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2024 NHL Draft: First-Round Candidates for the Red Wings

Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Draft Week, folks. While many eyes are fixed on Sunrise, Florida, tonight for the conclusion of an exciting Stanley Cup Final, we’re somehow just four days away from the 2024 NHL Draft, which will be held at the Sphere in Las Vegas on Friday (1st round) and Saturday (Rounds 2-7).

There’s never been a better time to follow prospects, with multiple sources offering in-depth scouting reports for hundreds of players. For my money, the can’t-miss sources on this front are The Athletic’s Corey Pronman and FloHockey’s Chris Peters, who are each on the prospect trail year-round, combining in-person viewings with plenty of video, as well as inside information from team sources. And for pure aggregation of rankings, EliteProspects has you covered.

After consuming months’ worth of mock drafts, today I’ll attempt to preview the first round through a Red Wings lens. We’ll break down a few groups of prospects in the range of 15th overall by looking at higher-rated players who might fall, players who are likely to be available, and lower-ranked players who might fit what Detroit’s looking for.

It can be hard to make these distinctions since the public lists tend to form the average fan’s “consensus,” but remember: all it takes is one team to like a player a lot more than the rest of the league to really shake things up. It’s an inexact science, and every year — even in the top 10 — there are shocking calls that turn out great (and quite often, the opposite of that).

My preference is for Detroit to go best player available. While there is still a need for some higher-end offense (and really, how many teams aren’t looking for that?) there are very few sure things in that department after the top few picks. I think it’s more likely they draft a forward, and there are plenty available who look like good fits. Even on defense — where the team has used nine first- and second-round picks since 2019 — no team has ever regretted having too many good defensemen.

With the stage set, let’s look at a few different categories:

Run to the podium (not happening)

We can pretty much rule out Detroit having a chance at forwards Macklin Celebrini, Ivan Demidov, Cayden Lindstrom and Bennett Sennecke and defensemen Artyom Levshunov, Zeev Buium and Anton Silayev. The rumor mill says this could be a pretty unpredictable draft as, aside from Celebrini (and probably Levshunov), there’s a quite a variance in the rankings of these players. But I’ve barely seen any of these outside of the top 10, so Detroit’s only chance of landing one of these players would require a costly move up. Teams picking this high might be willing to move one or two spots back, but almost never move back as far as where the Red Wings are (15), adding to the unlikelihood here.

So you’re saying there’s a chance

That’s seven players I feel confident will be off the board, with another seven that need to come off before the Red Wings’ pick at 15th overall. In my assessment, there are five more players I find highly unlikely to be available at that pick. However, each has a reason that they could slide down a few more spots than expected — or who the Red Wings might be interested in trading up a few spots for, if the price is right.

We’ll take a look at these players, but the smart money is that none will be there at 15.

Carter Yakemchuk and Zayne Parekh – I’m grouping these two together. They aren’t identical players, but the reason they could slip is similar. Both are defensemen with off-the-charts production (30+ goals each in their respective CHL leagues) with major question marks in their own end. But that’s an area that can easily be excused: sometimes it’s easy for elite talents to play more like a “fourth forward” in major junior hockey, because the competition isn’t good enough to make them pay for positional lapses. These types can face the occasional speedbump in pro hockey, but if the skill level is that high, chances are they might be controlling play too much at the next level for anyone to care that they aren’t elite defensively.

Sam Dickinson – Another defenseman like the two above, but Dickinson is seen more as a two-way threat at the next level (and his 70 points for London in the OHL are nothing to sneeze at). If he falls, it’s because teams like the higher ceilings of the other defensemen. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go comfortably in the top 10, but some mock drafts do have him slated as low as 12 or 13.

Berkly Catton – Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Catton had elite production in the Western Hockey League (116 points in 68 games), but might fall due to size, as he’s 5’10”. While I do think the NHL is still a much harder league for smaller players than some people want to admit, at a certain point, elite skill will shine through, and Catton looks to have the work ethic and hockey IQ to be a significant point producer. I’ve heard him compared to Brayden Point, so you’d think that may appeal to the Red Wings brass.

