Now that the dust is beginning to settle from the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago, we’re beginning to learn more about the prospects that are continuing the next chapter in their road to the NHL. The Red Wings picked 11 players between Friday and Saturday’s events, and making headlines, was No. 9 pick Michael Rasmussen.
By now, we’ve heard all about what Rasmussen is through scouting services, media, and other various outlets. There’s no question that this was a controversial pick, as the Red Wings went off the board, skipping over a prospect like Gabe Vilardi, and going straight for a 6-foot-6 behemoth in Rasmussen. I’ll say that I didn’t like the pick, and I still question the team’s plan going forward. It seems they’re dead-set on creating a roster much like you see in the Anaheim Ducks — strong, big, difficult to play against. But with the seemingly endless evolving of the NHL and its style of play, how will teams built around that fare? If the last few years tell us anything, it’s that skill burns size. Just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks.
But I digress, what’s done is done. Michael Rasmussen is a Red Wing, and I hope he excels. In fact, I believe he will. From what we’re learning, the kid’s implacable motivation to become a better hockey player is a big asset to the Wings.
I got some time with Justin Froese, the head of Western Canadian scouting at Future Considerations, to learn more about Rasmussen.
KYLE: Obviously you’ve spent a lot of time watching him play, so what can you tell us about Michael Rasmussen?
JUSTIN: Rasmussen is a large, physical specimen who has soft hands with the puck, skates well for his size and has a nose for the net. I like his compete level and ability to use his body, which will surely help him down the middle, if he stays there as a pro. Defensively he's got some strong tendencies, but it is an area in which needs growth. Having started hot, he went through a few spells of injury which limited his games and effectiveness to an extent.
My take here: Rasmussen is getting a lot of flak for his 5v5 production, which is a legitimate concern. According to CanucksArmy.com, he had 15 goals on the power-play in the 2016-2017 season. If you watch a lot of his highlights, most of his power-play goals come from the mouth of the net -- something that may not translate as well to the NHL. Important to remember that at 6-foot-6, 221 lbs, he easily dominates in the WHL due to being so physically developed. Not a bad thing by any means, but the question remains, will it translate at the next level?
KYLE: The Red Wings are thin at center. They could have had Gabriel Vilardi but elected to pass on him, and that in itself is questionable. Can you shed any light in this pick?
JUSTIN: With Vilardi on the board, they passed the player the higher ceiling and went with a player who has a higher floor. It's no secret some teams still emphasize size down the middle, and while important, top tier skill and vision is also needed to excel in a top 6 NHL roll. For me, Rasmussen isn't devoid of talent but he also is a player who I question in regards to his skill level and hockey sense. To be that coveted top 6 guys, I didn't see enough to check off all the boxes which are generally givens in elite prospects. Rasmussen is an NHL player, but watching a polarizing player like him this year has me more convinced that he has an upside more fit for a 3rd line than your driving force at even strength.
My take here: Justin nails it — Rasmussen is a high-floor, low-ceiling type of player. That’s not a knock on him at all, it’s just that his offensive creativity and vision aren’t apt for a top-center role. At his very best, he’d be a fringe 2nd-liner, but appears to be a prototypical 3rd-line special teams player.
KYLE: He’s certainly got the build to step in next season, but how long do you think it will take for Rasmussen to reach the NHL?
JUSTIN: It's hard to say how long it will take with this kid. He's going back to captain Tri-City and a big season could definitely boost confidence within himself, the Wings organization and ultimately make myself more optimistic about this pick. For me, he has to show he can carry an offense at junior and hone his craft into a more rounded style. He's a man-child who works hard and holds a high regard so you know he's gunning for a spot sooner rather than later. The concern I have is if he is rushed due to his size, his development at the pro level will be far slower or go stagnant. If not patient he may very well plateau into that mid level, net front PP specialist I currently project. I would say 4 years is not a stretch if the Wings want to do it right.
My take here: Hard to disagree with what Justin is saying. Physically, he’s a readymade NHL player, but he’s going to need time. When it comes to players like this, who aren’t developed skaters or offensive threats, a full tenure in junior hockey can be extremely beneficial. If he can have a big season of progress with Tri-City, it could really go a long way. I’d say a three-year window of development should be considered before NHL consideration — with time in the WHL and AHL.
KYLE: Okay, I don't think he's a bad prospect. But the expectations set at being drafted 9th overall will be lofty, especially since the Red Wings haven’t picked this high since 1991 -- do you think he can overcome those expectations?
JUSTIN: As earlier stated, It's going to depend on intrinsic factors and for him to work towards being a 5-on-5 gamer and not just a specialized, inconsistent force. The Red Wings treatment of this pick could make or break him as that top 6 guy. At the end of the day, I think the Red Wings reached a bit on him when other more mentally elite players were on the board. Time will be the key.
My take here: Rasmussen will certainly need to improve his play at 5v5. His production was completely underwhelming in comparison to other centers who were available at No. 9. That will need to improve if the Red Wings expect him to fill the role they coined as an “everyday-er.”
The one upside to all of this is how much Rasmussen is praised for his constant devotion to becoming a better hockey player. There is no doubt that he is a tall drink of water, but if he wants to become an impact guy, he will need to put in work with his all-around playmaking abilities. He’s already got the size and strength to be a good net-front presence, so now there should be heavy focus on his vision and overall ability to see plays before they happen.
All-in-all, I still believe that Rasmussen’s ceiling is what you get with a guy like Martin Hanzal. Big-bodied two-way center who teams hate to play against, and can put up some OK production. But, I continue to remind myself that he’s young and has a ways to go with his development. Training at the NHL level is obviously supreme to training in the juniors, and who knows, maybe he turns into the next Ryan Kesler or David Backes.