The Red Wings maintained their recent trend of looking towards the CHL with their early picks and adding depth later in the draft with prospects playing overseas. The team's first five selections all came from Canadian Major Junior leagues, with six total CHL picks in the 2011 draft class equally distributed among the QMJHL, OHL, and WHL.
Detroit made nine total selections in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and came away with five defensemen and four forwards. The club traded their first round pick (24th overall) to Ottawa in exchange for a pair of second round picks at 35th and 48th, and the team still came away with a prospect considered by many a first round talent. With the blue line a hot topic of debate in Detroit after the retirement of Brian Rafalski, the team added a pair of high-end defensive prospects in the second round. Three more defensemen were added late in the draft, strengthening one of the system's weaker positions.
Despite trading down into the second round, Detroit still came away with one of the more talented forwards of the draft in Tomas Jurco. A key contributor for the juggernaut from Saint John during their QMJHL title and Memorial Cup run, the Slovakian winger is a premier goal scorer with lightning quick hands.
Jurco's otherworldly shootout moves have made him a Youtube sensation and a strong rookie season for Saint John in 2009-10 put him in the conversation of top 10 picks heading into this season. The 18-year-old winger was relegated to more of a secondary role on the deep Sea Dogs offense and suffered through stretches of inconsistency in his second QMJHL season. He was still a major cog offensively for the Sea Dogs in the playoffs, ranking fourth on the team with 18 points in 19 games, and at the Memorial Cup, where he tied for the tournament lead with four goals in four games.
"We've got to polish his defensive game," said Saint John assistant coach Greg Leland is discussing areas in need of improvement. "The biggest thing Tomas needs to work on is his consistency from one game to the next. He'll have three great games and then one so-so and three and one. We're trying to make sure that nine out of ten are top-notch, instead of maybe seven or six."
Despite his flaws, the Red Wings still came away with one of the most highly-skilled offensive forwards of the 2011 class, a skill set accompanied by a solid 6'1 frame and willingness to attack the net. Better dedication to playing the whole ice could make Jurco one of the steals of the early second round.
Lasting until day two may have been disappointing, but there is always the bright side of joining a competitive team like the Red Wings. The level of players already in Detroit should make it an ideal fit for a player of Jurco's ability, as Central Scouting's Kim Houston noted before the draft, "The more you see him, the more you appreciate the high level of skill that he has. Having good players around benefits him, too. If there wasn't good players around him, I don't know how much he'd be noticed."
Xavier Ouellet, D – Montreal Juniors (QMJHL)
2nd round, 48th overall
Height: 6'0 Weight: 179 lbs
The Wings' second pick in the second round went to bolstering their defensive depth with the talented Xavier Ouellet. Born in France, the blueliner exploded onto the scoresheet in his second year with the Montreal Juniors.
He ranked second among defensemen on the club with 43 points in 68 regular season games, while his eight assists in 10 playoff games led the blue line. Ouellet meant more to Montreal than just the points, though, as he played on the top pairing with Charles Landry (TB) and was also tasked with shutting down the opponent's top offensive line throughout the season.
Montreal Juniors head coach Pascal Vincent described the blueliner as, "One of the most consistent players on our team since the beginning of the season. He's a very smart two-way player and that's what he brings, he brings good decisions on the ice. He's the type of player that when you put him on the ice, you're just confident in him as a coach. Offensively, defensively, power play, penalty, against the top line. He knows what he has to do with the puck."
With excellent poise and the ability to make smart reads at both ends of the ice, Ouellet brings as much two-way potential as any defenseman in the Detroit prospect system. He also brings solid mobility to the back end, though skating and adding strength are seen as areas in which he could improve.
"He's like a sponge," the coach said, "You tell him something once and you know he's going to at least try it. He might not be able to execute everything right away, but he'll try. We're going to see the best of Ouellet when he's 24, 25, 26 years old with his work ethic and his attitude and the way he's progressing, he's going to be terrific."
Further adding to their depth and diversity on the blue line, Detroit added the 6'3 Ryan Sproul with their third and final pick of the second round. Virtually unknown at the start of the season, a growth spurt and increased role late in the season made Sproul one of the biggest risers heading into the 2011 draft.
After a slow start to his OHL career, Sproul ended up leading all rookie blueliners in the OHL with 14 goals and ranked second with 33 points in 61 games, earning Second All-Rookie Team honors from the league. Just like his growth spurt, Sproul's production and ability to keep up with the speed of the OHL seemed to develop quickly.
"To start off the year, I was [the] seventh [defenseman]," Sproul said, recounting his development during the season, "and the year went on and I got my opportunity, got some chances on the power play and stuff. From then on I started to get more power play time and people got hurt and everything just went uphill from there."
With a heavy shot and ability to quarterback a power play, this selection adds another offensively-inclined blueliner to the Detroit pipeline. While adding strength to his frame will be necessary, Sproul is already aware that he has some work to do.
"My defensive zone is something I know," he said, "I'll be the first to admit that I need to work on, and it's going to come with [developing] size and experience."
Alan Quine, C – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
3rd round, 85th overall
Height: 5'11 Weight: 184 lbs
The third round selection of Alan Quine added more offensive firepower to the organization's forward group. A slow start to his OHL season with Kingston and inconsistent production even after being traded to Peterborough led to Quine's stock sliding, but still does not take away from his excellent skating ability and playmaking skills.