Tij Iginla – Iginla has been on the rise all season, with rumors after the combine that some teams might see him as a top-five pick, let alone top-15. But the biggest reason that Iginla may not be available to Detroit is that Calgary picks at #9. And while their prospect pool indicates they might be better off with a defenseman (Iginla is listed as a center but projects as a winger), the temptation to add the son of Flames legend Jarome Iginla may be too strong to ignore.

Most likely candidates

If tiers are a thing, it does seem like there’s a bit of a drop after 12, but as I’ve already said, all it takes is one team’s opinion to change that. Here’s the group of five players I’ve seen most frequently linked to Detroit in mock drafts, or available to them at #15. Keep in mind, if the draft goes chalk, it’s likely that one or two of them might be off the board. Even “worst case” scenario, the Red Wings will have three to choose from (or a maybe a name in the category above).

Konsta Helenius – Helenius is a skilled center whose reasons for potentially being available here are not dissimilar from Catton. Once thought to be top-10 pick, Helenius was already highly productive in Finland’s SM-Liiga as a 17-year-old, notching 36 points in 51 games in what’s considered one of Europe’s top pro leagues (often low-scoring, as well). He’s 5’11”, and I like the gamble for a player that some think could bring borderline-elite offense, but I’m also aware that there just aren’t that many sub-six-foot centers in the NHL, so he’ll have some doubters to prove wrong.

Cole Eiserman – Eiserman might be the most fascinating story to watch in the draft. As recently as last summer, pundits debated whether he or Celebrini would go first overall. Celebrini ran away with that quickly, and Eiserman has become quite divisive. The knock is that he did not show enough development in his game away from the puck with the U.S. NTDP this past year, and that he might be “just a shooter” who isn’t always noticeable despite his gaudy stats. But it’s incredibly difficult to overlook that he was over a goal-per-game in two years with the NTDP, setting the program record with 127 in 119 games (beating out the likes of Cole Caufield, Phil Kessel and Patrick Kane) in the NTDP’s unique schedule against USHL teams, college exhibitions and international tournaments. I think some of the concerns come from the fact that he’s more similar to Caufield than the other two, and Caufield has not quite been an elite scorer in the NHL yet. I see Eiserman as a player who can create a little more on his own (he’s also a few inches bigger), so it’s a risk I’m willing to take if he’s available at 15.

Michael Brandsegg-Nygard – MBN is by far the most common pick to Detroit at #15, and it’s easy to see why. He’s a Norwegian-born winger who played pro in Sweden this year (with Mora in the second-tier) and has made his mark through his work ethic and tenacity. It’s not incredibly dissimilar to Marco Kasper and Nate Danielson, but they’re all far from the same player. MBN is a winger who might be more of a shot threat on offense, and some of the reports on his defensive game are mixed. It’s not that he’s one-dimensional, just more that he likes to forecheck and throw hits to defend. I like the gamble as someone who might have another layer of offense on top of him strengthening the identity that many Detroit prospects have as being hard to play against.

Michael Hage – If Helenius is gone and Detroit follows the growing NHL trend of placing a premium on natural centers, Hage may be the next man up. Hage is a Michigan commit who tallied 75 points in 54 games for the USHL’s Chicago Steel, which placed fourth in league scoring. He’s an offense-first player who may have untapped potential, as one of the “knocks” was a slow start to the season (which can be attributed to battling personal tragedy). While it would mark a third-straight draft of Detroit using its top pick on a “second-line center of the future,” I’m also high on both Kasper and Danielson and find that more a luxury than a problem, as it’s depth down the middle that has been sorely lacking at the NHL level for some time. These players can easily be flexed to the wing and, best case scenario, could challenge to be #1 centers down the road.

