The Detroit Red Wings continue their march against time and lowered expectations, still contending in the Atlantic Division as everyone awaits their downfall. Another 100-point season later, things are at an odd crossroads for yet another offseason in Detroit.
Out the door is head coach Mike Babcock. The team continues to lean on aging veterans Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall, but they’ve managed to find gems in Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Danny DeKeyser to take the reins. In addition, they’ve managed to stock the cupboard with one of the better prospect groups in the NHL. Teemu Pulkkinen, Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Ryan Sproul are just a handful of the prospects in the system that are expected to not only make the roster in the near future, but contribute heavily to the legacy of success in Motown.
While the goal at the 2015 NHL Draft was to fill needs, GM Ken Holland and company looked to the future as well. They added to the pile of quality offensive wingers with the selection of Evgeny Svechnikov with the 19th overall pick. The Red Wings also added size (Patrick Holway) and offensive ability (Vili Saarijarvi) on the back end, while taking a flyer on another potential mid-round gem at goaltender in Joren Van Pottelberghe. No one selected is likely to have an immediate impact, but there are several names picked that could have long-lasting impacts in the red and white as the team reloads down the road.
Evgeny Svechnikov, LW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
1st round, 19th overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 201 lbs.
Every year, there are a handful of wild cards in the draft and Svechnikov was one of them. 2014-15 was his first season in North America and he didn’t disappoint. Svechnikov displayed wonderful skill to go with his power forward size.
Though he is likely a few years away from the main roster, Svechnikov not only brings a ton of skill to the Red Wings’ prospect ranks, but he brings much-needed size in the top six as well.
Svechnikov, who only has one year on North American ice under his belt, had originally intended to make the jump across the pond a year earlier. He said of his coming to North America: “Really important, for me it’s a huge step towards the NHL. I wanted to come here a year before, but could not. But it’s very important for me because I want to go to the NHL.”
He also acknowledged the help he has gotten in making the huge transition of coming to a whole new continent as a teenager. “You know what, I cannot thank enough what lots of people have done for me. Of course, I want to say ‘thanks’ to everyone. Office staff, my parents, my friends, my teammates and my coach. These guys do everything for me. And my parents, I love them. I can’t say enough about everyone.”
Svechnikov also realizes that he is part of a new Russian wave, with so many of his countrymen being selected in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. “Yeah, exactly. I think for Russia this is the best time, especially for Russian hockey and for Federation hockey, I think it’s really, really good.”
With the current depth of the Red Wings roster and so many bright young prospects already in line to take a crack in front of him, it will likely be a few years before we see Svechnikov in the Motor City. Another season with Cape Breton is in the cards and he could end up playing a year in the AHL unless he dazzles in a future training camp. When he finally arrives, he should slide into a top-six role and bring a boatload of offense with him.
Svechnikov met with the media following his selection by the Red Wings, with some of his comments being captured in this Hockey’s Future video.
Vili Saarijarvi, D, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
3rd round, 79th overall
Height: 5-9 Weight: 161
The diminutive Saarijarvi is an interesting case. He’s a converted forward with a distinct lack of size, yet a ton of ability. Having played in the USHL in 2014-15, he is a relative unknown and definitely a bit of a risky pick who could end up rewarding the team.
The young man himself describes his game: “(I’m an) offensive defenseman. I like to skate the puck, I like to play the power play. Those are my strengths. Yeah, an offensive game. … I was a forward a couple of years ago, so there’s probably a reason I’m so offensive.”
Saarijarvi has already been signed to a three-year, entry-level deal and though he had already signed to play for Karpat of the Finnish league, he and the Red Wings are eyeing the Flint Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League as his next home. It would not only give the young Finn a chance to develop, but to do so right in the Red Wings’ back yard.
When asked about what he knew of Detroit, Saarijarvi replied: “I don’t really know that much about Detroit, but I’m really excited to learn.”
Given his relative inexperience on the blue line coupled with his size issues, it will be more than a few seasons before Saarijarvi is ready to sniff the main roster. He’s got to work on tightening up his game in his own zone to compensate for his lack of size. He’ll likely explore the finer points of his offensive game too, which could be the strength that gets him to the NHL.
Saarijarvi spoke with the media after having his name called by Detroit, with some of that discussion included in this HF video.