After a first round ousting at the hands of Nashville Predators, the Detroit Red Wings are in the midst of their longest off-season since 2006, and maybe their most important in recent memory. The Red Wings have made the playoffs every year since 1991 and every year since 1992 they've had Nicklas Lidstrom manning their blue line. Certainly one of those streaks is ending in 2012-13, but the Wings certainly have enough in the tank and the pipeline to be a very strong team for the future.
Top 10 Prospects:
The Red Wings could be well-served by a bit of re-tooling and giving some of their youth a fighting chance at a quality role. Though the modus operandi in Hockeytown doesn't really allow for prospects to see the light of day before they're overripe, if they should swing and miss at big name free agents such as Zach Parise or Alexander Semin, they may need to pick up the pace on some prospects out of necessity.
Detroit could use a little help on the wing as well, especially down the right side. Tomas Holmstrom is a question mark and whether he returns or not, he doesn't bring much to the table any more. Under Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula, the Wings are a little thin on either side of center.
In the bottom six, the Wings don't have as much sandpaper as they use to employ. They also don't have a history of being a bunch of blood-thirsty brawlers either, but a little size and grit in the bottom-six never hurt anyone – except the opposition, of course.
On the blue line, the Red Wings brass is faced with the impossibility of replacing one of the greatest the game has ever seen in Nicklas Lidstrom. The hope is for Ryan Suter, though Suter remains the hope for 29 other teams in the NHL as well. The entire Detroit blue line will feel the pressure of Lidstrom's loss and will be counted on to weather those minutes that were once so sure-handedly handled. In the brightest spotlight, may be Ian White, Lidstrom's partner for much of the 2011-12 season, and how he will handle the defensive side of things without his anchor being by his side.
In goal, the Wings got a lot of quality mileage from Jimmy Howard last season and will look for more of the same this year. Behind him, Joey MacDonald should have the inside track on the backup job but it wouldn't be terribly surprising if the Wings brought in some competition for the role.
Without even factoring in all-world centers Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings feature a strong, deep, eclectic mix of centers in the system. From skilled players like Calle Jarnkrok and Riley Sheahan to two-way or defensive centermen like Joakim Andersson and Louis-Marc Aubry, the Red Wings appear to have the pivotal position covered for years to come. There's a lot of skill players at the forward position that have bright futures as well. Teemu Pulkkinen, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Marek Tvrdon, and Tomas Jurco among others have a European influence to their games that make them crafty stick-handlers and major offensive threats.
The backline is coming along a bit slower, but they have some nice pieces back there such as Brendan Smith, Xavier Ouellet, and Ryan Sproul. Smith is expected to be in the show in 2012-13 and Ouellet was a first-team all-star in the QMJHL already with still a year of juniors to go. Sproul's big frame and bigger shot has left some mouths watering in anticipation of his arrival in the pro circuit.
Though their forwards are very skillful, they don't have a lot of size and overall don't have a ton of grit. The Wings pride themselves on being a skilled team with good composure and sound decision making, however, their prospect pool doesn't have any big time prospects that can stir the pot very well. Truculence is something that can come in handy from time to time, regardless of style.
The blue line depth is supported by many longshots. Even as longshots, they don't readily appear to have the upside of anything more than a depth defenseman. Smith and Ouellet look especially promising, as mentioned, but the organization will need some things to fall into place to get a lot of good operation out of players like Mattias Backman or Alexei Marchenko.
In the nets, Petr Mrazek made quite the spectacle of himself in the World Junior Championships and looks poised to take the AHL by storm as well. He should be afforded every opportunity to do so, as Thomas McCollum has struggled mightily and Jordan Pearce doesn't have nearly the upside of Mrazek. Overall, the Wings lack quality depth in the crease.
No Detroit draft preview would be complete without mentioning Hakan Andersson or the term "late round gems". With that out of the way, the last handful of measurable Red Wings drafts haven't seen a ton of promise come out of the late rounds. Since Henrik Zetterberg was drafted before the century turned, the Red Wings have really only cultivated Jonathan Ericsson and Darren Helm from the deepest depths of the draft (though, the jury is still out on Jan Mursak's future). Other teams are starting to catch up in their ability to cultivate talent from the late rounds though it should not be a concern for the Wings. They still have terrific scouting and even if they pry players from the more traditional rounds, it doesn't make it any less impressive.
The Wings always have a fair bit of European flair in their draft pulls. They have frequented the major junior route a lot recently, and in the process, selected many Europeans that have been claimed in the CHL Import Draft. The organization has heavily favored Swedes over the years, and backed by the fact that the Wings haven't had a draft go by without pulling a player out of Sweden since 1992, fans can expect that trend to continue for the twentieth year in a row.
They'll often favor skill over size, feeling that strength can be added in all the developmental time that they are allotted. Ken Holland and staff seem to be dissuaded from picking goaltenders terribly often, not at all aided by the shaky progress of 2008 first rounder Thomas McCollum. They've had 58 draft choices since (and including) 2004, and in that time they've only selected netminders Daniel Larsson (3rd round), McCollum (last pick, 1st round) and Petr Mrazek (5th round).
Having traded their first round pick to Tampa Bay in the Kyle Quincey deal, the Wings first selection will occur at 49, followed by 80, 110, 140, 170, and 200.