Any Red Wing fan worth his/her salt knows that the greatest draft in Wings history was 1989. If the goal is to get at least 1 NHL player out of the prospects drafted into your system, acquiring Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov and Vladimir Konstantinov while unearthing journeymen like Mike Sillinger, Bob Boughner and Dallas Drake should place it in the running for greatest draft by one team ever.
However, for the purposes of our discussion, 1989 doesn't count because it occurred prior to the playoff streak beginning. So we're left to go through 22 drafts (since there was a draft after the cancelled 2004-05 season) and try to figure out which was the best and which was the worst.
During their streak, the Wings have been in the fortunate position of perennial contender, meaning that their ability to draft a top prospect was always limited because of their drafting position. Finishing within the top half of the conference year after year is awesome for us fans who want to watch a winner, but the trade-off is that the Wings typically don't draft until after 20 or more other teams have made their initial selections.
Combine that with the fact that, as a contender, the Wings were always on the lookout to acquire players from other teams via trade, particularly at the trade deadline. When you know that your draft position isn't going to be that high, and if that particular draft year isn't a deep one, then draft picks become currency to trade for players. Case in point: at the 1999 trade deadline, the Wings acquired Chris Chelios from the Blackhawks in exchange for Anders Eriksson and their next 2 1st round draft choices. Those picks were #23 and #29 in the draft, and the Hawks turned them into Steve McCarthy and Adam Munro.
Drafting is a risk. The stud 18 year-old player could be a gigantic bust, while the obscure Russian who no one has heard of could turn out to be one of the most dynamic players in the game.
For clarification, no draft after 2007 was considered here, because the players involved in those drafts have not been afforded the opportunity to play a significant role at the NHL level. The Red Wings have a system of allowing prospects to over-develop in the minors and overseas, so we truly don't know how those draft years are going to play out just yet.
BEST DRAFT YEAR: 2002
In doing research on the last 22 draft seasons, one thing has caught my eye: the only first round draft pick prior to 2005 who has had a real impact on the Wings was Niklas Kronwall in 2000. Maybe it's a good thing the Wings continued to trade away those picks. Or maybe it's a sign that 1st rounders, especially late ones, have their chances of becoming an everyday NHL player reduced dramatically.
2002 was an interesting draft year. The Wings were coming off their 3rd Stanley Cup in the last 6 years, and had won the President's Trophy, so they were drafting last in the first round. Not that it mattered, as the Wings had sent that pick to Buffalo in the Dominik Hasek trade.
So the Wings were left with their own 2nd round pick, but flipped Aaron Ward to Carolina for the 58th overall pick, which they used to select Jiri Hudler. 5 picks later, they acquired Tomas Fleischmann with their own selection. Then they swapped 3rd round picks with Nashville to land Valtteri Filppula. Later on in that draft, the Wings picked up Derek Meech, and with the very last selection in the draft, they acquired Mr Irrelevant, Jonathan Ericsson.
In one draft, the Wings were able to pick up 3 everyday NHL players who would become big parts of their own team, 1 who was used to get Robert Lang from the Capitals (and turned out to be a decent player in his own right), and 1 who probably would have become a serviceable defenseman on another team had he been given a chance.
Hudler and Filppula were 2/3 of the Wings' best forward line last year, with Flip finally showing us the offensive talent that was expected to go along with his defensive prowess. Hudler has the tools to be a consistent 20-goal scorer in the NHL, although at $4M per season he's way over-priced. Ericsson, love him or hate him, is a fixture on the Wings' blueline and has the physical tools to be a good 2nd-pairing defenseman. If he can ever work out the mental side to his game, he could be a steal.
Fleischmann was traded to Washington along with 2 draft picks (one that became Mike Green) and is now playing with the Panthers. Injuries and illness (including a scary PE) have limited him, but he's put up seasons of 51 and 62 points. Meech is a player who, had there not been a logjam on the Wings' blueline already, probably could have developed into a decent 3rd-pairing guy.
WORST DRAFT YEAR: 2001
If 2002 represented the best of what the Wings could do in a draft (save 1989), then 2001 was the polar opposite. That year saw the Wings lose to the Kings in the first round of the playoffs, and it had been 3 consecutive years of the team failing to reach the 3rd round.
Here is a list of the players that the Wings drafted in 2001. Raise your hands when you recognize one for his accomplishments in the NHL:
Together, those players combined for 71 games in a Red Wing uniform, all of them by Bykov in 2002-03. Beyond that, only MacIntyre played an NHL game, appearing in 105 minutes over 4 games as a Sabre and Canuck.
Grigorenko was a highly-touted prospect out of Russia who had his career derailed by a very serious car accident that took him nearly 4 years to recover. The injuries from that accident set his career back so far he was never able to recover, and did not appear in an NHL game for any team.
Jamtin appeared in 9 games in the AHL, and neither Blatak, Pannoni or Senez ever saw action above junior in North America.
75 NHL games (really 72 1/2 if you factor in the goaltending minutes of MacIntyre) from 7 draftees. Almost every other draft year for the Wings has produced at least one contributor, even if that was as a defensive specialist. Some draft years are home runs, but 2001 was like striking out looking to end the World Series.