Red Wings Draft Preview: Potential Picks & Strategy for 2021

This weekend, the Detroit Red Wings get to select another draft class in their quest to rebuild the franchise into a contender. 

Steve Yzerman, Kris Draper, and company have plenty of draft capital to work with, even after the Nick Leddy and Alex Nedejkovic trades. As of now, the Red Wings have 10 picks in the 2021 NHL Draft, including:

So what can we expect this weekend? Let’s dive into Detroit’s draft slots, this year’s prospect pool, and more.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide

Red Wings Prospect Pipeline

Last month, I put together my post-season prospect rankings for the Red Wings. The pool is much deeper than in previous years, but could still benefit from a few difference-makers. 

I say this because understanding your current prospect pipeline’s pros and cons is key to any draft strategy. With that being said, Detroit’s most dire need is in net. Yes, they acquired 25-year-old Nedeljkovic. But otherwise, there is absolutely no one on the NHL horizon or even close. Acquiring Nedeljkovic does not preclude the Red Wings from drafting a goalie this year.

Between Joe Veleno, Michael Rasmussen, and Theodor Niederbach, the Red Wings have some intriguing centers in the pipeline, but none of the three have top-line potential. All are best served on the second or third line.

Detroit Red Wings forward Joe Veleno.
Is Joe Veleno a top-six forward? Or better-suited in the Red Wings’ middle six? (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The left side of Detroit’s defense is similar. Albert Johansson, William Wallinder, Jared McIsaac, Eemil Viro, and Donovan Sebrango figure to be second- or third-pair blueliners, rather than an all-situations partner for Moritz Seider atop the Red Wings’ depth chart.

That leaves wingers and right-side defensemen. Both have solid enough depth – Seider, Lucas Raymond, and Jonatan Berggren have the makings of top-pairing or top-six players. Filip Zadina and Filip Hronek are young enough to lump them in here as well. Overall, there’s reason for optimism when looking at the future top-six wings and right-side defensemen. But these groups are far from finished products.

Too long, didn’t read: Depth is needed everywhere, especially at center, left defense, and goalie.

Related: Your Home for THW’s Red Wings Draft Coverage

Okay, so now that we’ve gone through Detroit’s long-term depth chart, let’s move onto the players who could be part of the prospect pipeline in the coming days.

Red Wings’ Options at No. 6

Instead of trying to project a specific player, let’s look at the sixth-overall pick another way. 

Teams have draft boards ranking players they’re interested in. Here, we’ll do something similar, focusing on players who could be available at No. 6. A few will certainly be chosen ahead of Detroit’s draft slot, but who exactly remains a mystery at this point.

Excluding defenseman Owen Power and center Matt Beniers, here’s how I would rank the next-best prospects based on their potential and fit within Detroit’s prospect pipeline.

Draft Board:

  1. LD Luke Hughes
  2. LW/C William Eklund
  3. RW Dylan Guenther
  4. C Mason McTavish
  5. G Jesper Wallstedt
  6. LD Simon Edvinsson

Again, some of the above will be off the board by the time Yzerman makes his selection – Hughes, Eklund, and Guenther stand out as most likely. In the event that they’re not, the three would all make slam dunk picks for the Red Wings.

That said, McTavish is the most likely choice. He would give Detroit an outstanding center to pair with Dylan Larkin and could jump into the NHL lineup relatively soon. He spent most of the 2020-21 season in Switzerland’s top league and did not look out of place playing against professionals. Detroit has a strong scouting presence in Europe, so surely they had the opportunity to take in a few of McTavish’s games this year.

Whether the Red Wings select McTavish or any of Hughes, Eklund, Guenther, Wallstedt, or Edvinsson, they’ll add another outstanding player to a burgeoning prospect pipeline that’s already paying dividends.

Capitalizing on the Mantha Trade

Thanks to a shrewd deal that sent power forward Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals, the Red Wings have an extra first-round pick this year. The 23rd-overall pick—technically the 22nd player chosen due to the Arizona Coyotes forfeiting their No. 11 selection—should equate to another top-notch prospect in Detroit’s war chest. 

Former Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha.
How do you feel about the Anthony Mantha trade now? (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

Again, I’ve put together a draft board of potential options for No. 23, including a couple players who could be gone by the time Yzerman announces his pick.

Draft Board:

  1. LW Fabian Lysell
  2. C Aatu Räty
  3. LD Carson Lambos
  4. RD Corson Ceulemans
  5. RW Nikita Chibrikov
  6. C Fyodor Svechkov
  7. C Francesco Pinelli

Chances are, Lysell, Räty, and at least one of Lambos and Cuelemans will have their name called prior to No. 23. Drafting one of those four players would certainly be a win for the Red Wings.

However, all three of Chibrikov, Svechkov, and Pinelli would also make excellent choices. Each offers their own unique skill set as well. Chibrikov is a dynamic winger with top-six potential. Svechkov and Pinelli are defensively responsible centers more suited for middle-six minutes.

From a strategy perspective, position could be a factor here. If the Red Wings chose a defenseman at No. 6, they probably would prefer a forward at No. 22. But choosing a forward with their first pick doesn’t necessitate taking a defenseman later in the first round – scoring depth is always valued.

