The annual NHL draft is nearly upon us. This Friday, 30 NHL teams will do their best to pick from a variety of 18-year old kids in hopes that they become NHL men.
What separates the NHL draft from the NFL’s or NBA’s is that you rarely get immediate help. In both the above-mentioned leagues, it’s very rare for one of your selections to not make the big club the following season. In the NFL’s case, it’s even likely to see a late-round selection suit up in some capacity.
Unfortunately for NHL fans, that’s hardly the case. In most instances, your first round pick, if you’re lucky, is anywhere from two to four years away from skating in the NHL.
In fact, a great majority of time, your farm team will be the first home for a high-end selection. Players like Columbus Bluejacket Rick Nash or Carolina Hurricane Eric Staal who made a successful jump in their first year are few and far between.
So while pro football and basketball general managers are afforded immediate help, the same cannot be said for their hockey counterparts.
In the NHL, if a team is thin at one position, it’s in their best interest to focus on that void. However, since picking 18 year-olds, some of whom aren’t even shaving yet, can be as unpredictable as Kelly Hrudey’s hairstyle, most teams will pick the best player available.
For the most part, that’s what the Detroit Red Wings have done over the last few years.
Assistant general manager Jim Nill and his excellent scouting department have addressed needs in the past, like when they selected goaltender Jimmy Howard out of Maine University with their first pick of the 2003 draft.
With the retirement of Dominik Hasek, Howard will have his best chance of becoming a full-time Red Wing this fall.
Nevertheless, the Wings usually attempt to draft whichever player they see as the best option available.
That might change this year.
The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup with their strength on the backend. Nick Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Chris Chelios, Brent Lebda, and Andreas Lilja made up their defensive core. Waiting in the wings are NHL-ready Kyle Quincy, Derek Meech, and Jonathan Ericsson.
In the form of prospects, Detroit has high hopes for the offensive-minded Logan Pyett, who’s been stellar so far in his junior career. Last year's first round selection, Brendan Smith, another puck moving, slick skating rearguard, enjoyed a successful first year playing for the Wisconsin Badgers of the NCAA.
In regards to defensemen, it’s safe to say the Wings have their cupboards stocked.
The same cannot be said for forwards. While the shelf is hardly bare, the Wings best offensive forward prospects aren’t as strong.
Playmaking junior Cory Emmerton, scoring winger Dick Axelsson from Sweden, left-wing Jan Mursak, and newly signed Finnish winger Ville Leino all have potential to be producers at the highest level. Emmerton has even been compared to Cory Stillman.
But what the Wings would like is a high-end scorer to compliment a forward core that possesses some of the leagues best passers.
“Sure Henry, doesn’t every team need this?” Yes. But this years draft is deep and I believe there are some sleepers that could be available after the first 29 teams make their selections.
Here are a few players that the Wings may consider drafting in the first round:
1. Jordan Eberle
Considered to be undersized by NHL standards, this 5’10” high-scoring centerman scored 42 goals for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.
What’s even more impressive is that 25 of those 42 were considered "clutch goals". These goals include game-winning-goals, first goals, shorthanded markers, or insurance goals.
While there are some questions regarding his speed, Eberle has exceptional quickness, on-ice vision, playmaking abilities, and an undying will to win.
With each passing day it seems that more and more people have Eberle on the tip of their tongue.
For this reason, it won’t be a surprise if the diminutive center is picked much sooner. But if he’s available, the Wings need to take a long look at this young man from Regina.
2. Anton Gustafsson
The son of ex-NHLer Bengt Gustafsson, Anton has drawn comparisons to another tall lanky centre, Jordan Staal.
Like most Swedish players, his best assets are his skating, puckhandling, and playmaking abilities. He’s also a very strong two-way player. His only drawback appears to be his health. There are some concerns regarding lower back pain he experienced this season. If not for that, his projections would be in the top-15 variety.
3. Luke Adam
A big left wing who makes up for a lack of speed with great hands, Adam drives hard to the net and uses his big frame to bang for loose pucks. Many scouts feel he has great potential once he grows into his large frame and if so, could become a force in the NHL.
4. Mikhail Stefanovich
Stefanovich is another large winger with great hands, but, unlike Adam, he can skate. The biggest knock on Stefanovich is his questionable work ethic. However, the Wings may take a chance on the young Belarussian in hopes that they can mold him into a potential premier power-forward.
5. Jared Staal
The brother of Eric, Marc, and Jordan is a bit of a wildcard. His father once commented that he felt Jared (then 12) was the best of the lot. Things haven’t worked out the same for the youngest of the Staal brothers, but he’s still an interesting prospect.
Staal shouldn’t be a first round selection, so if the Wings were to nab him, it would have to be in the second round. The chances of him being available by then are slim, but if he is still on the board he might be a gamble worth taking.
His pedigree will surely capture the interest of several NHL clubs, but Staal also has a number of quality assets. His skating is excellent for someone his size, and he comes off the wing hard.
It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that Jared could develop into a 20-goal scoring power forward. Some even believe he has the potential to develop into a player of Eric Cole’s ilk. However, those expectations may be unrealistic.
The safe bet is on Gustafsson. He’s the exact kind of player that flourishes within Detroit’s system. Saying that, my personal wish is that Eberle is still in attendance when the Wings take to the podium. In my mind, he’s exactly what this team needs on and off the ice.