The Detroit Red Wings have their first top-10 pick since 1991, after landing the No. 9 pick in last month’s draft lottery.
And while this year’s draft isn’t as heavy with talent as years past, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any quality players who can grow into top-end talent.
The Red Wings certainly lack depth on the blue line, but should they take the best available player regardless of position need? In this week’s Grind Line, we take a look at whom the Red Wings should pick at No. 9.
The Red Wings definitely have issues on the blue line, but I think Detroit’s lack of depth at the center position is a bigger concern. In the AHL, the Red Wings have Tomas Nosek, but after him, the depth at center falls off dramatically.
Should he fall to the Red Wings at No. 9, I’d like to see them take Michael Rasmussen from the WHL’s Tri-City Americans. Rasmussen, at 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, is a big body the Red Wings need. Not only is he a big frame, but he has great offensive abilities, scoring 32 goals and adding 23 assists in 50 games this past season.
NHL Central Scouting’s John Williams had this to say about Rasmussen:
I think part of it with him is that he’s playing with much more confidence this season. He’s adapted to playing a bigger role and playing heavy minutes against opponents’ top lines and defense. The game has slowed down for him a little bit and he’s just that much more poised. He can take that extra bit of time and understands he can take that time, make plays and score goals.
Rasmussen is No. 5 on Central Scouting’s final ranking, moving up one spot from its midterm ranking of No. 6, so there’s a possibility he doesn’t fall to the Red Wings. In which case, taking Cody Glass would be a good Plan B. He isn’t as big as Rasmussen at 6-2, 178 pounds, but he’s a solid two-way forward.
Once the Red Wings lose Henrik Zetterberg, they’ll need to rely on Dylan Larkin to be a No. 1 center. If Larkin doesn’t end up filling that role, drafting Rasmussen — or Glass — will be a nice safety net.
For the Red Wings, the optimal route to take at the 2017 draft is to take the best player available in the first round. And, unless they receive a fantastic offer, they shouldn’t trade down like they did last year.
When looking at organizational needs ahead of the draft, a good starting point is to look at the depth chart five years down the road. Why five years later? In all likelihood, that’s when this year’s first-round pick will reach his prime and contribute on a regular basis.
Up front, a top-six grouping of Andreas Athanasiou, Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Evgeny Svechnikov, and Tomas Tatar is strong but could also use a player with size and, of course, offensive prowess. Adding another center would be ideal — but not mandatory — given the fact Larkin is the only center of the five.
On the blue line, none of the defensemen on today’s roster are locks to stick in the top four. The jury is still out on if Danny DeKeyser, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul can be reliable top-four blueliners for the Red Wings. All of whom will be older than or close to 30 years old five seasons from now. Among the Red Wings prospects, Dennis Cholowski, Filip Hronek, and Vili Saarijarvi have promise, but none are locks to become top-two defensemen.
Given the organizational needs across the board and their position in the draft, the Red Wings should have the freedom to take the best available player with the ninth overall pick — their highest draft pick since taking Keith Primeau third overall in 1990.
When Ken Holland walks up to the podium, Glass, Klim Kostin, Elias Pettersson and Rasmussen could be available if the Red Wings opt to pick a forward with some size. On defense, Cal Foote and Timothy Liljegren should be there, as well. Top players Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, Gabriel Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, Owen Tippett, Miro Heiskanen, and Cale Makar likely will be off the board when it’s the Red Wings’ turn to make their selection.
Depending on how the first eight picks play out, my ideal choice would be to draft the best forward available.
Since the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, the Red Wings have been adrift without an anchor on the blue line. How ironic would it be if their search for their future shutdown defenseman took them to the product of one of their most hated rivals?
Adam Foote played for 13 years with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche organization and played a major role in the great Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry of the 1990s and 2000s. During the heyday of the rivalry, only Claude Lemieux and Patrick Roy may have eclipsed Foote’s loathing by Red Wings’ fans. He was a nasty, physical force who always made opponents pay for going near his net.
With the No. 9 selection in the 2017 NHL draft, the Red Wings should be in prime position to select Adam Foote’s son, Callan and have a potential star on their blue line.
At 6-foot-4 and nearly 220 pounds, Callan Foote already is 2 inches taller than his old man and nearly the same weight. In another five years, he could easily add another 15 to 20 pounds, making him into a physical monster.
Unlike his father, who posted just 308 points in 1,154 career games, Callan Foote has an offensive upside to his game. In 71 games with the Kelowna Rockets this season, Foote scored six goals with 51 assists for 57 points. Eliteprospects.com says Foote “reads plays quickly and understands both the offensive and defensive sides of the roles he is put into.” Add in the fact Foote is a much-sought, right-handed shot, and he presents a package that should be very tempting to NHL clubs.
The Red Wings have a dire lack of consistent, reliable defensemen who are capable of moving the puck out of the zone and setting up the transition. Detroit needs more hockey smarts on the back end. Red Wings fans may have hated Adam Foote back in the day, but they couldn’t say he was a dumb player. Callan Foote may not have the same level of snarl his dad played with but, in today’s NHL, that may not be a bad thing. Adam Foote had more than 1,500 penalty minutes in his career. If he played today, he could have double that total. If Callan Foote needs a little more toughness when he arrives in the NHL, it’s a good bet his bloodlines will take him where he needs to be.
While the current crop of prospects might suggest the team should draft a centerman, defense is the Red Wings’ most glaring weakness now and in the foreseeable future. The team already has a number of promising defensive prospects, including Cholowski, Hronek, Saarijarvi, Joe Hicketts and Robbie Russo, but it is doubtful any of them have top-pairing upside. Despite Holland and Co. having a poor track record when it comes to drafting defensemen in the first round (I’m looking at you, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith), stockpiling at the position is still the smart play.
If Timothy Liljegren still is available when the Red Wings step up to the podium on June 23, they should take him and run. Heading into the 2016-17 season, Bob McKenzie considered Liljegren the “undisputed top defenseman” available in this year’s draft class. He went on about the 18-year-oldold blueliner:
Scouts say his offensive game is far more developed than his defensive game. He is an elite skater, both in terms of speed and agility, and adept at running a power play. He is seen as both a puck mover and an offensive point producer. No one is suggesting he’s the next Erik Karlsson, not by any means, but scouts say he has some of the same qualities and, therefore, has the potential to be projected as a possible top-pairing defenceman in time.
So what happened? Liljegren contracted mononucleosis, which caused him to miss roughly two months, and he struggled to find his footing throughout the rest of the year. He finished the season with just five points through 19 games for Rogle BK (as well as seven points through 12 games with their J20 team). It is possible his stock dropped enough for him to slip down to the ninth overall pick, and if that is the case, the Red Wings could have a gem on their hands.
Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.