Much as we all try at this time of year, it’s damn near impossible to predict what’s going to happen on draft day.
Sometimes, like last year with Simon Edvinsson, the Red Wings are the beneficiary of someone lasting a couple of picks longer than expected. Others, like in 2019 with Moritz Seider, they’re the team making waves. The ripple effects of draft-day surprises are part of what makes the event fun.
That means teams have to be prepared for multiple scenarios, though. That’s what this piece attempts to capture. It certainly won’t account for every permutation at the top of the draft, but it captures three different ways the board could fall for Detroit — from the most likely scenario to the plausible long shot.
Scenario 1: The projection
1. Montreal: Shane Wright, C, Kingston (OHL)
2. New Jersey: Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS (Liiga)
3. Arizona: Logan Cooley, C, US NTDP
4. Seattle: Simon Nemec, RHD, Nitra (Slovakia)
5. Philadelphia: David Jiricek, RHD, Plzen (Czechia)
6. Columbus: Cutter Gauthier, C, US NTDP
7. Ottawa: Joakim Kemell, RW, JYP (Liiga)
8. Detroit: Marco Kasper, C, Rögle (SHL)
Analysis: Even if there are a couple of switches in order within the top seven, this would be my best guess for what the board looks like ahead of Detroit come draft day. Back when we did our staff mock draft on lottery night, I had Cutter Gauthier pegged to the Red Wings. But after the combine, I no longer think Gauthier is likely to be around by No. 8 — the fact teams see him as a center is likely the final bump to vault him into the top six, maybe even a bit higher.
Of course, him leaping up means someone else is slipping down into Detroit’s mix, and here that player is WHL forward Matthew Savoie. Savoie has bounced between center and the wing in recent years, but wherever he lines up, he brings a lot of elements the Red Wings could use, particularly speed and scoring ability. It is more likely he’s a winger at the next level, though — as is Swedish winger Jonathan Lekkerimäki. Those two probably offer the purest offensive potential at this spot.
Detroit hasn’t picked a center in the top 10 since 2017, though — and that player, Michael Rasmussen, may yet end up on the wing in Detroit. And given how hard it is to find young top-six centermen, picking a purer center such as Marco Kasper (who played with Detroit prospect William Wallinder at Rögle this season) or the US NTDP’s Frank Nazar could be prudent as well.
My gut keeps telling me Kasper is the best fit, as an athletic, physical center who brings speed and competitiveness to his shifts. While those are the headline elements of his game, he has offense too — often from being willing to go hard to the net, but he does have skill and had a particularly nice assist on the rush at the World Championship.
— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisTHN) May 15, 2022
To me, he’s the guy at No. 8, although Steve Yzerman is notoriously hard to predict.
Scenario 2: The twist
1. Montreal: Slavkovsky
2. New Jersey: Nemec
3. Arizona: Wright
4. Seattle: Cooley
5. Philadelphia: Gauthier
6. Columbus: Jiric
7. Minnesota (via trade): Kasper
8. Detroit: Savoy
Analysis: Even though the actual order of the top six here doesn’t matter for the Red Wings’ purposes, I had a little bit of fun with those picks in this scenario. There’s a shake-up at No. 1, a shocker at 2 — with the Devils already having two young No. 1 pick centers and instead opting for ‘D — the start of a “thunder and Lightning” center combo in Seattle, and Columbus using the final pick from the Seth Jones trade to take a top-pair right-shot defenseman. The storylines!
But really, those six names could go in any order and it wouldn’t impact the point — what matters is the change at seven. It’s not hard to see the potential fit between the Wild and Senators in a potential Kevin Fiala swap. Fiala is an RFA due to a raise, while the Wild has an impending cap crunch, and the Senators are a rebuilder looking to turn the corner. So, here, let’s say the sides find a deal centered around the seventh pick.
Minnesota’s center position looks a whole lot better today than a couple of years ago, thanks to the continued progression of Joel Eriksson Ek and a career year from Ryan Hartman. But even with Marco Rossi in the pipeline, it’s not crazy to think the Wild could look down the middle here, plucking Kasper before the Red Wings get a chance.
That would leave Detroit with a different look — adding Kemell to the mix of Savoie, Nazar and Lekkerimäki for Detroit to choose from. That decision would be a complicated one.
Kemell and Lekkerimaki are both upper-lineup goal scorers, with Kemell perhaps slightly more Detroit’s “type” — both are undersized, but Corey Pronman wrote in his scouting report that Kemell, “plays hard, showing no fear of physically engaging to win back pucks or to take a hit to make a play.” And Savoie is a similar profile, too, though with at least some potential to play center — even if it’s more likely he ends up on the wing. Then there’s Nazar, who brings speed and competitiveness down the middle — and who feels his creativity is underrated, too.
There are legit cases for any of the four, but Savoie seems to split the difference as a player with some chance to fill Detroit’s center need, but projects to be a good top-six forward regardless.
Scenario 3: The long shot
1. Montreal: Wright
2. New Jersey: Slavkovsky
3. Arizona: Cooley
4. Seattle: Nemec
5. Philadelphia: Gauthier
6. Columbus: Kemell
7. Ottawa: Lekkerimäki
8. Detroit: Jiric
Analysis: As the name suggests, it’s tough to envision Jiricek actually slipping into No. 8. Philly, Columbus and Ottawa could all use a right-shot D prospect of his pedigree, and his return from a knee injury for the World Championships lessened any potential for injury-related uncertainty to creep in.
But, Simon Edvinsson wasn’t supposed to be on the board for Detroit last year, either, until Kent Johnson jumped up into the top 5. Surprises happen. And both Kemell and Lekkerimäki have the kind of offensive talent that could tempt the teams picking right above Detroit. I certainly wouldn’t call it likely, but of the consensus top five, Jiricek is the guy who seems to have the biggest potential to make it down to eight — and this is the kind of route it would take to happen.
Now, Red Wings fans would be well within their rights to see this and wonder why Detroit would spend a third top-10 pick in four years on a defenseman instead of snagging the young top-six center the team so badly needs. And it’s a prudent question. While names like Marco Kasper and Frank Nazar do have the potential to develop into good No. 2 centers behind Dylan Larkin, though, Jiricek’s ceiling as a potential top-pair defenseman puts him a tier higher.
It would certainly be a lot of top draft capital to spend on the blue line, but punishing two-way defensemen like Jiricek are hard to find, and stocking up on them has typically led to good things for modern contenders.
(Top photo: Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)