Once the second overall pick in the OHL draft, Quine was able to play a bigger role after his trade to Peterborough, finishing the year with 22 goals and 20 assists in 52 games with the Petes.
He credits the trade for giving him, "a little more opportunity, a little more development, and the great staff of Peterborough. I think that really helped me a lot."
The Orleans, Ontario-native also displayed some defensive ability for Canada as a penalty killer at the U18 tournament and still managed to score a goal and seven points in seven games. He describes himself as a, "strong two-way forward, with good offensive instincts and good speed. I think I'm able to finish when I get the chance and keep things good in my own end as well."
Quine's skating will be his ticket to the professional level, but it will be his development in the other ares of his game that will ultimately determine his long-term role.
A serious shoulder injury early in the season kept Tvrdon sidelined for a majority of the year. The big Slovakian winger was considered among the top draft-eligible WHL prospects heading into the season, but the extent of his injury and thus limited viewings in his draft year, caused his stock to dramatically fall.
Strong showings in international play, particularly tying for the team lead with three goals in four games for Slovakia's U18 entry in 2010, meant high expectations for Tvrdon when he arrived in the WHL. He skated in 12 games with the Vancouver Giants before suffering the injury, but still showed off his offensive skill with six goals and five assists.
At 6'2 and 210 pounds, he is a strong skater and can be tough to handle for opposing defenders. While he is a bit of an unknown because of the injury, he will have the opportunity to bounce back for Vancouver next season and could potentially be another mid-round steal for Detroit.
Philippe Hudon, C/RW – Choate-Rosemary (High-CT)
5th round, 145th overall
Height: 6'0 Weight: 197 lbs
After five consecutive picks from the CHL, Detroit moved on to the New England Prep School ranks in the fifth round. The Quebec-native Philippe Hudon is a competitive, hard-nosed forward who skated the past three seasons with Choate-Rosemary in Connecticut.
Hudon's stock slipped during the season, falling from 31st in Central Scouting's midterm rankings to 74th in the final rankings. His offensive production was steady in prep school, but the 18-year-old forward was unable to make a big leap forward in his draft year.
A heavy shot and willingness to work in the tough areas of the ice are signs of Hudon's offensive potential, but his more obvious skills such as work ethic and physical game make him project as more of a bottom-six energy guy. Detroit will be able to be patient with the forward as he will attend Cornell University in the fall.
Mattias Backman, D – Linkoping Jr (Swe Jr)
5th round, 146th overall
Height: 6'2 Weight: 169 lbs
Detroit's first selection of the draft from a European league was Swedish defenseman Mattias Backman. The extra fifth round pick was acquired from Philadelphia in the trade which sent Ville Leino to the Flyers during the 2010-11 season.
A smooth-skating offensive rearguard, Backman spent most of his 2010-11 season with his hometown Linkoping J20 team. He ranked second on the blue line with 20 points despite only playing in 27 regular season games. He has dressed in 11 Elitserien games for Linkoping in his career, but was limited to just a few minutes of ice time in each of his six appearances with the big club last year.
Steady in his own end and able to make smart reads with the puck, the 18-year-old has an intriguing skill set for Detroit's puck-possession system. Physical development will be key for him in Sweden, where he will hope to earn a bigger role in the Elite league next season.
Richard Nedomlel, D – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
6th round, 175th overall
Height: 6'4 Weight: 204 lbs
Czech-born Richard Nedomlel is considered more of a North American-style defenseman, evidenced by his 275 penalty minutes during the 2009-10 season and playoffs in the Czech U18 league. In his first WHL season with Swift Current in 2010-11, the gritty rearguard racked up another 107 penalty minutes and dropped the gloves seven times in 66 games.
Nedomlel plays with a mean streak, made even more effective by his 6'4 frame and the more disciplined approach he took to the physical game in the WHL. Though he is not known as much of an offensive defenseman, he began earning power play time for the Broncos late in the year and six of his 10 assists came in the final 10 games. The 18-year-old blueliner projects as just the type of tough, shutdown defenseman the Detroit system was lacking.
Alexei Marchenko, D – CSKA Moscow (KHL)
7th round, 205th overall
Height: 6'2 Weight: 183 lbs
Passed over in his first draft year in 2010 because of a severe spleen injury that required surgery, Alexei Marchenko was equally unknown throughout much of this season. His strong play in the KHL did not go unnoticed, however, as he ended up 25th among European skaters in Central Scouting's final rankings and was slotted fifth among draft-eligible Russians by Hockey's Future.
Marchenko skated in 23 games with CSKA Moscow during the regular season, earning just over 13 minutes of ice time but maintaining a decent minus-two rating. He showed off his puck-moving ability in the MHL as part of the powerful SKA-Krasnaya Armiya squad, which captured the Kharlamov Cup as MHL champions. The 19-year-old blueliner led all defensemen in postseason scoring with 11 points in 15 playoff games.
A good skater and smart decision-maker with the puck, Marchenko can still hold his own on the defensive side. His vast improvement over the course of the 2010-11 season makes him an intriguing selection in the seventh round, especially for a team like Detroit with a record of late round success.