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Photo Credit: Mike Mulholland/MLive.com

2019 NHL Draft Recap: Steve Yzerman Doesn’t Care About You or Your Mock Drafts

Well the NHL Draft is over and the Detroit Red Wings were the talk of the day, at least in round 1. The whole of Hockeytown spent two months arguing about Kirby Dach vs. Dylan Cozens vs. Vasili Podkolzin vs. Trevor Zegras vs. Cole Caufield and then Steve Yzerman came up to us, grabbed the papers out of our hands, and threw them out the window. Moritz Seider it is. The big German defenseman was this year’s Barrett Hayton and only time will tell if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. (Hayton for the record had an excellent OHL season last year, so who the heck knows). I have a collection of thoughts about this year’s draft to follow but my main one is also the title of this piece: Steve Yzerman wants his guys, regardless of what you think.

NHL fans are heavily influenced by the public scouts, the Craig Buttons, Corey Pronmans, and Scott Wheelers of the world, who are all good scouts of course, but they really are no different than any scouts working in any NHL organizations. But because they are the public scouts, their opinions get put on a pedestal largely because they are the only opinions out there. And so “consensus” rankings are made and fans start to judge drafts purely on “value” according to those said rankings. A good pick is one where you take a player much lower than the consensus ranking and a bad pick is one where you take a player higher than the consensus. This of course ignores fit with the organization, playing style, or ya know, other opinions. Still at the end of the draft “winners” and “losers” are crowned based on nothing in particular other than those same consensus rankings and fanbases act accordingly.

Steve Yzerman, in his first draft with Detroit, clearly has a different opinion. He saw guys he wanted and he went for it. Which is what we should expect. Anyone can draft based on the consensus board. We should expect a person being paid millions of dollars to evaluate young hockey players to actually have original opinions about young hockey players that are different than the collective groupthink. You wanted a different perspective than the collective, a perspective that was very successful in Tampa? Well you got it. This is the Yzerplan in its first full draft, so buckle in.

In all seriousness, my biggest takeaway from this draft is that Yzerman had guys he favored and took them regardless of “value”. In some cases, those were “good” picks according to the traditional metrics, with Robert Mastrosimone in particular being taken far lower than the consensus. In other cases, it was “bad” picks like Moritz Seider and Antti Tuomisto being taken much higher than expected. All things considered, Yzerman singled out guys he wanted and rather than trading down or waiting until a later round, risking the prospect of them being taken by other teams, Yzerman made it happen while he could. If you go back to his time in Tampa, he singled out guys on a few occasions, most notably trading up one spot in the 2014 third round so he could take Brayden Point, now a 40 goal scorer in the NHL. When Steve Yzerman wants a guy, he gets that guy, regardless of whether you or your mock drafts wanted him.

So, about Seider:

On Moritz Seider, I really like the player. I actually had him as the 2nd best defender in the class (higher than York and Broberg). However, I didn’t love him at 6. I would’ve preferred a Cozens or a Zegras like most. That said, the argument that the Wings could have leisurely traded down and gotten him in the mid-first round is asinine. As Bob McKenzie said later on during Day 1, there was at least one other team in the top 10 very high on Seider, and Red Wings scout Hakan Andersson noted that the Wings felt several teams right after them might’ve taken him. Given that there were defensemen picked at 8, 11, and 14, it is highly unlikely that Seider would’ve made it out of the lottery, and perhaps the top 10. For the Red Wings, if he’s your guy, and you believe him to be better than the available forwards, you have to take him there, and that’s what they did.

As for the player, I love his profile. While most first round defensemen have scouting reports reading something like “smooth skater, offensive playmaker, questionable in his own end”, Seider’s is the opposite. He’s the rare 18 year-old defensive rock, with the chance to be a shut down eraser in his own end. Furthermore, athletically, he’s somewhat of a unicorn. There aren’t many defensemen out there who are big, skate quite well, and have a high hockey IQ. They don’t come around very often, which is why I feel Seider has such a high ceiling. His worst case scenario is a stay-at-home type who is on your second pair. His best case scenario is one where he figures out the offense and he becomes a Colton Parayko minutes eater on your top pair. That type of player, when paired with a more gifted playmaker like what Filip Hronek projects to be, could be lethal.

When it comes to the offense, context is important. Sieder was playing last year in the DEL (German pro league) which is a tough, tough league for young guys. While the talent may be better in the SHL or the Liiga, the DEL is in my opinion, significantly harder for young players. It’s the European league with the highest amount of North Americans, populated by former AHL (and in some cases, NHL) grinders who will push and shove a young guy around. Seider’s own team, Adler Mannheim, features Ben Smith and Andrew Desjardins, who you may remember as solid role players on a few of the Blackhawks Stanley Cup teams from 5 years ago. There is real talent in the DEL, it just tends to be old, washed up, and physically aggressive.

