If you’ve been following along with our draft coverage here at THW, then you probably know the Detroit Red Wings’ needs very well (hint: they need almost everything.) What you may not know, however, is how the needs of the teams in front of them in the draft order may impact which players are available to general manager Steve Yzerman and his scouts at pick No. 6. Well, thanks to a request from reader SDB on Kent Johnson’s “Draft Candidates” article, I’m going to attempt to shed some light on that topic.
Related: Red Wings 2021 Draft Coverage
The teams picking ahead of Detroit are the Buffalo Sabres, Seattle Kraken, Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets, in that order. Given the lack of true standout prospects in this draft, this may be the year that we see more teams adopt a “team need” strategy versus a “best player available” one. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what might be in store for picks one through five in this year’s draft.
Buffalo Sabres – First Overall
Team Needs: A Little Bit of Everything
Simply put: the Buffalo Sabres cannot afford to mess up the first pick in this year’s draft. It has now been a decade since the Sabres and their fans experienced playoff hockey, and despite a collection of good, young talent in Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt and others, this team has not figured out the magic formula to put it all together. With an offseason of change seemingly ahead of them, this is one team that absolutely must select the best player available with their pick.
There seems to be a consensus forming that University of Michigan defender Owen Power will be the first name called during the 2021 draft. While he recently announced his intentions to return to school for another season, that shouldn’t deter the Sabres and GM Kevyn Adams too much, especially if they deem him to be the best player in this draft. Power is a great defensive prospect who is good at almost everything, and great in a few other areas. He would give a serious boost to a Buffalo defensive group that is highlighted by Dahlin, and not much else.
This team has too many needs all over their organization to assume that they’ll do anything other than take the consensus top player in the draft. If you’re crossing your fingers that Power will fall to the Red Wings with the sixth pick, consider this your reality check.
Seattle Kraken – Second Overall
Team Needs: Let’s Get Through the Expansion Draft First
The Kraken are easily the biggest wildcard in the first round of the draft. You could make a compelling argument for a handful of prospects in this draft. They have the freedom to take a prospect that might take a little more time than others. They also have the opportunity to add an impact prospect at a position that is hard to acquire those kinds of prospects for (center, defense). The options here are virtually limitless.
Gun to my head, I’m going to say that the Michigan Wolverines will yield both the first and second picks in this draft as the Kraken will take center Matty Beniers. There’s some Dylan Larkin in his game, and the opportunity to add a top six/top line center will be too good to pass up for GM Ron Francis. He should be primed to challenge for a spot in Seattle come training camp in 2022.
Anaheim Ducks – Third Overall
Team Needs: Scoring Winger, Blue Chip Prospects
The Ducks have a number of exciting prospects, beginning with Trevor Zegras (ninth overall, 2019) and Jamie Drysdale (sixth overall, 2020). The former’s playmaking skills are something to be marveled, and the latter’s two-way game on defense should come into focus as he gets more reps at the NHL level. What Anaheim needs now is one of two things: someone for Zegras to pass the puck to, or just another top-tier prospect at any position.
In regards to their need for a blue-chip prospect, their prospect pool is filled with a lot of “good, not great” guys with the graduation of both Zegras and Drysdale. Drafting a top-tier defensive prospect should solidify their blue line group with Hampus Lindholm, Drysdale and the 2021 draftee leading the way. Drafting a potential center like William Eklund would give the Ducks a very solid one-tow punch down the middle with Zegras. Ultimately, I think they need to find an impact forward that can play off of their top pick in the 2019 draft, and a few names come to mind: Dylan Guenther and Eklund.
Eklund may end up being the pick because of the Swedish forward’s ability to play down the middle and on the wing. He plays a responsible game that projects well to the NHL. There’s a chance that he could challenge for an NHL spot right away, which would give the Ducks the opportunity to quickly acclimate him to their system and the players within the organization. Guenther, on the other hand, may be the most explosive offensive player available in this draft. I can easily envision Zegras and him lighting up opposing goaltenders for the next decade.
Look for one of those two to be the pick at third overall.
New Jersey Devils – Fourth Overall
Team Needs: Another Hughes
The Devils could use a goaltending prospect to add insurance behind Mackenzie Blackwood, but their biggest need is on the blue line. Wouldn’t you know it, 2019 top pick Jack Hughes‘s brother Luke is in this draft, and he just so happens to play defense. Jack even went as far as to say “I would think that if he’s there, I want us to take him. I’m not shy about saying that.” (From “‘I want us to take him’: Devils’ connections run deep with top 2021 draft prospects”, The Athletic, 6/2/21).
I wouldn’t bet my car on the Devils picking Hughes, but I would bet something slightly less valuable. Despite the fact that this player checks a lot of boxes for the Red Wings, I wouldn’t hold my breath that he’s going to still be on the board at sixth overall.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Fifth Overall
Team Needs: Everything But A Goaltender
With the news that Seth Jones intends on exploring free agency next summer, the question surrounding the Blue Jackets is “rebuild or reload?” Depending on their approach, we could see Columbus take a best player available or a positional need approach. As it stands right now, they have some very interesting prospects, but none that scream top-tier. That should change with pick five.
In the Grind Line article where we made our picks at sixth overall, I mentioned that the Blue Jackets could be interested in taking Eklund if he’s still on the board. That thought was shared with THW’s own Mark Scheig who covers the Blue Jackets.
If the Ducks take Guenther, I feel fairly confident that Eklund’s name will be called at fifth overall. In the event that the Swedish forward is already off the board, the Blue Jackets could take a number of approaches. They could draft Brandt Clarke and essentially groom him as Jones’s replacement. They could also address their lack of centers and target a player like Mason McTavish, whom many in the scouting community think will be picked within the top five of this draft.
One name I feel very confident about the Blue Jackets not calling: Jesper Wallstedt. With Elvis Merzlikins, Joonas Korpisalo, Matiss Kivlenieks and Daniil Tarasov already in tow, they have plenty of depth in goal. This is probably the one area of their depth chart that does not need any attention with their three first round picks in this year’s draft.
Based on all of this, here’s the likelihood of certain prospects being available to the Red Wings at pick six:
Maybe: Dylan Guenther, William Eklund, Mason McTavish
Most Likely: Jesper Wallstedt, Brandt Clarke, Kent Johnson, Simon Edvinsson, anybody else I haven’t mentioned
With all of this in mind, who would you like to see the Red Wings take with the sixth pick? Sound off in the comments section below!
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.