What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. Rachel Anderson and Tony Wolak are the muckers who makeup THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics. This week, we’ve also added guest contributor, Brandon Share-Cohen.
Despite the barrage of negative chatter surrounding Ken Holland, the Detroit Red Wings general manager has one quality that could be considered “redeeming” to the critical eye. His ability to stack draft picks. For more than 20 seasons now, the Red Wings have had tremendous success in the NHL Entry Draft – reaching an incredible 10 picks in the 2018 Draft alone. Making difficult trades and side deals always play a role, but Detroit has come away from the last few drafts on the winning side.
In the upcoming 2019 NHL Entry Draft, there is once again a very stacked prospect pool. From domestic to international leagues, this year’s draft could rival last year’s in regards to the skill represented. After trading Tomas Tatar to the Vegas Golden Knights last season and making two real-time draft pick trades with the Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit is looking at nine total picks this June so far.
Understandably so, the draft is highlighted by the boy-wonder, Jack Hughes. It’s unlikely that Detroit will tank enough to win the lottery, thereby acquiring Hughes on their first pick. So thinking outside the “lose for Hughes” mentality, The Grind Line decided to take a look at the other very promising prospects who will be up for grabs. Who, beyond Hughes, should Detroit nab in the early rounds?
Rachel Anderson – Cole Caufield or Egor Afanasyev
I am very partial to the products of the USHL and for good reason. The USNDP (U.S. National Development Program) is elite and excels at fostering enormous talent. I’ve watched Cole Caufield frequently this season, and believe him to be the perfect North American first-round selection for Detroit.
Caufield is a fluid skater and a “grinder.” I’ve rarely seen him beat on the boards, and his offensive smarts definitely rival that of his teammate, Hughes. Already with 50 points in 38 games, it’s hard to ignore his drive. Detroit, though they have a few guys to grind it out, so-to-speak, they lack the technical edge that Caufield has. He’s the first to join or start a rush, but he also has the power to tactfully complete the rush.
He’s likely not going to be picked as high as others because he is very small, only 5-foot-6, but he’s worth Detroit taking that chance on. He’s a precision shot and uses his size to squeeze along the boards and win the battles. A grinder through and through, the Red Wings would benefit from his style as well as his ability to produce points.
As far as international first-round potentials for Detroit, I’ve long held that current USHL Muskegon Lumberjacks forward, Egor Afanasyev, is a must-have. He’s risen this season, from being a B and C-rated skater projected to go second round or later, to now being the 19th in the Central Scouting’s top-31. I’ve watched Afanasyev for nearly two seasons now, and think that he’d be a perfect fit for the future of Detroit.
Afanasyev is a distinctly Russian skater – tons of leg power, wide strides and decisive. He’s led the Lumberjacks in points for most of this season and has established himself as a special teams’ anchor under head coach Mike Hamilton’s watchful eye. Afanasyev believes he could be a valuable asset to any team. He told me, “I have a really good shot and I’m thinking on the ice… trying to make an impact in every shift.”
Earning 42 points in 37 games so far, Afanasyev is an offensive shark. Being 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds already, he’s a wall in front of the net – which could revive the role of the former net-front master, Tomas Holmstrom.
Afanasyev is a creative player who can handle the puck and has an incredibly accurate and hard shot. Detroit, though not necessarily in desperate need of forwards, would benefit from not only a unique style of skating that would pair well with Evgeny Svechnikov’s style once he returns, but he has mature ice-sense that would enable a new perspective on playmaking.
Tony Wolak – Dylan Cozens or Vasily Podkolzin
With so many high-quality prospects up for grabs in the 2019 NHL Draft beyond Jack Hughes, the Red Wings should be able to nab another difference-maker as they rebuild for the future. That player, though, depends on where they draft in June. A quick simulation of Tankathon gave Detroit the fifth-overall selection, so we’ll work with that.
From North America (Yukon, specifically), Dylan Cozens would be an excellent pick for the Red Wings. Playing center for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL, Cozens can distribute the puck well and score in bunches.
“The Draft Analyst” Steve Kournianos noted that Cozens’ skating is one of his strengths and would give the Red Wings another fantastic top-six center to go along with Dylan Larkin and Joe Veleno:
He combines all aspects of skating — quickness, acceleration, balance, and agility — into one dynamic package that allows him to dictate things rather than play reactionary.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Vasily Podkolzin would be a steal at number five if he falls to the Red Wings. The Russian winger has speed to burn and incredible hands, plus a scoring touch.
In NHL.com’s latest 2019 mock draft, analyst Mike G. Morreale raved about Podkolzin’s talent:
Podkolzin has the attitude, skills, and speed to become a solid NHL player with proper development. He plays a mature game, has a high hockey IQ, good speed and can protect the puck well.
If the Red Wings end up drafting further into the first round, defensemen Philip Broberg and Bowen Byram, plus center Alex Turcotte would be excellent choices as well. Like the previous two drafts, Detroit will have plenty of incredible players to choose from within the top-10.
Brandon Share-Cohen – Kaapo Kakko or Bowen Byram
When looking at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, there’s no doubt that Hughes deserves the distinction of top prospect. Beyond Hughes, however, there is certainly value that can be found, and Kaapo Kakko leads the “best of the rest” and would be a slam-dunk pick for them at second overall.
A top-six with right-wingers like Kakko and Zadina should be enough to leave any Red Wings fan salivating as the scoring potential is almost limitless there. Coupling them with players like Jonatan Berggren, Michael Rasmussen and Veleno from the last two drafts alone, and the Red Wings will be sitting pretty.
When considering what Kakko has already done in SM-Liiga with 12 goals and 23 points in 31 games this season, his transition to the NHL could be a smooth one.
As Tony mentioned, the Red Wings could explore defense with their first pick, particularly if they draft a little later than the top six picks which could all end up being forwards given the way the board is falling. The best two options in that regard would be Byram and Broberg.
Of the two, Byram best fits the mould of the modern NHL defender to a T. A puck-moving defender who can score goals and produce offense from the back-end and on the rush, Byram would be an excellent addition to a Red Wings team that already has Jared McIsaac developing in their system as a player who slid down the draft board.
Broberg would certainly be a solid option given his experience in the professional setting already, but the offensive potential of Byram would be hard to pass on.
I am a Detroit Red Wings prospect journalist for Access Hockey MI covering the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toledo Walleye prospect development. Draft analyst for USHL hockey with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.