The 2016-17 season was one to forget for the Detroit Red Wings. Their 25-year playoff streak was snapped a month before the campaign even ended, and they didn’t receive much help from the NHL Draft Lottery either.
They entered the ping-pong ball tourney with the No. 7 draft pick but left with the ninth-overall selection after Lady Luck continued to spite the Red Wings. That isn’t a huge drop — at least Detroit isn’t in the same shoes at the Colorado Avalanche — but it isn’t entirely insignificant. It could be the difference between landing someone like Timothy Liljegren and missing out on him entirely.
Detroit will still have a good chance of landing a talented player, though, despite the slight fall. The team’s director of amateur scouting, Tyler Wright, recently told the Detroit Free Press that the Red Wings intend to use the No. 9 pick on the player they believe is the best available.
With that in mind, we’re going to examine a few potential targets for the franchise. This is tricky to some degree because general manager Ken Holland has never been afraid to go off the board with his selections. One needn’t look any farther than the 2016 draft when the Red Wings traded back to the 20th spot to take Dennis Cholowski for evidence.
Going off the board at 20 is quite different than burning a top-1o pick on a stretch or hunch, however, and we think Detroit will be looking to draft one of the following players.
Cale Makar – D
The Red Wings need help on defense, and Cale Makar is the highest ranked North American defender in the draft according to Cental Scouting. If he’s still on the board at nine — and there’s no guarantee that he will be — then it’ll be difficult for Holland and Co. to pass, even if they are targeting someone different a little further down the line.
He’s been ranked as high as fifth and as low as 15th in various pre-draft prospect rankings, so there’s some disparity in terms of where scouts think his upside falls. The biggest hangup in Makar’s game seems to be his size, as he’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds.
While he’s not built like Chris Pronger, Makar is an excellent (perhaps elite) skater and posted 24 goals and 75 points in 54 games with the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL in 2016-17. There were some concerns about how the Calgary, Alberta native would stack up against stronger competition, but he alleviated those concerns with a strong showing with Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge.
Detroit badly needs an infusion of speed and skill on their blue line and Makar has both in spades. There’s a chance one of the teams ahead of the Red Wings will snag him, but this might be the organization’s best-case scenario pick.
He’s capable of joining the rush, isn’t afraid to pinch in the offensive zone and he has the wheels to get back into place if things go sideways. Some teams may shy away from him because of the somewhat nontraditional AJHL route, but Detroit would be wise to take a shot on Makar’s combination of quickness and creativity.
Juuso Valimaki – D
While Makar shot up the rankings during the second half of last season, Juuso Valimaki fell a bit. He spent much of the season ahead of Makar but ended up ranked 11th in North America by Central Scouting.
The defenseman relocated from Finland at the age of 17 to play for the Tri-City Americans in the WHL, and the move has paid off for him. After spending some time on the shelf due to injury in 2014-15, Valimaki has found his way this season.
Through 60 contests with Tri-City, the 6-foot-2, 200-plus pound defenseman scored at a point-per-game pace, notching 19 goals and 61 points. That’s a massive improvement over the 32 points Valimaki came up with in 56 contests a year ago, and it has a lot to do with him trying to dictate the game more than he had been previously.
He’s generally considered an all-around defenseman, but scouts at ISS actually think he has an underrated offensive side that is still developing.
ISS Top 31 – Top Prospect Rankings
ISS Hockey releases ISS Top 31, rankings of top prospects for the NHL Entry Draft, which are released the 1st Wednesday per month during the hockey season.
Valimaki and Makar are clearly different kinds of players, but the Red Wings would be doing themselves a considerable favor by adding either option to the prospect pipeline if they are still available.
Elias Pettersson – C
If none of the top defensemen are left for Detroit at No. 9, then the odds seem good that they’d shift their focus to center. Sticking with the best-player-available approach, Elias Pettersson could be the team’s top target at forward. The likes of Owen Tippett and Gabriel Vilardi will likely be gone when it comes time for Holland to make his pick, leaving Pettersson as a consolation prize of sorts.
He’s a noted two-way player with a strong defensive game, but playmaking is Pettersson’s bread and butter. The 6-foot-1, 160-pound forward distributes the puck at a high level and has some of the fastest hands in the draft.
If he was a complete package, he’d probably be selected a bit higher in the draft, but there are still some pieces Pettersson needs to put together. He obviously needs to bulk up before making the jump to the NHL level, and his struggles during international play have raised red flags for some scouts.
The Red Wings love to overripen their prospects, though, and adding Pettersson and his electric offensive capabilities could be the way to go for Detroit if no high-end defenders are remaining.