Detroit’s scouting staff waited more than five hours at their draft table watching as other teams selected their future players. Having traded their previous picks throughout the 1998-1999 season , Detroit broke ( in fact smashed ) an NHL draft record by not making a selection until the 120th overall pick. Rumors had the Wings attempting to get back into the first round but nothing ever came of those. Clubs knew the talent level in this draft was high and with the salary structure way out off kilter, other teams were not listening to many offers.
In the end the Red Wings stated that they wanted to find one NHL player in this draft if possible. Judging by earlier drafts, this was an imposing task to say the least. Looking back at drafts as early as 1983, players taken 120th overall or later had less than 10% chance of ever playing in the NHL as a regular. In fact, only about 8 players a year on average ever make it more than a year or two if taken after the 120th pick. For Detroit to find one of these “diamonds in the ruff “, the scouting staff had better done their homework.
Traditionally, the Detroit Red Wings draft what they consider to be safer players. They look for skaters that have great character and maybe less upside. The 1999 draft was a bit different however. Jim Nill, Detroit’s head scout said, “We went for the home run…. we were looking for the next Pavol Demitra.”
The Red Wings began by playing the percentages. Most skaters that play in North America are heavily scouted since the time they are 15 or 16. Very few with actual NHL potential slip through the cracks and fall to the 120th overall pick. Detroit would have to look to across the pond to find its diamonds.
The first place they stopped was in Sweden where Detroit took a 6-0 172 lb junior player that was rated 218th by the Red Line Report and 61st among Europeans by Central Scouting. Jari Tosla scord 16 goals and 37 points in 35 games with Frolunda, in the Swedish Junior League. He is a left wing and started his NHL career by stumping everyone. The pick caught the league completely by surprise. So much so, that the NHL had to make a draft board insert with Tolsa’s name on it.
The Wings like Tolsa for his upside. He is a strong skater that has grit and character. Head European scout Hakan Andersson compares him to current Red Wing Tomas Holmstrom except with more natural skill and less size. In fact the only real downside to Tolsa is his slight stature. At 5-11 170, he would get manhandled in the NHL. Andersson said, “I’m a little bit excited. You could get a 20-year old here maybe who could turn out to be a sixth defenseman or a fourth-line forward. This guy has more of an upside. He needs to get stronger. If he doesn’t, he probably won’t play in this league .”
Andersson also pointed out that though Tolsa is not as strong as Holmstrom, he has better finish and the same grit. “He’s determined,” Andersson said. “He’s a long-term project but he does have that upside.”
Without another pick until late in the 6th round, the Red Wings agreed to send their 5th round selection in next years draft for San Jose’s 149th selection in 1999. With that pick the Wings traveled to Russia where unrated Andrei Maximenko awaited. Totally over looked by the Red Line report and forgotten by Central Scouting, Maximenko impressed the Red Wings with his skills. Though like Tolsa he needs to get stronger ( Maximenko is 5-11 172 ). The Wings feel that with some growth and weight training that Andrei can play in the NHL someday. “A very quick player, not big, but has offensive abilities,” Nill said. “He’s still young. He has potential.” Maximenko had one assist in 16 games with Krylja Sovetov in the Russian High League.
After traveling to Europe, the Red Wings returned to North America with the next pick taking 20 year old Kent McDonell 181st overall. McDonell spent last season with Guelph of the OHL where he recorded 31 goals and 69 points. He is a bit undersized at 6-0 175, but Detroit sees a bit of Kirk Maltby in his game. They like the fact that he can bang, agitate and score. Kent had been drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997 but failed to come to terms. He re-entered the draft and did something rarely done, improved his draft position. The Wings will likely place him in the AHL next season and hope he can progress to the next level in a few years. Jim Nill said, “It’s the same with all these kids. You hope to find a sleeper. ”
Detroit went back to Sweden with the 210th overall pick. Henrik Zetterberg played with Timra of the Swedish 1st Division last season were he turn in very respectable numbers ( 12 goals and 25 points in 24 games ). Rated 41st among Europeans by Central scouting Zetterberg is also undersized at 5-11 176. The Wings made a habit of taking players long on skill but short on size in the 1999 draft. Henrik is a solid skater and puck handler but needs to get stronger ( no, this is not a broken record ). Detroit feels that while Zetterberg is not quite as talented as their other 1999 European selections, the organization has a wealth of muckers and grinders in the system and need an influx of talent even if it is in the form of a long shot.
For the remainder of the draft the Red Wings went to players that played Canadian major junior. Ranked 231 overall by CSB, the Wings’ grabbed Borodkin with their 5th pick of the draft at 238th overall. Although more highly thought of earlier in the season, Borodkin dropped significantly throughout the year due to a lack of production. A bit undersized, Anton is good with the puck and has shown some ability to be a playmaker. However, like most of the players selected in the late rounds of the draft, he has a long way to go in developing NHL skills.
Detroit’s last selection is a bit of a surprise. Ken Davis ( 6-4 210 ) was projected to go in the top three rounds ( 94th by Red Line, 96th by Central scouting ) in the 1999 draft. However, a slow offensive season (13 goals, 14 assists, 27 points, 76 penalty minutes in 72 games ) with Portland of the WHL and questionable skating dropped Davis all the way to the 9th round. In a preseason prospect publication, Hockey Prospects Underground projected Ken as a possible 1st rounder rating him the 25th best prospect in the 1999 draft. Detroit hopes that Ken improves his skating enough to become a power forward in the NHL someday. However, based on the fact that 265 players were taken ahead of Ken, he has a long way to go to make it to the NHL.
When all was said and done, most publications had Detroit at a D or an F for a draft grade. The players that the Wings did take are long shots but they do have talent. It will take several years to discover if these players indeed have the potential that Detroit’s scouts say that they have. The Wings would merely like to find one NHL player here but the numbers are clear, the chances are slim. The Wings likely spent nine hours at a draft table for little or no return but only time will tell. One thing is clear. The Wings feel that they need to restock at forward and they hope the NHL of future will allow smaller, quicker players to succeed.