Entering the 2022 NHL Draft, the Detroit Red Wings are in a pretty good spot. They are widely considered to have one of the top prospect pools throughout the NHL, including here at THW where their prospect pool ranked second back in January. They have a top-tier prospect in all three areas of the ice (offense, defense and goaltending) as well as several other quality prospects. The Red Wings are also in a place in their team development where they can afford their prospects time to grow and develop into the players they were drafted to become. While they haven’t had a winning season in six years, the future looks bright.
However, no prospect pool is without its needs. Even the Los Angeles Kings, considered by most to have the best prospect pool in the league, have areas that they would like to address at this year’s draft. The Red Wings are no exception, and with three picks through the first two rounds, including the eighth overall selection, the opportunity will be there for general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman and his scouts to add some needed talent to their pool of prospects.
Related: Red Wings 2022 Draft Coverage
But what are the Red Wings’ biggest needs entering this year’s draft? While their needs are not limited to a specific number, here is a list of the top-three things the Wings should hope to add when the draft arrives in July.
1. A Center as Good, if Not Better Than Dylan Larkin
Not since the days of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have the Red Wings iced a lethal one-two punch down the middle. To that point, the last top-six center the Red Wings have successfully drafted and developed is Dylan Larkin, who currently serves as the team’s top center. To his credit, the 15th pick of the 2014 draft has mostly done well as the top center of the Red Wings, recording 218 points through 262 games since taking over that role. His points per-game average of .97 this season was the best rate of his seven-year career so far.
Since drafting Larkin in 2014, the Red Wings have selected two centers in the first round. Michael Rasmussen was the ninth pick of the 2017 draft, but it appears that he’s going to carve out a career for himself as a bottom-six forward that can provide size and depth scoring to the lineup. Joe Veleno was the 30th pick of the 2018 draft, and while the jury isn’t out on him quite yet, it’s looking more and more like his offensive capabilities aren’t quite at a top-six level. With nobody else in the system capable of ascending to a role as a top-six center, the Red Wings need to find a prospect in the 2022 draft that can be as good, if not better than Larkin.
While Larkin is competent in his current role, he will turn 26 years old before the beginning of next season. By the time the Red Wings are a perennial Stanley Cup contender, Detroit would be better suited to deploy him as the team’s second line center so that he can exploit lesser competition. In order for that to happen, the Red Wings need to get their hands on a prospect that can develop into a center capable of playing on the top line. That prospect does not necessarily have to develop into a top-20 player in the league, but they should be able to play with the team’s best wingers and make an impact at both ends of the ice – much like Larkin does today.
2. A Top Line Winger to Play with Lucas Raymond
With the fourth pick in the 2020 draft, the Red Wings were able to add Lucas Raymond, a winger whose playmaking and offensive abilities made him a viable Calder Trophy candidate throughout this season. While he did not ultimately earn a nomination, he did finish this season with an impressive 23 goals and 57 points, all while playing most of this season as a 19-year-old. When you talk about the future of the Red Wings, his name is one of the first two or three any fan or pundit will provide.
Looking into the Red Wings prospect pool, Jonatan Berggren, the 33rd pick of the 2018 draft, stands out as a potential difference-maker on the wings. In the American Hockey League this season, he set a Grand Rapids Griffins franchise record for points in a season by a rookie, registering 21 goals and 64 points through 70 games. “Hockeytown” is understandably hyped to see what the soon-to-be 22-year-old Swede can bring to the Red Wings.
After Berggren, the Red Wings’ top-rated winger prospect (according to our latest rankings) is 2021-draftee Carter Mazur. While Mazur had an impressive freshman season with the University of Denver this season, he projects as more of a middle six forward that can compliment higher-skilled players on his line. While there’s nothing wrong with that, there is something to be said about the drop off after Berggren – and even Berggren projects more as a second line winger in the NHL.
Furthermore, the Red Wings also lack size among their forward prospects, outside of Elmer Söderblom. There is a big need in their system for a Chris Kreider-type of player – one that can throw the body and a make a physical impact just as much as they can make an impact on the scoresheet. This is where a prospect like Cutter Gauthier could make sense as the Red Wings’ first pick in the 2022 draft, and it’s also why you shouldn’t be surprised if Yzerman eventually looks to bring in a free agent or make a trade for a bona fide power forward.
3. Right-Handed Defensemen to Fill in the Depth Chart After Moritz Seider
As the team stands right now, the right side of their defense is particularly young. The oldest player among that group is Filip Hronek at 24 years old. That group also includes 20-year-old Moritz Seider, the team’s top defenseman and the odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy this summer. Rounding out that group is 23-year-old Gustav Lindstrom, a stay-at-home defenseman whose game experienced peaks and valleys this season. With the overall youth of this group, the Red Wings could easily turn their attention elsewhere, knowing that none of these three are in their prime yet.
But, aside from Seider, there is a bit of an appetite for change. Lindstrom has not cemented himself as an everyday NHL player yet, and even if he does, he tops out as a bottom-pairing defender that should play around 16 to 18 minutes a night. Hronek, despite consistently producing around half-a-point per-game since breaking into the NHL during the 2018-19 season, still has a ton of work to do to round out his defensive game. While he produces offense, he doesn’t produce enough to outscore his problems in the defensive zone. When people talk about a “big move” Yzerman could make to shake up the team and add an impact player, Hronek is a common player mentioned as trade bait.
While the Red Wings have an abundance of defensive prospects, the best ones are all left-handed. Their top right-handed defensive prospect is 2019 draft pick Antti Tuomisto, a Finnish defender who spent the last two seasons playing with the University of Denver. Ranked as the Red Wings’ 14th-best prospect in our most recent rankings, it was recently announced that he would be heading overseas for next season, returning to his native Finland to play in the Finnish Liiga. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does highlight the fact that he did not have the kind of success at the collegiate level that you hope to see from a player selected 35th overall in a given draft.
The Red Wings’ next-best right-handed defenseman is Alex Cotton (ranked 19th in our rankings) and while he possesses a great shot and some strong offensive instincts, he is still a work in progress and likely tops out as a bottom-pairing, offensive defenseman. As it stands, the Red Wings don’t really have anyone in their system that can cushion the loss if they do decide to move on from Hronek and/or Lindstrom. This is why the Red Wings should look to use one of their first three picks on a right-handed defenseman that could feasibly develop into a middle-pairing defenseman – or better.
Red Wings’ Prospect Pool Has Room to Get Even Better
Let’s be clear: the Red Wings have more than just three needs in their prospect pool. The “perfect” prospect pool – if there could ever be such a thing – includes multiple high-end players at all positions. It’s unrealistic to expect every single prospect in a given pool to reach their potential; some prospects simply don’t live up to the hype, and teams almost always eventually dip into their prospect pool to find trade bait as they look to bolster their current roster. That’s why the Red Wings would also do well to address areas of their pool that appear to be a strength, such as middle-six forwards and goaltending.
At the end of the day, though, a rebuilding team like the Red Wings cannot necessarily afford to veer towards team need on the draft floor rather than simply picking the best player available. They need top-notch players, regardless of position. Having as many top-notch prospects as possible gives the team options now and into the future. For a creative GM like Yzerman, options are a very good thing to have.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.