The Detroit Red Wings had a very busy offseason, signing four contract extensions, making one trade, drafting nine players, and signing nine free agents to new contracts. They’ve made depth additions across the lineup for this coming season, and the team is set up for future success better than it has been in years.
All these moves have left me with one question, which of this summer’s moves will have the biggest impact on the future of this team and will be remembered as the most successful decisions from this offseason? Let’s go over the three best moves that Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman and his management team made this summer and rank them on a scale of 1-10 by how much they will help the team in the future.
Trading for Ville Husso
In the summer of 2021, the Red Wings made a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, landing goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and goalie Jonathan Bernier. Nedeljkovic had burst onto the scene as Carolina’s full-time backup and excelled in the role. But his 23-game sample size wasn’t enough for the Hurricanes to feel confident about his future, so they dealt him to Detroit for cheap.
Jump ahead exactly 12 months, and the Red Wings found themselves once again trading for a breakout goaltender whose former team decided against retaining them. This time it was Ville Husso of the St. Louis Blues. He began the 2021-22 season as the backup to Jordan Binnington, but Husso earned the starter’s net by the end of the regular season. With Binnington still under contract for another five years at an annual cap hit of $6 million, a Husso trade had become inevitable, and Yzerman was happy to step in.
On the second day of the 2022 NHL Draft – before the second round had even begun – the deal was struck. The Red Wings landed Husso in exchange for the 73rd overall selection in the 2022 draft, which was used later that day by the Blues to add Finnish center Aleksanteri Kaskimaki, who has one of the most enjoyable names to read aloud in the entire hockey world.
You read that right, the Blues traded away a goalie who was excellent for them in 38 starts last season for a third-round pick. Cap space is by far the most valuable asset in the NHL right now, and the Red Wings had plenty this summer. About 30 minutes after the trade’s announcement, Detroit also revealed that Husso had signed a three-year contract extension with the team worth $4.75 million per season.
In just under a year, the Red Wings have added two young goaltenders with immense potential who will form a formidable tandem where each goalie is likely to start an even number of games. Neither goalie has a particularly long track record in the NHL, but both should be able to find something resembling their breakout seasons behind a much-improved team defense.
Adding a starting-caliber goalie in the offseason is a great move at face value, but trading for one and only giving up a third-rounder in return is exceptional.
Decision Ranking: 8/10 (with room for growth if Husso performs well)
Sticking to Their Guns at the Top of the 2022 Draft
Maybe I’m cheating a bit by talking about three separate moves in one here, but I think that the Red Wings’ draft selections in the first two rounds of the 2022 draft will be remembered fondly by fans in only a couple of years. Yzerman has developed a reputation for off-the-board selections that nobody sees coming; however, he openly admits that he isn’t the one making those decisions.
He has an incredible amount of trust in his amateur scouting staff – why wouldn’t he with their recent track record – and he makes the selections that they tell him to. If it is the scouting team that is making these bold decisions, then their draft philosophy clearly differs significantly from most NHL teams since nearly every selection they make in the NHL entry draft seems to surprise people.
The Red Wings had a successful draft this summer because they trusted themselves and picked the players that they believed could be great one day, not merely good. First, they selected hard-working Austrian centerman Marco Kasper with the eighth overall pick, someone who I was hoping would end up in Detroit.
Red Wings management believes that Kasper has the potential to be an excellent two-way center in the NHL someday and that his offensive game as a 17-year-old in the Swedish Hockey League, one of the most competitive professional hockey leagues in the world, was just the beginning.
With their next pick, the 40th overall selection, the Red Wings took a swing on Dylan James, a physical, two-way winger who went a bit under the radar because he played in the United States Hockey League (USHL) and didn’t put up gaudy point totals.
That’s not to say that James’ season wasn’t impressive. He scored 61 points in 62 USHL games as a rookie and finished the season as the league’s Rookie of the Year, helping lead the Sioux City Musketeers to the Clark Cup championship. He will be playing in the NCAA this year with the University of North Dakota, and a solid showing in his rookie season there will go a long way in establishing James as a legitimate pro prospect.
