Most organizations choose to either retool through free agency or rebuild through the draft. The Detroit Red Wings, however, chose to take the path least often employed and mixed retooling and rebuilding to continue their 23-year-long playoff streak.
General Manager Ken Holland and his front office staff have selected enough talent through past drafts to begin filling out an NHL roster, and this came to fruition in 2013-14 via players such as Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan, and Tomas Tatar.
The Red Wings will have a higher first round pick (15th) than they have had since they had the 10th overall pick in 1991. It is very possible that Detroit holds onto the pick, but it would fit their prior draft strategies to trade the pick, move down, and take their chances developing talent picked in the later rounds of the draft.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Anthony Mantha, RW
2. Petr Mrazek, G
3. Tomas Jurco, RW
4. Riley Sheahan, C
5. Xavier Ouellet, D
6. Ryan Sproul, D
7. Teemu Pulkkinen, RW
8. Andreas Athanasiou, LW
9. Alexey Marchenko, D
10. Mattias Backman, D
Detroit moved Calle Jarnkrok to Nashville for David Legwand at the trade deadline because a combination of rampant injuries and a lack of NHL-ready centers in the AHL left them paper-thin up the middle. The Red Wings need to draft centers to develop. While healing from various injuries should bolster the NHL roster and give younger center prospects time to develop, the Wings need to restock on centermen to avoid being pressed into making trades they may not want to in the future.
The Red Wings could use help on the left wing. Andreas Athanasiou had a good 2013-14 season, and while he may develop into a top-six forward in the NHL, there is a lack of depth behind him. Tyler Bertuzzi had a good MasterCard Memorial Cup run and returned sooner than expected from injury, but he needs to play a full season before any true judgment can be passed on his potential.
Though it may not necessarily qualify as a need, expect Detroit to continue their pattern of selecting a goaltender every other draft. Petr Mrazek will likely stay in the AHL in 2014-15 in order to get more ice time, but he is at least ready for NHL backup duty. Outside of Mrazek, Detroit does not have any goaltender prospects who are close to being ready to play in the NHL. Jake Paterson is more talented than his OHL statistics would indicate, but he still needs time to adjust to the professional game in the AHL.
Detroit has a veritable stable of defensemen who should eventually play in the NHL. From Xavier Ouellet to Ryan Sproul to Alexey Marchenko, the Red Wings have done an excellent job selecting and developing rearguards. Though most of Detroit's most polished defensemen are in the AHL, players like Mitch Wheaton and Marc McNulty in the WHL have a great deal of potential and could someday replace the aforementioned AHL players should they fill out the Red Wings' roster the way the front office believes they can.
The Red Wings also have a great deal of talent along the right wing. Anthony Mantha is the most notable prospect on the right side, as his incredible 2013-14 season has made him one of the very few Detroit prospects who could bypass the AHL and win an NHL roster spot in training camp. Mitch Callahan, Zach Nastasiuk, and Teemu Pulkkinen are all right wingers who have the talent and work ethic to one day earn NHL roster spots themselves.
As mentioned above, Detroit has recently experienced a thinning of their depth up the middle due to trades as well as players like Joakim Andersson graduated to the NHL and Riley Sheahan close behind him. There are a number of talented centers expected to be available in the mid- to late-first round, and it would be no surprise if the Red Wings selected one of them in order to address what appears to be their most pressing need.
Petr Mrazek appears to have a long-term future in the NHL, though he will spend the season continuing to develop as the starting netminder for the Grand Rapids Griffins. Behind Mrazek, Jake Paterson is something of an unknown. He will be given the opportunity to continue to grow. Speaking of growth, Jared Coreau, signed through the 2014-15 season, seems to have hit a wall in his development and will likely not factor into Detroit's future plans, making the need for another goaltender in the system more pressing.
Picking higher than they have in the first round since 1991 may seem like a temptation to keep their pick, but Detroit does have a tendency to move their higher picks in order to accumulate numerous lower round selections. Just last year the Red Wings traded the 18th overall selection to San Jose for the 20th and 58th overall picks. In 2011, Detroit moved the 24th overall pick for the 35th and 48th overall selections.
Ken Holland and company like to select players from the CHL, with no real distinction between OHL, QMJHL, and the WHL. The Red Wings front office has a strong European scouting department, and they almost always select at least one player from Sweden thanks to the keen eye of Detroit's Director of European Scouting, Hakan Andersson. Though they typically shy away from NCAA prospects, Detroit has selected them with slightly increasing frequency (see Mike McKee in 2012, Ben Marshall in 2010, and Riley Sheahan in 2010).
Detroit has seven picks in the 2014 NHL Draft. Their selections are 15, 76, 106, 136, 166, 196, and 201 (from San Jose).
Hockey's Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
15. Dylan Larkin, LW, USNTDP
The trade of Calle Jarnkrok and impending graduation of Riley Sheahan to the NHL leaves the Red Wings prospect pool a little thin down the middle. Dylan Larkin is an assertive, playmaking forward who has excellent hockey sense and can contribute at both ends of the ice. A Michigan native, he should be a great fit for the Wings and will be given plenty of time to develop at the University of Michigan. He should see loads of ice time from the minute he steps on campus, much like JT Compher (BUF) did last season.