Ask an average NHL fanatic what they thought of the 2017 draft, and you’ll get a variety of responses.
Some applaud their GM for their savvy picks. Others were skeptical at first but quickly changed their minds as the prospects developed.
The Detroit Red Wings were among neither of these groups.
At the time, general manager Ken Holland decided to draft based on size over skill. He saw the success of teams like the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals and sought to emulate the results. At the time, Detroit had just begun their rebuild. This draft was meant to be a statement going forward — a way to shape the team’s identity. The 2017 draft, masterminded by Ken Holland and Tyler Wright, focused on building a hard-hitting, physical roster that would dominate the competition in the future.
We are now four years removed from the draft — a draft that saw 11 players chosen by the Red Wings. Just one of the 11 picks has successfully made an NHL roster. Two of the 73 players that have played an NHL game from the 2017 NHL draft were picked by Detroit. Nine of the 11 picks have yet to play a single NHL game. August 15th is the latest possible date the Red Wings have to sign the unsigned players from the 2017 draft. One of the picks, goaltender Keith Petruzzelli, will be heading to free agency at the start of the offseason.
It’s easy to judge a draft in hindsight. Saying that a team should have drafted Brayden Point or Nikita Kucherov earlier is too easy. Measuring the long-term success of a draft class, however, is something that should be analyzed when it comes to NHL rebuilds. In the case of Ken Holland and Tyler Wright, one thing becomes abundantly clear:
Drafting for size over talent is not a suitable strategy.
Where Are They Now? The 2017 Red Wings Draft Class
From 2004 to 2014, 49.1% of all players drafted in the NHL have played at least one NHL game. Ken Holland had five picks in the first three rounds of the 2017 draft. Of the five players chosen in the first round, two of them have played a single NHL game — a 40% success rate. It gets worse when you include the other players. Combined, only 18% of the 2017 class have made the NHL. It’s only been four years since the draft, so it’s entirely possible that more of the class can make the roster. Having said that, only two of the picks have made the Red Wings, and the rest don’t look likely.
Here’s a closer look at the first five rounds in the draft:
Round 1: Michael Rasmussen - 9th Overall
At 6’6”, Rasmussen was marketed as a colossal player capable of dominating his competition. His initial draft profile compared him to Ryan Getzlaf, who plays a similar game in stature and scoring potential. Many saw this pick as a bit of a reach, wishing that the Red Wings could’ve chosen Gabriel Vilardi or Martin Necas with the pick instead. While Rasmussen isn’t a bad player in his own right, he was unfairly marketed as a top-six center.
The video above showcases fellow draftee Martin Necas’s raw, unfiltered skill. Taken just a few picks after Rasmussen, Necas now plays a top-six role with the Carolina Hurricanes, where he’s excelling as one of the top talents of the 2017 draft class.
Realistically, Rasmussen will pan out as a third-line center with experience on the special teams. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but it’s tough to justify this pick when players like Necas, Vilardi, and Nick Suzuki were chosen shortly after. What makes this pick even worse is that this was Holland’s best pick in the draft. Picking a third-line center at 9th overall is bad enough, but to have Rasmussen be his best pick hurts even worse.
Other Options at 9th: Gabriel Vilardi, Martin Necas, Nick Suzuki, Erik Brannstrom
Round 2: Gustav Lindstrom - 38th Overall
Gustav Lindstrom is an enigma. On one hand, he’s got potential as an NHL defenseman. On the other, he’s 22 and has yet to earn a full-time spot in the NHL. Nevertheless, it’s important to give Lindstrom some credit; he’s played in the SHL, Grand Rapids, and now Detroit, and has looked better almost every game. It’s entirely possible that Lindstrom could just be a late-bloomer under the right circumstances. Having said that, he has two obstacles in his way; roster depth and the expansion draft.
If Lindstrom is left exposed in the draft, it’s possible that the Seattle Kraken take him away from Detroit. While this may prove advantageous for Lindstrom, it will simply add another strike to the long list of shortcomings for the Wings in 2017. In addition, it appears that he and fellow defenseman Dennis Cholowski are competing for a similar role. While it’s unclear what will happen in the coming future, there’s a chance Yzerman may choose to go with Cholowski based on his prior experience. All in all, Lindstrom is uncertain until he cements himself as a full-time player.
