The Red Wings entered last weekend in Buffalo with a clear mindset: bolster the blueline. Trading Pavel Datsyuk‘s contract was anything but defensive setting up for a hot 1st of July, but as for the selections, the team looked to stock their cupboard after selecting just two defensemen in 2014 and 2015 combined. They selected four this time around, the most since 2011, including one in the first round for the first time since 2007 (Brendan Smith). Smith is an NHLer, and three of the five selected five years ago (Xavier Ouellet, Alexey Marchenko, Ryan Sproul) are household names in the organization that will get a solid shot in Traverse City to make a team in transition. Marchenko and Ouellet have already combined for 110 NHL contests already with the latter looking to be a regular for the first time in his professional career.
Red Wings Take “Defensive Approach at 2016 Draft
Getting back to 2016, let’s take a look at how the whole weekend shook out for General Manager Ken Holland and the rest of his brass.
Pavel Datsyuk (C) and the 16th overall pick to Arizona for Joe Vitale (C), the 20th overall pick, and a 2016 second round pick (53rd overall).
Considering the situation the Red Wings found themselves in with Datsyuk and the big names up front on the market in free agency along with the fact that defenseman Jakob Chychrun (scouting report here) went from a projected top-ten pick to 16th overall, Holland consulted with his group until the clock went to zero and then some. Chychrun fell into their laps, and he provided some leverage for Detroit against Coyotes General Manager John Chayka who coveted the offensive blue liner that could be added to a plethora of young defense in the near future. Holland pulled some magic here, not allowing Arizona to snatch a young forward a la Tomas Jurco or Teemu Pulkkinen as a reward for taking on Datsyuk’s cap hit while getting a second round pick in the process. This July 1st and how Chychrun progresses in Arizona’s system will determine the winner(s) of this deal, but it has put the Red Wings in an enviable financial position to chase some big fish and improve their offense.
First Round Selection (20th Overall)
Dennis Cholowski, D, Shoots Left Chilliwack Chiefs, BCHL
Described as a strong two-way defenseman by LWOS’s Top Shelf Prospects, Cholowski became the highest drafted Red Wing defenseman since Jakub Kindl in 2005 (19th overall). After a four-goal, 27-point performance in 55 games in 2014-15, he showed his offensive potential this season. 12 goals and 40 points in 50 contests this season served as an impressive encore and a great sign for his development. Committed to St. Cloud State this fall, the 18-year old Langley native will be a pupil of head coach Bob Motzko, who holds a 235-164-32 record in 11 seasons with the school coming off his best season (31-9-1). He also was recently named the head coach of the USA’s World Junior Championship Team that will look to improve upon its bronze medal at Helsinki. Playing under a high-caliber coach and on a weekend schedule will allow him to work on his skating and fill out his frame which currently sits at 6’0″, 170 lbs.
Second Round Selections (46th and 53rd Overall)
Givani Smith, RW, Shoots Left, Guelph Storm, OHL
Already a handful at 6’1″, 197 pounds, the 18-year old Smith is a thoroughbred when it comes to forechecking. He can throw hits in all zones, score from outside, drop the gloves and agitate, similar to a Guelph alumnus currently in Detroit’s system, Tyler Bertuzzi. Smith and him were teammates for a time in 2014-15. That year, the Toronto native was ignited after a trade from the Barrie Colts, scoring seven goals and 15 points in 30 games with the Storm compared to just four assists with the Colts in 31 contests. This past season, Smith continued to impress potting 23 goals and 42 points in 65 games, racking up 146 penalty minutes in addition to lead the OHL. While it’s nice to get under the skin of the opposition, Smith will need to cut down on his bad penalties and time his hitting better in his own zone. He’ll likely start 2016-17 with the Storm, who finished dead last in the West this season with 49 losses, two seasons removed from a conference-leading 52-win campaign.
