No team in professional sports does a better job utilizing veteran leadership in grooming young talent than the Detroit Red Wings.
For the first time in years the preeminent leadership that has defined countless postseason runs could be in jeopardy. The cornerstone of the organization, defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, has not yet decided to retire or continue his prolific career in Detroit. The departure of Lidstrom would leave a massive void at the blue line.
I constructed my projections based on two scenarios.
Detroit’s first scenario with the 24th overall selection in the first round is to take the best player available.
The second scenario is directly correlated to Nicklas Lidstroms’s decision to stay or retire. If Lidstrom leaves, and the defenseman I have projected is available to Detroit, they will select him. If Lidstrom goes they will take a forward and address filling Lidstrom’s position through free agency.
These are what I believe to be the top five prospects in the 2011 NHL Draft available to the Detroit Red Wings with the 24th overall selection.
Position: Left Wing
At one point Brandon Saad was being mentioned in the same breath as Swedish sensation Gabriel Landeskog.
Whether it be Saad's inability to make the U.S. team for the world juniors, or the fact that he struggled through a 2010 season riddled with injury and inconsistency, Saad's draft stock has taken a hit.
"The issue with hype comes accountability, and Saad really dropped off the map as the year went forward," said Jesse Marshall of Faceoff Factor. "To be fair, Saad was battling injury...but that same drive and work ethic that put him at the top of a lot of lists to start the year kind of came back to bite him in the end. He appeared disengaged a lot towards the end of the year and some people accused him of mailing it in as the season drew to a close."
Injury and inconsistency aside, any time you can get a top 10 talent near the end of the first round, it’s a talent worth investing in.
Position: Right Wing
Thomas Jurco is the dark horse of the 2011 NHL Draft. He could be selected in the top 25 or he could fall to the bottom 50, but he has begun to move up many teams' draft boards.
Jurco’s game is predicated on great hockey sense and exceptional decision making skills. Thomas is blessed with great size and blazing end-to-end speed, something widely coveted at the NHL level.
I project Jurco to be available at Detroit’s 24th pick. Though I like Jurco’s abilities, I believe that Detroit would be better served by a prospect like Brandon Saad if they elect to go wing.
Rask is an excellent puck handler who is an exceptional finisher. Coupled with a great work ethic and the ability to create on the fly, Rask could be a future All-Star in the NHL.
Once thought to be one of the top prospects available in the draft, Rask has taken a dramatic fall in some scouts' eyes. Though a rare talent, Rask has been tormented by inconsistencies on the offensive and defensive ends. You just don’t know which Victor Rask you’re going to get every time he steps on the ice.
I guarantee you this. If Rask is available at 24, he will be a Detroit Red Wing.
With the surprise retirement of Brian Rafalksi and the possible retirement of legendary Red Wing defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, Joe Morrow would fill an immediate need.
Morrow was by the far the best defenseman in the Western Hockey League last year. As a defenseman for the Winterhawks in 2010 Joe scored nine goals, and added 49 assists, for a total of 49 points.
He is a solid all-around defenseman, who has great puck moving skills. His booming slap shot has Chris Chelios power.
It is highly probable that Morrow could be gone at Detroit’s 24th pick.
Namestnikov is a rare offensive talent who is a reliable finisher in the open space. He is the type of playmaker that Detroit covets in a center.
Vladislav reminds me of a young Pavel Datsyuk. Pavel flourished under mentors Sergei Federov and Steve Yzerman, allowing him to have a moderately productive season in year one.
Namestnikov would be an absolute steal for Detroit at the 24th pick overall. I believe that he could excel on the 4th line in his rookie season alongside veteran Kris Draper.
I would be elated if Detroit walked away with Namestnikov in round one.