Other Options at 38th: Jason Robertson, Alexandre Texier
Round 3: Kasper Kotkansalo - 71th Overall
Kotkansalo was drafted as an offense-minded defenseman with leadership potential. Since the draft, Kotkansalo played three years for Boston University before joining Assat in the Finnish Liiga. The Wings have until August 15th to extend a contract offer to Kotkansalo. With 12 points in 58 games with the Liiga, it’s unlikely that Yzerman will offer the deal to a defenseman pegged as an offensive playmaker.
Kotkansalo will likely find a berth of success in the European leagues, but it’s unlikely that he’ll ever see time with the Wings. There’s always a shot in Grand Rapids as a Brian Lashoff-type player, but it’s hard to make sense of it just yet.
Other Options at 71th: David Farrance
Round 3: Lane Zablocki - 79th Overall
Zablocki was a headscratcher from the start. Selected as a Tyler Bertuzzi-esque player, Zablocki was valued for his ability to score points, hit hard, and rack up penalty minutes. Unfortunately, Zablocki has yet to do much of anything. According to EliteProspects, Zablocki didn’t play a single professional game last season. For a guy taken in the same range as goaltender Stuart Skinner, two points in 2019-20 and zero games in 2020-21 just doesn’t cut it.
Other Options at 79th: Stuart Skinner
Round 3: Zachary Gallant, 83rd Overall
Gallant, to me, actually didn’t seem like a bad pick. With 47 points in 60 games in the WHL in his draft year, Gallant was a strong, two-way center with a lot of NHL potential. Unfortunately, he has failed to pan out. After returning to the Peterborough Petes in the OHL, Gallant signed a deal with the San Jose Sharks. He’ll remain with the sharks through the 2021-22 season, after which he’ll become an RFA. It’s hard to tell what to make of Gallant, but it’s clear that this draft choice was a loss for Detroit.
Other Options at 83rd: Cale Fleury
Round 3: Keith Petruzzelli - 88th Overall
This one’s a heartbreaker.
Once pegged as the goaltender of the future, Petruzzelli recently announced that he will not accept an offer from Detroit, hoping to find success somewhere else in the NHL. While it’s completely in his right to do so, it’s a shame that he won’t try to pursue success with the Wings. With goaltending depth that consists of Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss, it seems like this would be the quickest path Petruzzelli could have toward a starting goaltender gig.
If Petruzzelli pans out, this pick is a win for Holland and Wright. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the team that drafted him will get to reap the rewards.
Other Options at 88th: Jack Rathbone
Round 4: Malte Setkov - 100th Overall
At 6’4” and 185 lbs, Malte Setkov was regarded as one of the players with the highest potential in the Wings’ 2017 draft. Over the last few seasons, Setkov has struggled to stick around in the SHL, playing between the Malmo Redhawks and AIK of HockeyAllsvenskan in both 2019-20 and 2020-21. With the rise of Moritz Seider, Jared McIsaac, and Albert Johanssen, the Danish defenseman already appears to be on the outs in the organization. Not every player can be a home run pick — and, for what it’s worth, I think Holland made a good bet with Setkov. It’s just a shame that he couldn’t get even one late-round hit.
The table above showcases Mikey Anderson of the Los Angeles Kings’ advanced stats. Taken just three picks after Setkov, Anderson is now playing a depth defensive role in LA. It’s entirely possible that Anderson, at 6’0”, is what Setkov could have potentially become in the NHL, had he panned out.
Other Options at 100th: Mikey Anderson, Jeremy Swayman
Round 5: Cole Fraser - 131st Overall
Cole Fraser started as a forward, but transitioned to defense after finding his niche. Fraser, at 6’2”, is another tall, towering player chosen based on size over skill. After spending two seasons in the OHL, Fraser has played in the ECHL, where he’s played for three separate teams in two seasons. While it’s unfair to believe that every fifth-round pick will pan out, Holland and Wright’s size over skill mentality cost the team a series of solid players that would otherwise help out the struggling Red Wings more than they realize.
Other Options at 131th: Sebastian Aho (NYI)