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 four seasons, with the team’s fifth coming in the 2021 draft. Going back 10 years, the first round has yielded some of the team’s top prospects and players. Were they the best choices though?
2020 – Lucas Raymond (W, Fourth Overall)
Less than year after the Red Wings made Lucas Raymond the fourth player taken off the board in the 2020 draft, we have yet to reach a true verdict of whether or not this was the right choice. While some held concerns over the Swedish winger’s lack of playing time during his draft season, his ability to make things happen on both sides of the ice was on full display in the SHL during the 2020-21 season.
The three players picked directly after Raymond were Jake Sanderson (Ottawa), Jamie Drysdale (Anaheim) and Alexander Holtz (New Jersey); only Drysdale has made his NHL debut since then, and you could argue that it was a bit too early for the young defenseman. While Raymond has yet to make his North American debut, most of the players selected around him are in the same boat. Luckily for Red Wings fans, he signed an entry-level contract with Detroit in the Spring of 2021, leading many to believe that he will cross the Atlantic and begin his North American career in the 2021-22 season.
Raymond is undoubtedly Detroit’s top forward prospect and has the potential to become a pillar of the next great Red Wing teams. It will take time, but there’s plenty of reasons to be very excited about this pick. Grade: B
2019 – Moritz Seider (D, Sixth Overall)
Let’s get this out of the way: it is still 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, Moritz Seider is not one of them.
Seider began his pro career in Germany during his draft year, and then followed it up by playing in the American Hockey League the following season with the Grand Rapids Griffins. His play that season (2019-20) 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 spent his D+2 season (2020-21) in the SHL with Rögle BK and took the league by storm. He recorded 28 points in 41 games, and then helped lead his team to the championship round where they eventually fell short. The young German was awarded the EliteProspects.com Award, which is awarded to the best rookie player in the SHL. He was also named the best defenseman in the SHL for the 2020-21 season. It looks like he will be an exciting edition to the Red Wings’ blue line in the future. We’ll grade conservatively here since he hasn’t made his NHL debut yet, but this seems destined to become an “A-grade”. Grade: B+
2018 – Joe Veleno (C, 30th Overall)
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 still a bit 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 Joe Veleno was still available at 30th overall given central scouting rankings.
Veleno dominated the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League the season after he was drafted, but he experienced growing pains in the AHL during the 2019-20 season. He followed that up with a solid season in the SHL with a weak Malmö team before making his NHL debut late in the 2020-21 season. He played in five games with the Red Wings, recording his first career goal along the way, and reignited the excitement Red Wings fans had when Detroit called his name late in the first round of the 2018 draft. Grade: B
2018 – Filip Zadina (RW, Sixth Overall)
Although Filip 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 is an NHL-regular, real test has begun. He has 37 points through 86 career games in the NHL. While those aren’t explosive totals, they do offer hope that he can become the kind of point-producer that many projected him to become ahead of the 2018 draft. Grade: B
2017 – Michael Rasmussen (C, Ninth Overall)
Here is where we start to get an idea of whether a selection was right or wrong. All but one of the 31 players selected in the first round of the 2017 Daft have appeared in the NHL. Michael Rasmussen is one of them after spending all of the 2018-19 season with the Red Wings, and then following that up with 40 games during the 2020-21 season.
The season in between, the big-bodied center has split time between Grand Rapids and the injured list. In just 35 games, he had 22 points. In his first season with the Red Wings, 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 the next season suggested that his game had taken another step. He finally took that next step the following season.
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 – and that’s not to mention Necas, who is quickly becoming one of the Carolina Hurricanes’ top players. While the jury is not out on Rasmussen yet, the Red Wings could have had something more with the ninth-overall pick. Grade: C+
2016 – Dennis Cholowski (D, 20th Overall)
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 Dennis 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 23-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 104 games and 27 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: C
2015 – Evgeny Svechnikov (LW, 19th Overall)
Of the players selected in the first round of the 2015 Draft, Evgeny Svechnikov ranks 27th in games played. Part of this is due to his season-ending surgery on his knee last season. However, in Svechnikov’s 41 games in the NHL, he has just 12 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
2014 – Dylan Larkin (C, 15th Overall)
The Red Wings and former general manager Ken Holland probably didn’t know it at the time, but they came away from the 2014 draft with a kid that would develop into arguably the franchise’s most important player. Having grown up in the state of Michigan, Dylan Larkin knew exactly what he was in for when the Red Wings called his name at 15th overall. Today he is the captain of his hometown team.
As of this writing, Larkin ranks sixth among 2014 draftees in terms of points. He ranks fifth in terms of games played. To say that Detroit got a steal in taking this player is not that much of a stretch. Some players that he was drafted behind include Michael Dal Colle (fifth overall), Haydn Fleury (seventh) and Brendan Perlini (12th).
When any team picks a player in the first round, that team and their fanbase clings to the hope that they’ve added a star to the organization. In this case, the only player picked after Larkin that has outperformed him is David Pastrnak, whom the Boston Bruins selected with the 25th pick. If you can add a top 10 player in a draft class with a pick outside of the top 10, that should always be considered a huge win. Grade: A
2013 – Anthony Mantha (W, 20th Overall)
Entering the 2013 draft, Anthony Mantha was touted as one of the best offensive talents available. When the Red Wings managed to snag him with the 20th pick (acquired after trading back from the 18th spot with the San Jose Sharks), many could already foresee the French-Canadian forward posting 30-goal seasons on a regular basis for the Red Wings. He was Detroit’s best offensive prospect in a long time.
To this date, Mantha ranks sixth in goals among 2013 draftees with 99. Unfrtunately, to this point in his career, he has only scored 20 goals or more in two of his five full seasons in the NHL. Part of it is due to inconsistent health – he missed a total of 54 games from 2018 to 2020 – and another part of it is due to inconsistent playing time and a lack of high-end talent on the Red Wings teams he played on. While his career numbers are good, many around Hockeytown are still a bit upset that his numbers never entered the “great” category. He has since been traded to the Washington Capitals.
There is zero doubt that Detroit made no mistake when they selected Mantha with the 20th pick in the 2013 draft. Mistakes were definitely made between then and the organization’s decision to trade the power forward, though, and it colors the perception of this pick a bit. If he had reached his ultimate potential, this would be an A+ pick. Instead, we’re left wondering “what if”. Grade: A-
2012 – No Pick (Kyle Quincey Trade)
Hockeytown is still sour about this one. Grade: LOL
2011 – No Pick – Traded Back
Detroit picked winger Tomas Jurco early in the second round of this draft. Players they could have drafted had they not traded back: Phillip Danault, Vladislav Namestnikov, Rickard Rakell and Rocco Grimaldi.
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. Relative 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, Rasmussen and Zadina 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 Raymond pass him by. With another top 10 pick in the 2021 Draft coming up, the Red Wings need to pick up a game-changer in order to fix the failures of the past.
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.