The history of the NHL draft, or any draft, is filled with “coulda, shoulda, wouldas.” Player development and scouting is a guessing game that determines the strength of a team’s future. No team escapes the process without a couple of misses.
The Detroit Red Wings are in the midst of a rebuild and have been for at least two seasons – although the timeline is a bit debatable. They have had top 10 picks in the last three seasons, yielding the team’s top prospects. Were they the best choices though?
2019 – Moritz Seider (D)
Let’s get this out of the way: it is too early to properly judge whether or not this was the right pick. Most of the players picked in this draft have yet to debut at the pro-level. However, Seider is not one of them.
Seider is in the middle of his first season playing hockey in North America. His play with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League has inspired confidence in some who were shocked to hear the young German’s name called at sixth overall. One facet of his game that has gained particular consideration is his physical play.
Seider looks like he will be an exciting edition to the Red Wings’ blue line in the future. We’ll grade conservatively here, but there’s legitimate “A-grade” potential here. Grade: B
2018 – Joe Veleno (C)
In 2018, the Red Wings had two first round picks. With the Vegas Golden Knights’ pick, acquired in the Tomas Tatar trade, they selected a player who many thought would get selected in the 15-25 range. Instead, the Red Wings nabbed him at 30th overall.
The 2018 Draft is also too fresh to reach any clear conclusions. What is clear, from picks 30 to 36 the Red Wings held three picks. It’s reasonable to assume that they felt gifted when Veleno was still available at 30th overall given central scouting rankings.
After Joel Farabee at 14th overall, only four players selected in the 2018 Draft have played a game in the NHL. Veleno dominated the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, but he’s experiencing growing pains in the AHL this season. The Red Wings can take their time with him, and time will tell if they truly got a steal at 30th overall. Grade: B
2018 – Filip Zadina (RW)
Although Zadina is creating a lot of buzz, there are still some who judge this pick by the player selected immediately after him: defenseman Quinn Hughes. Given the team’s need on the blue line, it’s not unfair.
The Red Wings’ 2018 Draft can be summarized as the one when they picked up those who fell from their central scouting rankings. Many had Zadina pegged as the third-best prospect, yet Detroit snagged him at sixth overall. With Zadina, they added a potentially dynamic winger to a prospect pool without much “wow” factor.
Given the early results, one could argue that the Red Wings should have selected Hughes at sixth overall. However, now that Zadina seems to have the inside track on a permanent spot in the NHL, the real test begins now. Given Zadina’s relative success this season, the Red Wings may have made the right call. Grade: A-
2017 – Michael Rasmussen (C)
Here is where we start to get an idea of whether a selection was right or wrong. Twenty-four of the 31 players selected in the first round of the 2017 Daft have appeared in the NHL. Rasmussen is one of them after spending all of last season with the Red Wings.
This season, the big-bodied center has split time between Grand Rapids and the injured list. In just 10 games, he has nine points. Last season, the forward did not look ready for the NHL, but had to stay with the Red Wings or be sent back to the Western Hockey League. Early results before his injury this season suggested that his game had taken another step.
Players selected after Rasmussen include Martin Necas, Robert Thomas, Filip Chytil and Henri Jokiharju. One could argue that Thomas would be a top-six forward for the Red Wings this season, and Jokiharju would hold down a spot somewhere on the blue line. While the jury is not out on Rasmussen yet, but the Red Wings could have had something more with the ninth-overall pick. Grade: C
2016 – Dennis Cholowski (D)
Before properly diving into this one, it’s important to note that the Red Wings received more value from this selection than the handful of teams that picked ahead of them. The Vancouver Canucks would likely swap the fifth-overall selection of this draft – Olli Juolevi – for Cholowski in a heartbeat. However, there were better players to be had at 20th overall.
It’s not that Cholowski has been bad. In fact, the 21-year-old has mostly defied expectations since he turned pro. Many thought he’d be a “project player” who would take years to marinate before appearing in the NHL. Instead, he’s already got 81 games and 24 points under his belt.
Considering the Red Wings still got him at 53rd overall, there’s no point in pointing out that Filip Hronek was a better player to snag at 20th overall. If their draft positions were flipped, however, would the perception of each player change? Other players the Red Wings could have selected include Alex DeBrincat, Samuel Girard, Carter Hart and Jesper Bratt.
DeBrincat is the clear star among that group and the type of player the Red Wings would love to get their hands on now. Adding Hart would have put a strong prospect in an area where the team is thin. Cholowski at 20th was a hit for a single, but they could have hit for a home run. Grade: B
2015 – Evgeny Svechnikov (LW)
Of the players selected in the first round of the 2015 Draft, Svechnikov ranks 25th in games played. Part of this is due to his season-ending surgery on his knee last season. However, in Svechnikov’s 20 games in the NHL, he has just four points.
The list of players the Red Wings could have had at 19th overall is extensive: Travis Konecny, Brock Boeser, Anthony Beauvillier, Ilya Samsonov and Brandon Carlo are just a few. But the player the Red Wings really missed out on now plays with Svechnikov’s brother in Carolina: Sebastian Aho.
To be fair, just about every team passed on Aho before Carolina picked him at 35th overall. Had the Red Wings taken him with their first pick, they would feature a one-two punch down the middle of Aho and Dylan Larkin, capable of going toe-to-toe with many in the NHL. Instead, they’re still waiting for the older Svechnikov to arrive. Grade: D
Considering the Red Wings’ place in the NHL standings, the team needs to accumulate more “hits” than “misses” in the first round over the next few years. Misses in 2015 and 2017 have left holes in the lineup the team still feels today. The progress of the rebuild is directly correlated to the progress of the team’s top picks.
While Cholowski and Rasmussen still have room to grow, the Red Wings need them to show more than they have thus far. Svechnikov is drifting further and further away from the NHL as players like Zadina pass him by. With a top five pick in the 2020 Draft all but guaranteed, the Red Wings need to pick up a game-changer in order to fix the failures of the past.