DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings are accustomed to waiting and waiting when the NHL Draft roles around every season.
This year their wait is even longer than normal.
Because they traded this year’s first-round choice to Tampa Bay in the deal that brought defenseman Kyle Quincey, the Wings’ first pick won’t come until Day 2 of the draft, 49th overall.
“We’re drafting kids that are four or five years away from helping us,” Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. “That doesn’t mean they can’t be as good as anyone else. There are players in every round that end up playing in the NHL. Our job is to find them.
“We’ve had a nice mix the last couple of drafts of defenseman and forwards,” Nill continued. “There’s no one position we’re targeting.”
It’s Detroit’s lowest first pick in eight years.
“We’ve had to change (our drafting approach) because of where we pick,” Nill said. “We’ve not had the opportunity to draft in the top 10-15 where you can get those slam-dunk picks.
“You really are drafting for needs, especially in a draft like this one,” added Nill, who offered the strength of this draft is defenseman. It’s a wide-open year after the fourth round. Kids will get taken because some local scout knows something about him. It’s so much about development after the draft that matters now.”
The Wings drafting track record has been impeccable and those are just players off last year’s roster – Jonathan Ericsson (291st in 2002), Tomas Holmstrom (257th in 1994), Henrik Zetterberg (210th in 1999), Jan Mursak (182nd in 2006), Pavel Datsyuk (171st in 1998), Quincey (132nd in 2003), Darren Helm (132nd in 2005) and Gustav Nyquist (121st in 2007).
“The new CBA has leveled the playing field for all of us,” Nill said. “We all have our core group of five or six players making five or six million and you have to build around that. It’s about filling in holes in your lineup now and drafting for needs.”
Detroit’s core on the blue line took a huge hit this offseason with the retirement of Niklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart’s decision to leave for the west coast.
“Look at the history of our team the last seven or eight years and we’ve lost Yzerman, Shanahan, Rafalski and now Lidstrom,” Nill said. “That’s some of the best talent in the history of the game. You can’t just replace that kind of talent easily. Our skill level is down, so we have to get bigger. The playoffs proved that. It’s a big-man’s game now.
“You’re not going to see 14 or 15 skill players on your team,” Nill added. “The days of a team having way more skill players than other teams are over. The cap doesn’t allow it, so you have to get bigger and stronger.”
In three of the past six drafts Detroit has traded down to get an extra pick.
“Even the way the game is played now has forced changes in drafting,” Nill said. “It used to be, you had to be able to make a play to get the puck up the ice. Now, with no red line, you can throw the puck up the ice, tip it in and chase it. You need certain players to play that way. There’s a lot of different dynamics going on in the game right now. A lot of teams are trying to figure it out.”