“With their first pick, the Detroit Red Wings select Timothy Lilje….wait, what?”. Like many Wings fans, I was surprised when, on Friday, Red Wings GM Ken Holland ignored the man who seemed destined to become a Wing and went in a completely different direction. Liljegren, a smooth skating defenseman, seemed the perfect fit for a team desperate for a puck-moving blueliner. If I were a betting man, I’d have stuck a substantial sum on Holland uttering Liljegren’s name when he came up on stage to make the ninth overall pick, however it wasn’t to be. It seems that Holland came to the draft with one word in mind, and that word was ‘big’. Here’s a look at who the Wings did pick and what they could offer Hockeytown in years to come.
Round 1 – 9th Overall – C Michael Rasmussen – Tri-City Americans (WHL)
With their first top-10 pick since 1991, the Red Wings caused a few shocks by opting for 6ft 6in, 221lbs center Michael Rasmussen. Whilst this isn’t an awful pick, it’s certainly raised a few eyebrows given that Gabriel Vilardi and Owen Tippett were both available. Rasmussen had 55 points (32G, 23A) in 50 games last season, however less than half of those came at even strength. What he will offer is size and strength. Whilst he isn’t the most physical of players given his size, he can protect the puck well and can be a nuisance in and around the net. Ken Holland is perhaps hoping that Rasmussen could become the next Tomas Holmstrom, but would you use a top-10 pick on that? The consensus seems to be that Rasmussen has gone a little higher than he should. Truth is, a net presence is something that the Wings need. They went three months without a powerplay goal on the road at one point last season. Someone like Rasmussen will help ensure that doesn’t happen again.
Round 2 – 38th Overall – D Gustav Lindstrom – Almtuna (Sweden)
Gustav Lindstrom. It certainly sounds like a name the Wings would pick. He’s a 6ft 2in right-shooting defenseman and again, the pick seemed to take a few people by surprise. Experts had him going towards the back end of the second, or possibly into the third round – but the Wings saw fit to take him at 38th. He’s been watched by the Red Wings’ Director of European Scouting, Hakan Andersson, as well as former Wings Captain Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom suggested that his almost namesake is good at finding the open man with his first pass and that he possesses a high compete level. Andersson told DetroitRedWings.com “He competes well, he has a good first pass, a good shot. I’ve already had four or five (scouts) come up to me and said they liked him. A lot of teams thought they would get him later in the second round or early in the third, so I think we were right on.”. Lindstrom played in the Swedish second division last year and had nine points (2G, 7A) in 48 games.
Round 3 – 71st Overall – D Kasper Kotkansalo – Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
With their first of several third round picks, the Red Wings went for another defenseman. This time, 6ft 2in 190lbs Finnish blue-liner Kasper Kotkansalo. Kotkansalo had 12 points (1G, 11A) in 47 games last season. He is a physical, stay at home defenseman with a strong back skate. He also reads the game well. Kotkansalo is committed to Boston University for next season. He was part of the Finland team that won gold at the 2016 Under-18 World Juniors.
Round 3 – 79th Overall – C/RW Lane Zablocki – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Standing at 6ft tall, Zablocki is perhaps a more ‘typical’ Detroit pick. The forward, who can play center or right wing, split last season between the Regina Pats and Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. In total, he had 54 points (28G, 26A) in 64 games. He also added six goals and two assists in six playoff games. Zablocki was compared to Red Wings prospect Tyler Bertuzzi by scout Tyler Wright. He described Zablocki as being an “agitator who plays a hard game, but also has the ability to score goals.”
Round 3 – 83rd Overall – C Zach Gallant – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Zach Gallant is, for me, a solid pick. Not a spectacular player by any means, but he is able to produce offensively despite excelling at the defensive aspects. He was voted the best defensive forward by OHL coaches and also ended the season with the league’s best faceoff percentage. Gallant contributed 47 points (21G, 26A) in 60 games.
Round 3 – 88th Overall – G Keith Petruzzelli – Muskegon (USHL)
With the 88th pick, the Wings went ‘big’. This time taking a giant of a goalie in the shape of 6ft 5in Keith Petruzzelli. For his size, Petruzzelli is very agile, his glove being his biggest asset. The Wings are pretty low on goalie prospects right now, so Petruzzelli is a welcome addition to the organization. He’s committed to Quinnipiac University for next season.
Round 4 – 100th Overall – D Malte Setkov – Malmo
For this pick, the Red Wings went back to Europe. And again, they drafted a big guy. Malte Setkov is a 6ft 6in Danish defenseman currently playing in Sweden’s top junior league for Malmo Redhawks. In 38 games last season he had 12 points (2G, 10A). For his size, he’s a strong skater and he also possesses a good first pass. He’ll need time to work on his defensive game before making any move across to North America. His size makes him an attractive prospect as a future shutdown blue-liner.
Round 5 – 131st Overall – D Cole Fraser – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
The Wings went back to the Petes for their fifth round selection, this time taking defenseman Cole Fraser. He nearly missed his name being called. He was returning from the lavatory when Ken Holland made the pick and had to hurry to the stage. Fraser is another physical player and is a typical shutdown type defenseman. He has little in the way of offensive upside, but given the Wings’ struggles in their own end last season, this won’t be a problem. Fraser contributed 19 points (6G, 13A) in 61 games last season.
Round 6 – 162nd Overall – RW Jack Adams – Fargo (USHL)
Another pick, another big body. This time, the USHL’s top goalscorer. Adams, legally John but known as Jack, had 37 goals and 60 points in 56 games last season. He’s 6ft 5in and weighs in at 194lbs. Now aged 20, it seems that Adams has now grown into his frame and it has really improved his game. The season before last, he recorded just 24 points (8G, 16A) in 54 games. Adams has good hands and a nose for the net. His lack of speed and below average skating ability may hinder his progression, however. Certainly seems worth a punt this late in the draft.
Round 6 – 164th Overall – D Reilly Webb – Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
Webb’s season was cut short by a separated shoulder. He managed just 12 games with Hamilton, adding a single assist. He’s a smooth skater, and whilst he may be some way off the NHL he’s worth a gamble at this point. Another player with size, he’s 6ft 3in.
Round 7 – 193rd Overall – C Brady Gilmour – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
What’s this? A player under 6ft tall? Well, I never. Brady Gilmour is what you’d expect out of a last round pick. Lots of effort, high work rate – and last season that got him some rewards. He had 47 points (26G, 21A) in 65 games. He was also one of the Spirit’s Alternate Captains. He’s a small guy at 5ft 10in, but he’s got a big heart. Something always appreciated in Hockeytown.
There has been much criticism of Ken Holland following the draft, particularly for the Rasmussen pick. Whilst I agree that it was a surprise pick, and certainly not one I saw coming, I don’t think things are quite as doom and gloom as has been suggested. The Wings need help all over, and whilst none of those drafted can offer a solution right away, I believe that given time at least some of them will be able to make the step up. Part of the criticism of Holland was that the likes of Rasmussen and Lindstrom went too early. While this may be true, to me it’s an indication that the powers that be went in with a strategy and stuck to it. They knew who they wanted.
Overall, I’d give the Wings a C. Nothing spectacular in this draft, but they’ve taken a few Europeans in there and with Hakan Andersson involved, there’s always the potential to dig out that late round gem. I’m relatively happy – but it rankles a bit that not only did we pass on Liljegren, he went to a divisional rival. If he’s as good as I think he can be, we’ll be getting regular reminders of what we could have had on a very regular basis.