Detroit Red Wings: Yzerman won’t shy away from drafting Russian prospects

(Photo by RvS.Media/Monika Majer/Getty Images)
(Photo by RvS.Media/Monika Majer/Getty Images) /

General manager Steve Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings have plenty of needs throughout their roster. However, Detroit is still in a position to select the best player available on Wednesday evening, regardless of positional need.

The Detroit Red Wings should be looking to add another top-center prospect and a right-handed defenseman. There is much speculation surrounding the Russian-born prospects entering the 2023 NHL Entry Level Draft for obvious reasons. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Ukraine counter-attack is limiting NHL scouting availability. And as of Friday, there is more chaos in Russia as tension mounts in Moscow with the new development surrounding Russia’s private mercenary group Wagner and its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Naturally, Yzerman is big on scouting, and during the COVID-19 pandemic spoke about wishing the league could skip or delay a draft, maybe even holding two drafts in one year when all of the junior hockey had been shut down.

So, will Yzerman be reluctant to select one of the top Russian players? He says no.

"“We just watch, and If we like the player, regardless of the country he lives in, and he’s what we want, we’re going to pick him,” Yzerman said.“Just looking at the most recent previous drafts, I don’t think things were that much different,” Yzerman said. “Teams are going to take the best player on their list at that time, and I don’t think there is really a negative bias for whatever reason, whether it be contract status, or (anything) out of Russia. The only challenge has been, and the only concern, is the ability to really see the kids.”"

The Red Wings will not be reluctant to select Russian prospects regardless of their immediate availability.

During the Zoom media conference earlier this week, Yzerman also once again talked about how teams’ top scouts are primarily based in North America but travel and have scouts throughout Europe who are reluctant to go to Russia or simply can’t are not seeing the prospects and getting as in-depth of an evaluation as they usually would on those players. Yzerman said teams might be more reluctant to use a high selection on a player they simply haven’t seen. He also mentioned that as teams go through the draft, they will select the best players even if they are under contract in Russia. They anticipate said player will eventually find their way to North America if they are good.

Reading the tea leaves, Yzerman had been talking about Matvei Michkov, who is expected to be a top-four choice on Wednesday evening. Michkov, 18, is under contract in Russia until 2026, and it will be difficult for him to defect earlier. Michkov has often been ticketed as the next Nikita Kucherov; regardless of positional need, that is a difference maker the Detroit Red Wings organization desperately needs, even if they have to wait a few years.

Michkov recorded nine goals and 20 points over 27 games and was a plus-1 playing for Sochi HC of the KHL this season. It’s doubtful that Michkov falls to the Detroit Red Wings, who pick first at No. 9, but if he does, it seems as though Yzerman will be prepared to select the Russian winger regardless of his immediate availability.

Five forwards to pursue via trade ahead of the NHL Draft. light. Trending

Dmitri Simashev and Daniil But are two other Russian prospects expected to go in the top 24 on Wednesday at the draft. Simashev was recently ranked by The Athletic (subscription) as the fourth-best defenseman available, which may put him in play when the Detroit Red Wings select at No. 17. But is a right-handed winger that typically plays on the left side; he’s ranked No. 21 by The Athletic.