First-Round Talent in the Second Round

With the 38th and 48th picks in this year’s draft, the Red Wings could add a couple players with first-round grades on Day 2. 

Instead of focusing on the individual draft slots, the draft board below offers up nine more names to watch throughout the second round. Some—likely not all—will be available at No. 38; fewer will still be around at No. 48. 

Draft Board:

  1. Players still available from the No. 23 draft board
  2. C Logan Stankoven
  3. RW Oskar Olausson
  4. RW Samu Tuomaala
  5. C Zach Dean
  6. LD Olen Zellweger
  7. RD Scott Morrow
  8. LD Stanislav Svozil
  9. LW William Stromgren
  10. LD Anton Olsson

If he falls to No. 38, Stankoven would be a steal for the Red Wings. Brayden Point 2.0 isn’t an unreasonable description of the young forward. 

You may be wondering why such a talented player might be around in the second round. For starters, he’s only 5-foot-8, and some still think height is a determining factor in a player’s trajectory. Additionally, Stankoven only suited up for six of the Kamloops Blazers’ 22 games this season. He managed seven goals and 10 points in that span, but again, scouts only had six WHL games to view him this year.

Logan Stankoven Kamloops Blazers
Logan Stankoven skating with the Kamloops Blazers (Allen Douglas/Kamloops Blazers)

Olausson is another intriguing forward, given his combination of speed and playmaking. Moving down the list, Tuomaala and Dean present two solid options as well. The former is a strong skater and shooter, and waited until the U18 World Championship to fully showcase his potential, while the latter has a great chance to develop into a useful middle-six NHLer.

On defense, Zellweger and Morrow have the potential to be great-skating, dynamic playmakers, but come with individual drawbacks to work on in the coming years. On the other hand, Svozil and Olsson are better suited by a two-way description – lacking above-average offensive skills, but making up for it with smart decision-making at both ends of the ice.

With these players, you have a good mix of tall and short prospects, plus some who are dynamic and others who play a safer game.

Key Prospects to Target In the Third Round

Moving into the third round, the Red Wings will focus more on players with one or two elite traits, but require much more development to reach the NHL level. 

Draft Board:

  1. Players still available from the second round draft board
  2. LD Kirill Kirsanov
  3. LW/RW Ville Koivunen
  4. C Danila Klimovich
  5. C Justin Robidas
  6. RD Brent Johnson
  7. C Ryder Korczak
  8. LD Jack Peart
  9. LD Jimi Suomi
  10. LW Ilya Fedotov

The players above certainly have strengths. Kirsanov, Korczak, and Peart are lauded for their hockey IQ. Klimovich and Johnson have above-average shots. Koivunen is an impressive playmaker off the wing. And finally, skating is probably the top attribute for Robidas, Suomi, and Fedotov.

Each player has good enough overall skill that reaching the NHL isn’t out of the question. That said, they can’t be a one-trick pony. Teemu Pulkkinen and Martin Frk tried that route with the Red Wings and did not succeed.

Later Rounds

This is where the classic phrase “draft and develop” really comes into play. Prospects drafted in the fourth round or later don’t reach the NHL that often. But it’s definitely possible to take a player with one or two intriguing skills and mold him into a useful NHLer through years of refinement.

I won’t spend too much time on these prospects since the later rounds can go in any direction. Instead here’s an alphabetically listed group of 10 noteworthy players to consider when the Red Wings are nearing their draft slots.

  • C Colton Dach
  • C Liam Dower-Nilsson
  • RD Kalle Ervasti
  • C Samuel Helenius
  • G Alexei Kolosov
  • G Aku Koskenvuo
  • LD Luke Mittelstadt
  • C Xavier Simoneau
  • RW Victor Stjernborg
  • RD Ryan Ufko

This is where I’d like to see a goalie taken if Wallstedt isn’t the choice at No. 6. Pick Kolosov, Koskenvuo—or both—and let them develop overseas for the next five years. The Red Wings can always sign stopgap free agents until a franchise netminder emerges.

Red Wings’ Trade Strategy

Finally, I wanted to cover what to expect when it comes to trades. Chances are, Yzerman will swing at least one deal this year.

Past trends don’t always predict the future, but you can bet that the Red Wings will prefer to trade back, rather than up. Yzerman has moved back in the draft three times during his Red Wings tenure. Chronologically speaking, he traded back a fourth time when he acquired a 2021 fourth-round pick for the team’s 2020 fifth.

At this point in the rebuild, it’s still about accumulating picks, even if Yzerman did move a second and third to get pick up Leddy and Nedeljkovic. More selections equals more opportunities to uncover future NHL players.

Final Word

With five picks in the first three rounds, the Red Wings stand to add an impressive haul to their prospect pipeline. Their additional first-round pick, in particular, is an intriguing piece of draft capital well worth the price to acquire it.

Still, Yzerman, Draper, and Detroit’s scouting staff need to maximize the value of each draft slot. If they’re able to, they’ll accelerate the rebuild and bring Hockeytown closer to another playoff berth.