Ken Holland on the Detroit Red Wings’ drafting philosophy

By Simon Richard

Like in any sphere of activity, the great leaders are the ones who have a clear vision and know how to surround themselves by quality people. These make the successful organizations.

The Detroit Red Wings are a good example of a successful organization.

They won the Stanley Cup in 1996-97, 1997-98 and 2001-02 and last year, they ranked first in their conference and made it to the final four in the playoffs.
A total of 14 players, one of the best ratios in the league, were drafted by the organization. Because the team has performed well, the Wings haven’t had a draft selection under the 19th overall since 1992. Nevertheless, the team had success drafting key players. The Wings especially had success of finding great players late in drafts. The team’ s top offensive line is composed of Pavel Datsyuk (6th round, 171st overall, 1998), Henrik Zetterberg (7th round, 210th, 1999 and Tomas Holmstrom (10th round, 257th, 1994). These three players man the Wings power-play unit with the best NHL defenseman at the blue line since many years now – Niklas Lidstrom (3rd round, 53rd, 1989).

The Wings success at drafting began in 1984 while the team drafted Steve Yzerman fourth overall (after Brian Lawton, Sylvain Turgeon and Pat Lafontaine). Since then, which NHL player has been a better NHLer than Yzerman excluding Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky? In the 1989 draft, the Wings added three future superstars to their roster – Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov (4th round, 74th overall) and Vladimir Konstantinov (11th round, 221st). Along with Yzerman, they were the team’s leaders while the Wings won their two Stanley Cup in the 1990’s.

In 1990, the Wings also selected Keith Primeau (1st round, 3rd overall, 1990) and Vyacheslav Kozlov (3rd round, 45th 1990). He was traded for Brendan Shanahan who helped the team to win three cups. Kozlov contributed to the two cups in the 1990’s and was traded for Dominik Hasek in June 2001.Hasek was a key player in the Stanley Cup win the following year.

Hockey’s Future chatted with Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland in Pardubice during the 2008 WJC. He shared his thoughts about the Wings success at drafting.

Looking for skills and being patient

How do you explain the success of the Wings at drafting?

"I think you have to have some luck. You have to be lucky to get success," Holland first replied.

"I think we like skills, we don’t draft projects. Also, because we have a good team, we don’t have to rush anybody, we let the players develop at their own pace. We can afford to be patient with the prospects. We believe it is better to let the players develop correctly, to complete their junior level and eventually play in the AHL or with their European team before playing with the Red Wings. For example, Zetterberg was a very good hockey player, he was 5’10 and only 165 lbs and then grew up a little bit. He was the Rookie of the year in the Swedish League. We left him there one more year, he won the MVP Award there and played at the Olympics," Holland pointed out.

"Another thing that helps us is the fact that our staff has worked together for a long time. Our Director of Amateur Scouting Joe McDonnell has worked with us since 1992 or 1993, Hakan Andersson, our European Chief Scout, has been with us since 1989, my assistant Jim Nill, with whom I have played for the Medicine Hat Tigers back in the mid 1970’s has been with us for 14 years now and (Senior VP) Jim Devellano is part of the team’s direction since the beginning of the 1980’s. Working together for so long time helps us build a chemistry, it helps us to stick to our philosophy based on selecting skilled players that want to compete and want to play hard," stated Holland who was named the Red Wings’ GM in 1997.

Looking for skills remains the base in the search of future Red Wings. A key moment happened in 1995 according to Holland.

"When [Scotty] Bowman played the five Russians together in 1995, we started playing with the puck, since then, we play with the puck, we play with the puck, we play with the puck," repeated Holland. "Doing so, their skills improve, we have a philosophy, we stick to it," said Holland.

Leadership plays a major role

"The veterans’ leadership is also playing a major role in the development of our players. Igor Larionov and Steve Yzerman have had a major impact on Pavel Datsyuk. You know, Pavel looked up to Larionov and the latter was always talking to him. He was talking about how to be a professional, how to eat, how to train and how to come to practice every day.

"Chris Chelios took Jiri Fischer under his wing, they have played together when we won the cup in 2002. Fischer was the partner of Chelios and they also were talking all the time on the bench. Lidstrom partners up with Niklas Kronwall. So our young kids are paired with veterans and the latter are teaching them how to play the game. This is also a major fact that helps us developing our prospects," added Holland.

Building the team on drafting

"In the past, we have added key players in our roster to help us, with guys like Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille, but really, the core of our team has always been built on our draft," Holland pointed out.

"Sometimes, we used our draft picks to improve our team, like we did, for example, with the trade of [Keith] Primeau for [Brendan] Shanahan," recalled the Wings GM.
"In the new world of hockey, you have to rely on the draft and to develop your players. Everybody is now able to spend money on four, five or six players, the rest of the team you either get them out of the draft or you need to find cheap players that nobody else wants. We got some guys that way, like Daniel Cleary, for example," said Holland.

Two representatives at the 2008 WJC

The Red Wings have two prospects playing at the WJC in the Czech Republic.

Drafted in the seventh round of 2006, Regina-born defenseman Logan Pyett is again one of the Wings late-round picks having success. A 5’10 and 199-pound player, Pyett was a member of Team’s Western gold medal winning team at the 2005 World Under 17 Challenge held in Alberta. He was the alternate captain for Team Western. He also won a gold medal with Canada’s National Summer Under-18 Team at the World Cup in August 2005 in Slovakia and Czech Republic.
"I’m very happy with this late draft pick, he is not big but he is strong and competes hard. He’s got offensive instinct, he has a pretty good shot and knows when to jump into the play," said Holland.

"I saw Pyett play against Sweden here, I thought he played well. I think he has a chance to be a Red Wing, but according to our philosophy, he will have to go first to the AHL and continue to develop there as a hockey player," added Holland.

The second Wings prospect at the tournament is Swedish forward Joakim Andersson (2nd round, 2007). He is 6’2 and 205 lbs.

"He is a good two-way hockey player," observed Holland. "I like Andersson because he goes in the hard areas, he goes in the corner and in front of the net. We could see in the game against Canada that he liked the physical play. He is a defensive kind of player.

"He has to improve his skating though," concluded Holland.