Seider was also playing on the best team in the DEL (they won the championship) and on a team filled with veterans, for a 17 year-old to get minutes, he needed to just not make mistakes. That could lead to a more defensive style of play that didn’t put up the huge numbers scouts like. When he got outside the DEL and in the international tourneys, he put up great numbers, having a monster U20 WJC (as a triple underager) and then a strong World Championship playing against NHL stars. The argument for Seider’s offense is pretty simple: he was not put in a great situation to be an offensive playmaker in the DEL, but when he got outside of it, he was a different player. Who knows what his numbers look like if he’s in the QMJHL or the OHL. But I’d argue he’s a better and more mature player for playing against men in the DEL. At the end of the day, most NHL scouts seemed to believe there was one prospect with a great shot to become a #1 defender (Bowen Byram). Steve Yzerman seems to be believe there were 2: Byram and Moritz Seider. Now we all get to find out if he was right.

Hockey Bullets:

  • In spending 3 of the top 4 picks on defensemen, Yzerman made it very clear that he wants to shore up that position for the future. I heard people say “what does this mean for the existing defensive prospects” and honestly, I don’t think it really means anything. I assume Yzerman likes Hronek, Dennis Cholowski, GUstav Lindstrom, and Jared McIsaac, but the reality is that those were the only four legit defensive prospects in the pipeline headed into this draft. While sleepers like Malte Setkov, Alec Regula, and Kasper Kotkansalo exist, having only four legit prospects for an organization that doesn’t have any current and established NHL defenders for the future is simply not good enough, not to mention the fact that defensemen take longer to develop and are harder to project than forwards. Stevie Y would rather have a lot of bullets in the chamber and I think the hope is that by drafting so many defensemen early on, at least 4 turn out to be good NHL players
  • Speaking of which, it’s astonishing the extent to which the Red Wings have invested in the defense recently. In the last four drafts, they’ve spent two first rounders and five second rounders on defensemen, five of those seven picks coming in the top 40. That’s a lot of draft capital on one position and frankly, if that is not a position of strength for Detroit by 2022 or so, something will have gone horribly wrong.
  • If there’s one guy who this draft speaks real highly about, it’s Joe Veleno. Most of the Red Wings world believed that the team desperately needed more centers. The Red Wings responded by not taking one until the fourth round. To me that indicates that Yzerman believes that Larkin is a player good enough to be building around (I concur) and that Joe Veleno is going to be a quality centerman in the NHL (which I also agree). By taking Albin Grewe and Robert Mastrosimone, the Red Wings added to a nice pool of wingers but still likely have a longer term need at center.
  • As for that need, one question in the back of my head was about the idea that Yzerman might like next year’s forward prospect pool more than the options available this year (Zegras, Cozens, etc). Next year’s draft is somewhere from good to incredible depending on who you talk to and all of the top talent is at forward. This includes Swedish wingers Lucas Raymond, Noel Gunler, and Alexander Holtz, Finnish center Anton Lundell, Canadian centers Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti, and Marco Rossi, as well as the centerpiece of it all, Quebecois superstar Alexis Lafreniére. However, there is a noticeable gap in talent between forwards and defense and perhaps that fact is why the Wings felt compelled to take Seider. Detroit expects to be in the lottery again and while the opportunity to draft Lafreniére will likely come down to ping pong balls, another opportunity to pick in the top 6 will almost certainly give the Red Wings an opportunity to score their franchise forward next year in a deeper draft with more high-end talent.
  • From all the post-draft comments, it’s clear to me that Yzerman really values hockey IQ. In his discussion of nearly every prospect, he mentions “hockey sense” and when recalling interviews with players, he states that he tries to get a feel for how they process the game. That’s music to my ears personally, since I view hockey IQ as the most important trait of all. In general, those are the kinds of players he took, defensemen who are sound in their own end and are still figuring out their offense but have a great hockey IQ where it could make you believe that the offense could come, shying away from the Anttoni Honka or Philip Broberg types, who are dynamic playmakers but are leaky in their own end (to put it nicely).
  • This draft haul could also be labeled “very large people and very small people”. The Wings selected a bunch of Very Large Humans, especially on defense. Seider is either 6’3″ or 6’4″ depending on who you talk to, Antti Tuomisto is 6’4″, Gustav Berglund is 6’2″, and then there’s Elmer Soderblom, the 6’7″ behemoth who may as well just be an Ent from Lord of the Rings. But unlike the 2017 Draft, a) these players are generally quite mobile for their size and are skilled and b) this wasn’t across the board. Yzerman also picked up some small and skilled dudes like Robert Mastrosimone (5’10”), Ethan Phillips (5’9″), and Kirill Tyutyayev (5’9″). There weren’t many normal sized people drafted in this class and I’m okay with it.
  • Last but not least, I felt that this was very much a Hakan Andersson draft. The Red Wings have never been afraid to lean on the legendary European scout, but in this draft, they took some big swings on their first two picks, European defenders who Andersson and the rest are higher on relative to other teams. But even later in the draft, they took some high upside guys who could be seen as sleepers. Elmer Soderblom is a massive player but with good hands, and in Kirill Tyutyayev, the Red Wings took this year’s Otto Kivenmaki, a small but highly skilled European who no one has ever heard of with great production in the junior leagues. It was a lot of high upside picks, but I’m very much okay with that.