It’s an age-old debate for many fanbases in any professional league — is it smarter to draft by position of need, or take the best player available. One thing is certain, Ken Holland and his scouting unit have always leaned against what they think are the best players available early on in the draft.
The Red Wings, for the most part, are in a position where they can’t go wrong. What I mean by that is they need talent at most positions. Many of us clamor for that top-end defenseman who we can build around, but at the same time, the Wings also need a true top-six center. It doesn’t take much research to see that this draft is deeper at center than it is at defense, and while we don’t know exactly where we’ll be picking yet, we can bet that the best player available will likely be a center. That doesn’t mean I’m against taking a defenseman, but the options seem much more limited.
Top center targets
Nolan Patrick - Projected as the first overall pick this year. If the Wings somehow win the lottery, they’ll take him. Size, skill, speed. NHL-ready. Marek calls him “Jonathan Toews-lite” but that’s silly, because Patrick will be better than Toews.
Nico Hischier - Second overall pick, and it’s a close one. Hischier is a dynamic offensive center. He spun out after the WJC, but still holds his spot as a lock for 2nd.
Gabriel Vilardi - Kid’s a machine. His coach praised him for being that type of player that makes everyone around him better when he’s on the ice. Played a lot of wing, but is a natural center. Given his size, he’s a top-fiver.
Casey Mittelstadt - A cerebral player with great offensive instinct. Mittelstadt impressed in the USHL, but put up alarming numbers in high school. Committed to University of Minnesota, and I doubt he’ll be there more than a year.
Michael Rasmussen - Rasmussen is your prototypical power-center. Skates well, blocks shots, and has put up decent numbers in the WHL. When looking at his projection in rankings, I’m not as high on him. But, the Red Wings LOVE players like him.
Cody Glass - Glass is a versatile playmaker with a motor that keeps going and going. His stock has surged due to a huge sophomore season with the Portland Winterhawks.
Nick Suzuki - This is my guy right here. Suzuki is pint-sized, but his production is incredible for a 17-year-old. He was a top-five point-getter in the OHL, surrounded by guys at least one to two years older than him. Complete offensive package — I consider his talent to be top-five, but he’s going to fall because of his size.
Elias Pettersson - Pettersson has a lot of raw talent, but has struggled late in the year. He’s a project prospect, meaning it’ll take some time to figure out what he is going to be.
Top defensive prospects
Cale Makar - A real up-and-comer in this year’s draft rankings. Makar has the upside to be a top-tier offensive defenseman. The biggest question is are his numbers all sizzle and no steak. I say that because he’s been playing in the Alberta Junior League, which isn’t the highest of competition. He’s committed to UMass (Amherst), where he’ll get a taste of some heavier work. Still, a fleet-footed offensive defenseman should always be on your radar.
Timothy Liljegren - His stoke plummeted due to missing time with mono, but he worked his way back into the “best defenseman available in the draft” with solid play at the Five Nations Tournament. Strong, agile, puck-mover. He’ll be a great pickup for any team that takes him — here’s to hoping it could be the Red Wings.
Juuso Valimaki - Valimaki has flourished as a playmaking defenseman since coming to North America. While his offensive numbers are great, he’s a dependable two-way guy. Not NHL-ready, but I’d say he could step to the pros in a year.
Miro Heiskanen - This kid came out of nowhere for me, and that’s because it’s difficult to keep tabs on European players all of the time. His pure skill and skating ability make him a top-10 pick. Not exactly the big frame teams look for, but his transition game appears to be the real deal.
Nic Hague - I put him up here because he’s freaking massive for his age. Has enjoyed some decent production in the last couple of months including the playoffs. Has spent some time playing with Red Wings prospect Vili Saarijarvi.
So, there’s a look at some players I have focused on. What the Red Wings end up taking in the first round really depends on where they pick. I think it’s smart of them to avoid taking a winger unless they have a history of being a natural center.
In terms of defense, there are a few great candidates, but again, it depends on what is available when they make their pick. If you’re talking making the decision between a guy like Mittelstadt or Liljegren, I personally lean towards the center.
The Draft Lottery will be held on Saturday, April 29th. You’ll find coverage on this here website from yours truly. Curious about the Red Wings’ odds? You’re in luck, because I covered that earlier this week.
Draft profiles will start rolling through sometime in the next month.