Filip Hronek, D, Shoots Right, HC Hradec Kralove, Czech League
Rising through the ranks in Hradec Kralove’s junior system, Hronek has shown the offensive potential that the Wings coveted him for, scoring eight goals and 33 points in 32 games combined from 2014-16 for the U20 first and second teams. He added nine points in an impressive ten-game performance in the Playoffs this season. He was not much of an offensive performer in the men’s league where he played most of his hockey this season notching four assists in 40 games, but has impressed on an international stage including this past World Junior Championships where he posted two assists in five games. A great thinker on the ice, he’ll need to improve his muscle to play against tougher competition in North America (163 pounds) to let his defensive game shine in addition to his playmaking skills.
4th Round Selection (107th Overall)
Alfons Malmstrom, D, Shoots Left, Orebro NK J20, SuperElit
There’s not much to say about the Lulea, Sweden native and not much available to base a review on, so Red Wings Chief of European Scouting Hakan Andersson must have seen something in Malmstrom. He has good size to him for an 18-year old (6’2″, 190 pounds) but isn’t much of a point producer, totaling two goals and eight points in 41 games at the SuperElit level, two levels away from playing against men at the SHL level. He’ll likely start at this level next season and be a long-term project.
5th Round Selection (137th Overall)
Jordan Sambrook, D, Shoots Right, Erie Otters, OHL
Another big blue liner (6’2″, 187 pounds), Sambrook brings a lot to the table for the Wings and has the potential to be a solid steal. Throwing pucks up to playmakers like Dylan Strome (37G, 111P), Taylor Raddysh (24G, 73P) and Alex DeBrincat (51G 101P), he had a solid first season with the Otters scoring nine goals and 27 points in 67 games this past season. His two-way game is quite dynamic, as his strong skating and passing skills allow him to transition quickly from zone to zone efficiently while his size helps him work off bigger forwards. His puck poise is a nice tool as well as he’s able to make smart plays at the blue line while getting the puck on net at the right time. He’ll likely need at least two years in the OHL before making the transition to the pros, something the organization will have no problem with.
6th Round Selection (167th Overall)
Filip Larsson, G, Catches Left, Djurgardens IF J20, SuperElit
The second straight goaltender they’ve drafted from the Swedish Leagues, (Joren Van Pottelberghe, 4th round in ’15), Larsson is a tough one to review as well. The Wings are following the NHL trend of choosing relatively big NHL net minders, as the 18-year old stands at 6’2″, 185 lbs in the net. This may be on the lower half of the spectrum, but Larsson is an interesting choice. Currently in the junior program of Djurgardens, he’s had an average career at the J18 level, posting a .897 save percentage and 2.59 GAA in 38 games. This past season at the SuperElit level, he had a less than impressive 3.86 GAA and .872 save percentage and was sent back down to J18 Allsvenskan. He has saved his best work for the playoffs at that level, as in nine games between 2014-16 he’s compiled a 2.18 GAA and .925 save percentage. We’ll see if that can translate to the regular season next year on a consistent basis at the SuperElit level.
Seventh Round Selection (197th Overall)
Mattias Elfstrom, C/LW, Shoots Left, Malmo Redhawks J20, SuperElit
This may be the most intriguing pick up front for Detroit in the draft, one Hakan Andersson seems to be high on. The burly (6’3″, 194 lbs) forward has the versatility to play center and wing and had a strong offensive season this year for the Redhawks, scoring 11 goals and 31 points in 43 games, a far cry from his 2014-15 season (32 GP, five assists). Possessing a top-speed motor, great shot, silky hands, and an emerging physical element, Elfstrom seems to have strong tools that will only improve with the right development and age, as he will be turning 20 going into his third season with the Redhawks. A strong 2016-17 may find him landing in the SHL where he could play against men. If he can make that transition, he’ll be finding himself in North America soon. He’ll be an interesting one to watch develop.
All in all, I’d say this was a strong draft weekend for Detroit. They came away with defensive help to add to the pipeline with possible graduations this year, netted two big young forwards, and attained some flexibility for spending to help improve the team in the present come Friday. What they do with the money remains to be seen, but they are in a good position to make a splash. Stay tuned for a free agency preview on the team that will include top targets, back-up plans, and possible trade candidates.