Stian Solberg – Should the defensemen be drafted roughly in the order they’re expected, there’s a good chance that Solberg would be the top-available blueliner for Detroit. He has drawn some comparisons to Moritz Seider, but I think that’s more due to a “non-traditional” nationality (Solberg is Norwegian) and a very late rise up NHL draft boards. Solberg’s level of competition is lower than Seider’s was, as the DEL is considered a few notches above the Norwegian league, where Solberg has taken a regular shift for three years (!), but his play for Norway against NHL competition at the World Championship silenced most detractors. While Solberg may not have the same offensive upside, he shows a mature defensive game and maybe an extra level of meanness over Seider, making him an intriguing addition to the future blueline.

A few more to keep in mind

This is the last category we’ll cover today, as it could extend to at least another dozen or so players. These are names that will likely be available to Detroit at 15, but are the types that could still be had if Detroit traded down a few spots to pick up an extra draft pick. I wouldn’t call taking any of them at #15 a “reach,” but generally consider them of the same caliber that could be had with players that will go later in the first round. It’s a tightly-grouped bunch from this point to maybe as far as 35-40, judging by most draft rankings.

Adam Jiricek – I might be miscategorizing him here, as there is some thought that he’s right up there with Solberg for “best of the rest” on defense in this range. However, Jiricek could be hurt by a season hampered by injury which forced him to miss the entire second half. He’s seen as a competitive, defense-first defenseman, with good bloodlines, as older brother David is a Columbus prospect who went 6th overall in 2022. David might have a bit more offense in his game, but so far has struggled to have the same impact in the NHL that he’s had at other levels. Whether that affects his younger brother’s draft prospects remains to be seen, but sometimes that weighs on scouts.

Cole Beaudoin – Players like Beaudoin always tend to go a little higher than ranked on draft day, as he’s a center with size (6’2″) who looks like a man amongst boys in the OHL. That’s both a positive and negative — he already has an NHL frame, so he may not develop as much as his peers, but it does give teams a good picture of what they’re getting. His offense isn’t projected to be elite, though, but that can still be improved even with physically advanced players. He fits the mold of the aggressive, hard-to-play against players Detroit’s been after, with a little power-forward upside if the offense has another gear.

Sacha Boisvert – A good counter to Beaudoin above, Boisvert was a productive player in the USHL (11th in league scoring) but is a player who could stand to fill out more, at 6’2″ and 183 pounds. You would assume Detroit has familiarity with him as he’s been in-state for two years with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. He’s a natural center with a good all-around game — like many in this range of the draft, looks to be a strong bet for a middle-six role with the tools to make a larger offensive impact if everything comes together.

Jett Luchanko – Another slightly undersized center (5’11”) but one who cemented his place as a mid-first round pick after a strong performance at the U18s. What stands out for Luchanko is strong production (74 points in 68 games) on one of the OHL’s weaker teams. Sometimes, players like that take off once the team around them improves. He’s noted for his responsible game and high motor on top of already being among the most skilled players in the OHL.

Igor Chernyshov – Coming on the heels of building rumors that Matvei Michkov is NHL-bound this fall, and that top-ranked Russian Ivan Demidov has his sights set on coming to North America in 2025-26, there is still a “Russian Factor” that can cause Russian players to slip. For starters, it’s difficult to travel to Russia right now, and they’re barred from international competition, so teams would be relying on one or two Russian-based scouts, if that, for in-person scouting reports instead of the cavalry of scouts who normally try to see first-round talents. That said, Chernyshov has the makings of a highly skilled, good-sized power forward who has already seen KHL time in a stacked organization (Dynamo Moscow). If the Red Wings are confident in the information they have, he could be good value for the position.

Alright, how did I do? Let’s hear in the comments which names you’re focused on, which you’re leery of, and anyone else ranked in this range that hasn’t been discussed. More to come as we approach draft weekend.

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