Yzerman made it clear the team is drafting the best available player in the first round. They are not drafting for position. Who in the world of hockey do they think will be the best player available at or around 6th overall in this draft? They also have a 23rd overall pick, barring any in-draft trades -- something Yzerman would not rule out.
The 6th overall pick may not be the player anyone has high on their draft prospects lists. Remember, the Red Wings selected German defenseman Moritz Seider at 6th overall in 2019. Not a single soul outside of Yzerman’s circle saw that coming and if they say they did they are lying. Seider is heading into the 2021-22 season as the most exciting defensive prospect in the NHL.
Last year it was Lucas Raymond at 4th overall for the Red Wings. That was less surprising after Tim Stutzle went 3rd overall to Ottawa. Raymond turned heads all year over in Sweden and on the world stage.
Here’s my ‘sleeper’ pick for the Red Wings in 2021:
Take a look at Michigan center Kent Johnson. He put up 27 points in 26 games played in his one year of college hockey after a staggering 101 points in the BCHL with the Trail Smoke Eaters. He led the BCHL in goals, assists and points in 2019-20. In fact he had 30 more points than the next player on the leader board. This is a fast player with “carefully honed techniques and a gifted mind,” they say. He is ranked the 3rd overall North American skater by the NHL Scouting Bureau.
Yes, he’s a center and the Red Wings just signed center Michael Rasmussen to a three-year extension, but remember they are not drafting for position. So why not Kent Johnson. This is such a messed up year for the draft with so many leagues cut short or canceled outright with young players scrambling to find a stage. I would guess NHL teams are heavily considering how players performed in 2019-20, perhaps more heavily than they would have before the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s teammate Owen Power is expected to go 1st overall to the Buffalo Sabres. At 6-foot-6 and 213 pounds, the Michigan defenseman is the NHL Scouting Bureau’s top-ranked prospect. But there is another Michigan forward expected to go in the top 15: Matthew Beniers, ranked 6th overall for North American skaters. If he’s there at 6th overall, I could see the Red Wings considering him the best available -- 24 points in 24 games played with Michigan. Before that he was with the U.S. development program in Plymouth.
Then there’s left wing William Eklund from Sweden, the top-ranked European skater. He scored 23 points in 40 games played with Djurgardens this past season in the SHL. He had 36 points in 31 games played while still playing juniors in 2019-20.
Finally, the goalies: Jesper Wallstedt from Sweden and Sebastian Cossa from the Edmonton Oil Kings. These two are actually projected to go in the top15, perhaps one of them in the top 10. It’s rare to have two goalies projected to go that high in the NHL draft. In fact, I think it might speak more to the insanity of this year’s hockey schedules and the limited access scouts have had to players. But time will tell.
I also get the sense it’s less likely the Red Wings would draft a goalie after just trading for and signing 25-year-old Alex Nedeljkovic. Not drafting for position, though.
As stated, it’s anyone’s guess. Who really knows the “best available” option? Good luck to all.
I’ll be following the draft Friday night -- 8 p.m. (ESPN2, SN, SN NOW, TVA Sports). This is a virtual event again.
Rounds 2-7 will take place Saturday starting at 11 a.m. (NHLN, SN, SN NOW).