right way, and taught how to play the game. They’ve had so much success at the youth level and the pro level as well.”
Red Savage, the Wings' fourth-round pick (114th overall), was another player scouts felt could go a little higher.
Savage is the son of former NHL forward Brian Savage, and has been around NHL locker rooms his entire young career.
“It’s nice to have all the connections that my dad has,” Savage said. “He has a lot of friends around the whole hockey scene. We’re pretty good friends with the Drapers and a lot of people connected to the Red Wings.
“I’m really excited to be drafted by this organization, excited to hopeful be able to put on the Red Wings jersey one day.”
Savage played many tournaments against Draper, and Draper's son Kienan, who were part of the Little Caesars program.
“He just knows how to play, very responsible," Kris Draper said. "He’s actually really good in the circle to take faceoffs. Watching him in Texas (at the world under-18 tournament), he had some big shot blocks on the penalty kill and plays a fearless type game. He showed throughout this year, when he got an opportunity, that he could produce some offense.
" The one thing that we’re going to want him to work on (at Miami (Ohio)) is obviously his offensive side of the game: to score goals, challenge himself to put up numbers.”
Forward Pasquale Zito, the Wings' sixth-round pick (166th overall) from Windsor, didn't play hockey at at all last season, as the Ontario Hockey League never got started because of the pandemic.
Zito said he played random pick-up games, skated as much as he could, and trained religiously. He added it was frustrating not to play.
All the Wings had on Zito was tape from the 2019-20 season. Draper felt it was a gamble that was worth it for the Wings.
“Was it hard? Yes, I mean obviously we haven’t seen him,” Draper said. “But I know after we made the selection and we talked to him, he was so excited about getting drafted, and he basically said ‘I’m going to do everything I can’ to make it worthwhile of us obviously stepping up and picking him.
"That’s obviously pretty neat to hear.”
Zito tries to mirror his game after Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk, an agitator who plays with a lot of skill.
"He wants to be a hard player to play against. He wants to compete against the other team’s top players," Draper said.
The thing that stood out about Jackson's Carter Mazur, the Wings' third-round pick (70th overall), for Draper was the steady improvement Mazur made throughout his junior career.
Mazur raised his point total from 13 in 2019-20 to 44 points (in 47 games) this past season at Tri-City (USHL).
Mazur is headed to University of Denver, joining recent Wings' draft picks Antti Tuomisto and Shai Buium.
"What was interesting was going back out and watching Tri-City and just seeing the improvement in Carter from his underage year to this year, or last year to this year,” Draper said. “More importantly, our area scouts, the reports that they were putting in about Carter. It’s easy for me to go in there and watch him — I know him. But when all of the sudden our scouts are going in, and we’re talking and they’re talking about the improvement of Carter Mazur, it was great to hear and great to see."
Defenseman Oscar Plandowski, one of the Wings' fifth-round picks (155th overall), is the son of Arizona Coyotes' director of amateur scouting Darryl Plandowski.
It's interesting enough being the son of a coach, but Plandowski mentioned it can be pretty unique being the son of a scout and hearing things a young player like himself can get better at.
“Believe me, I grew up with some pretty constructive criticism,” Oscar Plandowski said. “So when I get it from my coaches, it’s not as bad. I’ve grown up with being able to take heat on games.
"When I was a lot younger I’d get more upset or angry at him when I’d get criticism, but in the long run it’s helpful having someone that knows the game like him to be able to critique me.”
The Wings will not have any sort of development camp for draft picks. With the pandemic pushing back the hockey calendar, there just isn't enough time this month to get players in, what with many junior teams, especially in Europe, already preparing for next season.
But general manager Steve Yzerman confirmed there will be a prospects tournament in Traverse City preceding the Wings' training camp in mid-September, with dates and times still to be announced.
Many Wings' recent draft picks will take part in the 2021 world junior summer showcase set through Saturday at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.
Two rosters of U.S. teams, along with the national teams from Sweden and Finland, take part in the event with games daily.
The showcase serves as an evaluation for junior players seeking to make their respective national teams for the world junior championship in December in Canada.
William Wallinder, Niederbach (both for Sweden), Eemil Viro (Finland), Buium, Mazur and Cross Hanas (Team USA) are Wings prospects competing this week.