DETROIT >> When it comes to the first couple rounds of the NHL draft of late, the Detroit Red Wings have been of the mindset to select the best player available.
And because of that the team is stocked full of prospects at forward.
This year they’re going into the two-day draft, which begins Friday in Buffalo, with the same mindset, but hoping a defenseman falls to them.
“Somewhere along the line we’d like to start to draft a few more defensemen,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We’ve had lots of forwards who are on the team or coming up and not as many defensemen. If the best player available that’s there is a forward we’ll take him, but somewhere along the line here we have to start to draft some D.”
Detroit has the 16th overall selection in the first round.
“We’re going to take the best player available,” Holland said.
The last defenseman the Wings took in the first round was Brendan Smith, in 2007 with the 27th overall pick.
Last year they nabbed a defenseman in the third round, Vili Saarijarvi.
The highest they’ve taken a defenseman since Smith was when they had two picks in the second round in 2011 and selected Xavier Ouellet (48th overall) and Ryan Sproul (55th overall).
“We’re expecting one of those or maybe two of them to make our team,” Holland said referring to Ouellet and Sproul. “But behind those two guys and Saarijarvi it’s not like we have a lot coming up on the backend as prospects. I’d like to think that between the first couple of picks one would be a defenseman. I could say all that, but both could be forwards.
“We’re trying to draft and develop to get a group of young players to work their way onto our roster that allow us to be competitive,” Holland added. “What’s competitive? Make the playoffs and go on a playoff run. Fortunately we’ve made the playoffs, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to go on a playoff run the last four or five years.”
Holland added that they’d also be willing to move up or move down in the draft.
“The drafting game when you’re dealing with 18-year-old players is not an exact science,” Holland said. “You see that with (Henrik) Zetterberg in the seventh round and (Pavel) Datsyuk in the sixth round. If their draft was held all over again they’d both be top five players in their draft. But certainly higher in the draft in the first round there’s a little more certainty.
“If somebody slides around 12 or 13, I’ve talked to some teams a little bit above us that we may have some interest in trying to move up,” Holland continued. “If we get to our pick and philosophically we think there are a few players that are close and somebody wants to move up we’ll see.”
The Wings have made a couple trades of late to slide back in rounds and have gotten two top prospects in their system.
“That’s how we got Tyler Bertuzzi and we went back two picks and got Anthony Mantha,” Holland said. “It’s like getting a free player.
“The more spins at the wheel the better it is, but if a player slides and we’re excited and we might have to pay the price to move up,” Holland continued. “Right now I’m working the phones and seeing who’s got interest in moving up and down and we’re telling them what we’re thinking so when the draft unfolds you’re ready to go in either direction.”