Red Wings: Protection List Spotlights Draft Hits & Misses

The Detroit Red Wings’ expansion protection list wasn’t as surprising once the Nick Leddy trade was announced. One of the three remaining defenseman–Troy Stecher, Dennis Cholowski, or Gustav Lindstrom was going to be penciled in while the others were exposed. Stecher being out there is a tough blow for the fans who embraced him this season. But looking at Cholowski being left off, it shows again how drafting is really hit or miss.

Looking at the list, six of the 11 are Red Wings draft picks. Of those six, three are members of the core (Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Filip Hronek) while Michael Rasmussen is rising. Gustav Lindstrom and Givani Smith are hopefully rising as well–but their time in the NHL isn’t as extensive yet.

What does this all mean? It shows again how important the draft is to a team’s long term success and also just how important it is to hit on those picks–especially in the first round.

Red Wings Drafts in the Last Decade Were Mixed

I go back to a tweet that was circulated a few weeks ago about how fans tend to overvalue their prospects. The future looks bright–even I’ve been guilty in admitting that–but until they hit and are producing at their expectation level, all bets are off. The pressure is immense now more than ever. Especially in the first round.

Perhaps the greatest sin the Red Wings committed in the era of Ken Holland was not knowing when–or how–to truly “rebuild on the fly.” It was his catch phrase as the Wings sunk following the retirements of Brian Rafalski, Nicklas Lidstrom, and then made some pretty brutal free agent signings. When Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar appeared to be more gems, things seemed okay.

But what Holland critically needed more than anything was for his first round picks to hit–no matter how low the Wings were selecting. Going through the final ten drafts of Holland’s tenure, here are the results:

  • 2009: No 1st Rounder (Traded to Tampa for their 2nd Rounder – Landon Ferraro)
  • 2010: Riley Sheahan (Traded to Pittsburgh in 2017)
  • 2011: No 1st rounder (Traded for two ’11 2nds – Tomas Jurco & Xavier Ouellet)
  • 2012: No 1st rounder (traded for Kyle Quincey)
  • 2013: Anthony Mantha (traded to Washington in 2021)
  • 2014: Dylan Larkin (in NHL–on protected list)
  • 2015: Evgeny Svechnikov (status TBA)
  • 2016: Dennis Cholowski (status TBA)
  • 2017: Michael Rasmussen (in NHL–on protected list)
  • 2018 Filip Zadina (in NHL); Joe Veleno (on the roster)

With each descending round, the likelihood of a prospect making it decreases. In fact, the odds are cut by over half from the first to the second round: from 37.3% to 17.2% according to Dobber Prospects. The first round is critical and yet, there’s a 63% chance of failure.

Until about 2016, the Red Wings were still pushing hard to be a playoff team–at least Holland was making moves in such a way. His free agent signings of that 2016 season didn’t help matters–along with the retirement of Pavel Datsyuk. But that final playoff season–a five game loss to Tampa in the opening round–finished off the delusion that Detroit was still a playoff team. Detroit missed the playoffs in 2017 and Holland’s focus shifted to what had to be a true rebuild.

But of the first round talent Holland drafted, only three are on the active roster with two more having murky futures with the team even if Seattle doesn’t take them.

Holland Still Saw Some Successes

In Holland’s defense, he did hit in the later rounds with players–namely Smith and especially  Hronek. Jonatan Berggren and Veleno (late 1st) are expected to contribute, too. Also in 2009, Holland drafted Tatar late in the second round. Tatar would not only be a mainstay, but also allow Holland to snag a first round pick (and a 2nd and 3rd) from Vegas at the trade deadline. That pick would be used on Veleno.

Holland killed it in 2018 so far. But some of the misses earlier on and especially in 2015 and 2016 hurt the ability to have a more accelerated rebuild. Again, this isn’t to bag on Holland. Scouting is unbelievably important to an organization as well as the development of those prospects. But there is an element of luck involved, too.

Additionally, Mantha allowed Yzerman to grab Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik, the latter being spun off for Leddy.

One has to wonder if Holland fared better in free agency and in his trades earlier on in the decade, if maybe the outcome wouldn’t have been as bad as it turned out.

Final Thoughts

Yzerman has made drafting his priority since arriving, and next season will be the first where he will be judged on his own decision making. Though it looks pretty good so far with Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond, time will ultimately be the judge.

But if there’s anything learned from the list, the next decade needs to have more of those prospects stay long term and meet their contributions if this rebuild is ever going to end.