Next, the Red Wings selected Russian winger Dmitri Buchelnikov with the 52nd overall pick, a draft pick that they received as a part of the Jakub Vrana, Anthony Mantha trade with the Washington Capitals. Buchelnikov wasn’t just an under-the-radar pick; he wasn’t even on most people’s radar, to begin with. I’m comfortable admitting that I had never even heard his name before it was read out on draft day.
The diminutive, skilled winger went undrafted in the 2021 draft due to both his size (5-foot-10, 163 pounds) and his late birthday (he just turned 19 at the beginning of September). However, after lighting the top junior league in Russia on fire last season (the MHL), he began to attract a little bit of attention; granted, he hadn’t exactly become a household name. Regardless, his 75 points in 56 MHL games last year clearly grabbed the attention of Detroit’s top Russian scout Nikolai Vakourov.
I get the feeling that the Red Wings planned on waiting until the third round to draft Buchelnikov up until the moment they traded that pick away to the Blues for Husso. If that was the case, then they clearly didn’t expect him to be on the draft board by the time they were selecting in the fourth round, so they took him a bit earlier.
Buchelnikov is an electric offensive player who is clearly too good for the MHL (he scored three points in his season opener last week), but he may need to physically mature a bit more before he earns a full-time spot in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), the top league in Russia. He has very high offensive potential, so the Red Wings will do everything they can to help him reach that ceiling.
Detroit went big at the top of the draft this summer, taking swings on players that they believe could become excellent NHL players in the future rather than taking more sure-fire prospects who have much less potential. Big swings across the board, only time will tell if those were home runs or not.
Decision Ranking: 8.5/10 (Prospects are prospects. Hard to say for now, but I like the picks)
Signing Andrew Copp in Free Agency
Much was made of the Red Wings’ lack of depth at center last season, with Pius Suter doing his best to fill in as the team’s second-line center with middling results. With the selection of Kasper in the draft, it was clear that he is the player that management sees as their long-term fit at center behind captain Dylan Larkin. However, it was also clear that Kasper would need a bit more time and experience before he could succeed in the NHL, let alone in a top-six role.
Yzerman put this topic to rest on the first day of free agency, signing Andrew Copp to a five-year deal worth $5.625 million per season. Not only does this deal make Copp the second-highest paid player on the team, but it is also the longest contract that Yzerman has signed with a player during his tenure with Detroit. Though there will surely be long-term extensions in place for some of the team’s core young players soon, I think this is indicative of how management views Copp. They see him as a real solution and an important piece, not just a roster-filler until Kasper arrives in the NHL.
He will be a staple in the top-six until he is forced out by the great young talent that is slowly rising through the ranks, at which point Copp will go from being a really solid second-line center to an excellent third-line center. He will provide significant value to the team on both the penalty kill and power play, two areas that were in dire need of some upgrades for the team coming into the offseason.
Not only is Copp a great positional fit as a versatile, hard-working forward, but he is also a Michigan native who grew up cheering for the Red Wings and played three seasons for the Michigan Wolverines. Copp captained the Wolverines in his final NCAA season and even got the chance to share a room with a bright young player the team had just added named Dylan Larkin. Now it’s Larkin’s turn to be the captain, but Copp will surely be an important part of this team’s leadership and culture very soon.
If a team can fill multiple needs with just one move, that is generally considered a good move. But if you can do that in free agency without having to give up anything in return but cap space, that is undoubtedly a win.
Decision Ranking: 9/10 (Excellent fit for the length of the deal)
Many More Wins to Come
The Red Wings were very active this offseason and made some serious upgrades all over the roster, both for now and the future. They managed this even without biting on any big-name free agents or trade targets, opting for the patient approach rather than jumping the gun and mortgaging the future for quicker success.
If Detroit can show some improvement this year, such as finishing with 85-plus points in the standings, and follow it up with another responsible offseason of appreciable improvements, the team will be well on its way to being serious playoff contenders within just a few seasons.
Which three moves from this offseason do you think helped the team the most? Is Dylan James the most underrated prospect in the Red Wings system at this point? How many starts do you think Ville Husso will get this year? Sound off in the comment section below!