2014 NHL Draft: 5 Perfect Fits for Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings have been forced to dig into their minor league system in order to stay afloat in the playoff race.
The youth infusion of players such as Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco and Tomas Tatar has provided a spark for the team and given fans a glimpse into the club’s future. With injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Stephen Weiss, the ice time for these youngsters will continue to increase.
Although the salary cap will force the team’s prospects back to Grand Rapids of the AHL, it brings attention to the franchise’s process to consistently flood its farm system with quality young players.
The attention will then shift to the NHL draft, where general manager Ken Holland will work his magic along with a team of scouts to accurately evaluate, rank and select the players they deem fit for their system.
Steals like Datsyuk (sixth round in 1998), Zetterberg (seventh round in 1999) and Jonathan Ericsson (ninth round in 2002) prove that the Red Wings’ brass can find the talent they want at any point in any draft.
Based on their current standing, the Red Wings look to be picking in the middle of the pack come June’s NHL draft in Philadelphia. In a similar spot last season, they selected the QMJHL’s leading scorer, Anthony Mantha.
Based on recent trends, the functionality of Detroit’s system and its long-term needs, here are five perfect fits in the upcoming NHL draft.
Roland McKeown: D, Kingston, OHL
Detroit has struggled in its own end this season, and Roland McKeown would be an excellent two-way addition to its budding group of blueliners.
McKeown had a rough first season in the OHL in 2012-13, scoring 29 points in 61 games with a horrifying minus-24. What makes him so intriguing this season? Through 44 games, he is a plus-25, a spectacular improvement from the year before.
His eight goals and 32 points in 44 games are further proof of an impressive learning curve and ability to make his game fit within a system. His hockey IQ makes him a very attractive prospect, listed 15th among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings.
He has decent size at 6’1” and 180 pounds but will need to bulk up to survive in today’s NHL. The 18-year-old Ontario native shows tremendous offensive instincts and has greatly improved on taking responsibility in his own zone.
Versatility is a valuable asset for a young defenseman, and the improvement he’s shown in his game makes McKeown an exciting draft possibility. Even more captivating for Detroit: He’s a right-handed shot.
Ryan MacInnis: C, Kitchener, OHL
The name should certainly sound familiar, as Ryan MacInnis is the son of NHL great Al MacInnis.
With a glowing hockey pedigree, the name garners attention, as does his size. At 6’4”, 185 pounds, the Kitchener Rangers center takes up a lot of space in the middle and relies on good positioning to make plays in the offensive end.
Through 45 games, MacInnis has 11 goals and 26 points, tying him for seventh among OHL rookies. At just 17 years old, he still has plenty of minor league hockey ahead of him and the instincts to progress quickly throughout his career.
MacInnis is ranked 33rd among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, but he's marked as the 31st overall prospect by TSN’s Craig Button. Not a superstar in the making, but he could be good talent out of the middle to late rounds.
He brings a heavy shot to the table, and with a little work, he could turn it into just as dangerous a weapon as his father’s was.
The Red Wings have recently had their hand in the gene pool, selecting Landon Ferraro, son of Ray Ferraro, and Tyler Bertuzzi, nephew of Todd Bertuzzi. To select MacInnis for both skill and lineage would be a surprise to no one.
Marcus Pettersson: D, Skelleftea Jr., Sweden
The Detroit Red Wings love their European players, and Marcus Pettersson from the Skelleftea junior team would fit right in.
Size on defense is something Detroit would covet, and much like current Red Wing Jonathan Ericsson, Pettersson provides that at 6’4”. While he is tall, he lacks bulk at just 167 pounds and isn’t known to play a physical game.
Ranked 10th on NHL Central Scouting’s list of European skaters, Pettersson is well-versed in his positional responsibilities and is a good, mobile skater.
In 27 games with Skelleftea J20, Pettersson has two goals, 13 points and is a plus-one with 34 penalty minutes. Not the kind of talent ideal for the NHL fast track, he would be a sound defensive prospect for Detroit to draft in the later rounds.
Detroit has a reputation for letting its prospects marinate in the minor leagues for an extended period of time, and it could help with Pettersson's growth. By allowing him to mature overseas, Pettersson can hone his skills and join the farm system when deemed ready.
He’d fit right into Detroit’s systematic approach to player development and could cultivate into a strength on the blue line.
Nick Schmaltz: C, Green Bay, USHL
The Red Wings have had a “best available” approach to the draft for nearly two decades, and Nick Schmaltz could be just that.
Schmaltz is a center for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL and is committed to the University of North Dakota. He leads the Gamblers with 37 points in 31 games this season and has 93 points in 106 games in his three years.
He also has good taste in role models, telling NHL.com’s Mike G. Morreale he idolizes Pavel Datsyuk:
Datsyuk is a great two-way player and I like to model my game after his, but I need to work on my defensive game a little more. One day I hope to be near as good as that guy. I don't know if I'll ever be able to match his moves; he's pretty crazy.
The 6'0", 172-pound Wisconsin native has great hands, vision and brings a skill set that could make him a first-round pick in June. He is one of only three “A”-rated prospects from the USHL, according to NHL Central Scouting, and is the 19th-ranked North American skater.
Detroit is always fond of prospects with natural talent, but the work ethic to evolve into a player who plays a 200-foot game isn’t a skill all young players possess.
Detroit has a system that preaches players “compete” and work in both ends, and Schmaltz can fit that mold.
Jake Virtanen: RW, Calgary, WHL
The media appears to disagree on where he ranks, but what is certain about Jake Virtanen is that the kid can play.
TSN analysts Craig Button and Bob McKenzie have their own ideas of where to list the power winger. Button posts Virtanen as the 47th overall talent available, while McKenzie has him as high as 10th. NHL Central Scouting lists him as the ninth-best North American skater.
One of many talented wingers in the draft, his early exposure to scouts and hockey media have helped him learn to keep a level head. As the first pick in the 2011 WHL bantam draft, he has seen an abundance of attention at an early stage of his career.
With the Calgary Hitmen, Virtanen has displayed good offensive prowess accompanied by his ability to play the physical game. He leads the team with 31 goals in 49 games and is a plus-13 with 71 penalty minutes.
Physical play with a scoring touch is an asset that makes him an intriguing prospect for a finesse team like Detroit. In a big, physical Eastern Conference, Detroit will need added strength and size to match up with the top teams.
Virtanen’s athleticism is his biggest attribute. He possesses a good balance of speed, size and agility that will make him effective on and off the scoresheet.
Detroit has players that can score and play physically, only very few that can provide both regularly. If he continues to improve upon his game, Virtanen could provide both while filling one roster spot.