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. This week, Devin Little and Ian McNaughton are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
The Detroit Red Wings have to hit on their first-round pick of the 2020 Draft. No exceptions. Part of the reason it is so imperative to the organization is because some of the picks made over the last five years have not panned out the way that fans have hoped. Imagine how different the Red Wings would look if they could go back and change just one of their past selections.
Related: 8 Unbreakable Red Wings Records
That’s where TGL comes in. If the Red Wings could go back and change any first-round selection from the last five years, which pick would it be and who should they have picked instead? Our muckers weigh-in:
Ian McNaughton: 2016 NHL Draft – 20th Overall
Originally: D Dennis Cholowski (Chilliwack Chiefs, BCHL)
Redo Pick: G Carter Hart (Everett Silvertips, WHL)
The Detroit Red Wings were coming off an average 2015-16 season. They barely snuck into the postseason, securing the final Atlantic Division playoff spot thanks to having one more ROW (regulation plus overtime wins) than the Boston Bruins. Their 93 points were two more than the league average of 91, their goals against were exactly league average at 219, and their goals for (209) was 23rd in the NHL. Not exactly inspiring numbers.
After falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games during the first round of the 2016 NHL Playoffs, there were many questions surrounding Detroit’s future, one of them being the goaltending position and the future of that spot. Petr Mrazek was coming off a career year, posting a .921 SV% and a 2.33 GAA while making 49 starts, but would be an RFA after the season. His backup, Jimmy Howard, also had solid numbers (.906 SV%, 2.80 GAA) as the 31-year-old was in the middle of a 5-year, $31.75 million deal he signed in April 2013. Although it wasn’t a pressing need, taking a goalie made a bit of sense from a needs perspective.
The first goalie selected in the 2016 draft was Carter Hart, who was named the 2016 CHL Goaltender of the Year with a 2.14 GAA and .918 SV% in 63 games for the Everett Silvertips. His junior career was simply incredible, taking home the 2018 World Juniors gold medal with Canada and winning the CHL Goaltender of the Year award in 2018 for the second time (the only player to win the award twice), but his NHL numbers are also impressive.
Since joining the Philadelphia Flyers last season as a 20-year old, Hart has started in 70 games, winning 40 of them, while putting up a .915 SV% and a 2.59 GAA. He is on track to become one of the best goalies in the NHL, and while he might not have the same stats if he was a Red Wing, there is something to be said for having a young goaltender that you can build your franchise around.
This is nothing personal against Cholowski. I’m a fan of his game and believe he has the tools to be a consistent top-four D-man in the NHL at some point. I would just prefer to have a strong netminder who could possibly be the best goalie in the league over a young D-man with top-four potential. I think you’re more likely to find that young D-man with top-four potential than an elite young goalie, whether it be drafting or free agency.
Devin Little: 2015 NHL Draft – 19th Overall
Originally: F Evgeny Svechnikov (Cape Breton Eagles, QMJHL)
Redo: F Sebastian Aho (Karpat, Finland)
Except for their most recent first-round selection, Moritz Seider, every one of the Red Wings’ last five first-round picks have held a roster spot in the NHL for an extended period of time – except for one. It’s easy to look at 2018 and point at Quinn Hughes, but I still like Filip Zadina. I considered Nick Suzuki or Robert Thomas for the 2017 draft instead of Michael Rasmussen as well, but Rasmussen’s size and place down the middle still hold some value. But I cannot ignore the fact that five years after he was drafted, Evgeny Svechnikov has yet to make a mark on the Red Wings.
It’s not entirely his fault. The Red Wings probably could have given him bigger opportunities to show his stuff. And then there was the knee injury that forced him to miss almost all of the 2018-19 season. To this day, I still think that the Russian winger has the potential to be a solid depth scorer in the NHL – but I think we’re going to find that the opportunity he needs isn’t going to come with the team that drafted him.
So then who should the Red Wings have drafted instead? For me, it’s simple. As we toss around names for the 2020 draft, a common thought that comes up is the organization’s lack of impact depth down the middle. That’s why Cole Perfetti and Marco Rossi are common mock draft picks for the Red Wings. But what if the team already had a potentially lethal one-two punch down the middle in Dylan Larkin and Sebastian Aho?
Aho was selected by the Carolina Hurricanes with the 35th pick in the draft – a true second-round steal. Since then, he has become the top center for the Hurricanes. He has 263 points in 310 games and regularly turns the tide in his team’s favor. While Aho (who plays with Svechnikov’s younger brother Andrei) seems to get better and better, the elder Svechnikov spent this season just trying to get back up to speed. It’s not a fair comparison, but there’s no doubt who I’d pick if I were in former general manager Ken Holland’s shoes back in 2015.
Get it Right
Maybe it’s unfair to point these players out and wish you had someone else. In my opinion, playing the “what-if” game does you no good, and it belittles the value of the players you do have. That being said, a team like the Red Wings needs impact players. How do you acquire impact players? More often than not, you have to draft them.
In a way, drafting is essentially a game of darts. Of course, you’d like to hit a bullseye, but realistically, you can’t expect it out of every single throw. Over the last five years, the Red Wings have accumulated points on the dartboard, but so far, it doesn’t seem like they have hit the bullseye (though it’s too early to judge the most recent selections).
In order for this rebuild to go smoothly, general manager Steve Yzerman and his scouts need to make the most of the picks they have. In a few years when somebody else writes an article similar to this one, the Red Wings and their fans had better hope that they don’t find the name of whoever the team selects in next month’s draft.