A Look Back at a Disastrous Red Wings 2017 Draft

detroit red wings 2017 nhl entry draft michael rasmussen
By Jeff Watters

October 28, 2020

The Detroit Red Wings’ 2017 draft was one to forget. With a focus on getting bigger and becoming tougher to place against, the Red Wings made 11 picks. Will any of these picks become impact NHLers? Spoiler: It’s not looking good.

The Red Wings haven’t exactly ‘lucked out’ in the draft lottery over the past four seasons, but as many spots as they’ve dropped (a collective 9 spots), they’ve added a great deal of value to the system.

This is due, in large part, to the sheer volume of picks Ken Holland and Steve Yzerman have accumulated through trade — but you still need to make the picks, and the Wings have made some good ones.

Now, the unfortunate thing about the above assessment is that I am talking about the past four years as a whole. 

This is because if we were to break down each of the past four drafts individually, one would stand out as an absolute dud.

I’m referring, of course, to the disaster that was the Red Wings 2017 draft.

The 1st Round & 9th Overall Pick

The Red Wings finished the 2016-17 season 33-36-13 — good for 79 pts and 7th place in the Atlantic Division. This also gave them the 6th best odds in the draft lottery.

Of course, as I foreshadowed earlier, the Red Wings dropped three spots and were set to pick 9th. 

Are you ready to hate the 2017 draft just a little bit more?

Sure, Nico Hischier is a good looking player and Nolan Patrick may bounce back and become a good NHLer, but do you know who was believed to be #1 on Detroit’s board?

Elias Pettersson.

Sigh.

Before I go any further, I do want to make it clear that I have no problem with the player Detroit picked at 9. I do have a problem with where he was picked, but I do like the player.

With the 9th overall pick, The Red Wings selected 6’6” centre Michael Rasmussen out of the WHL. 

Rasmussen’s 2016-17 season with the Tri-City Americans wasn’t anything spectacular. He was barely a point-per-game player during his draft year, and this was nothing to write home about for a top 10 pick playing in the WHL — especially when 29 of his 55 points were racked up on the power play, and half of his 32 goals were Tomas Holmstrom-esque.

There was (and is, in my mind) no doubt Rasmussen could be an effective NHLer. With his size and net-front presence, the Red Wings made a very ‘safe’ pick. 

But therein lies the problem. 

After missing the playoffs for the first time in 25 years and making their first top-10 pick since drafting Martin Lapointe in 1991, the Red Wings went with the safe pick.

The Wings were clearly trending in the wrong direction and desperately needed an infusion of talent after treading water to keep the playoff streak alive. That talent was on the board, they had a TOP TEN PICK, and they made…the safe pick.

Again, I like Michael Rasmussen. I see his value. I think he was put in a very difficult position two seasons ago when he was ineligible to play in the AHL and thrust into a role he was not ready for in Detroit.

I just didn’t like the pick.

Let me tell you why.

The Alternatives at 9th Overall

Nick Suzuki, C – 13th Overall

Suzuki sure has looked good for Montreal, hasn’t he?

He put up 45 goals and 96 points in 65 games for Owen Sound (OHL) during his draft year and was selected 13th overall by the Vegas Golden Knights.

He is obviously now a Canadien, shipped off to Montreal along with former Red Wing Tomas Tatar and 2nd round pick (which was later dealt to LA and became Samuel Fagemo – fun fact) for Max Pacioretty.

nick suzuki montreal canadiens
Nick Suzuki had a breakout season in 2019-20 | Getty Images

All Suzuki did last season was score 13 goals (41 points) in 71 regular season games for the Habs, and then add on 4 goals (7 points) in 10 playoff games. Looks like a top 6 centre…oh joy.

Would Suzuki have been a better pick at 9th Overall? Yes.

Martin Necas, C – 12th Overall

How good would Necas look centering a line with fellow Czech, Filip Zadina?

Necas was selected 12th overall by Carolina and was the guy I had my eye on for Detroit.

(Man, has Carolina made some fantastic picks in the draft recently…)

Speed, playmaking ability, great shot. No doubt about it — Necas is elite.

Would Necas have been a better pick at 9th Overall? Yes.

Gabriel Vilardi, C – 11th Overall

Vilardi has dealt with back issues for the better part of two years, missing almost all of the 2018-19 season.

The big centerman finally looked healthy in 2020, and made his NHL debut for the Kings in February. In ten games with the Kings, Vilardi showed why he was taken 11th overall in the 2017 draft, potting 3 goals and 7 points in 10 games.

Vilardi will be given every opportunity in 2021 to prove he belongs in a top 6 role for the KIngs, and that’s exactly where he would be starting the 2021 season with the Wings had Detroit drafted him.

Would Vilardi have been a better pick at 9th overall? Due to the injury history and uncertainty, it’s close, but…yes.

Erik Brannstrom, D – 15th Overall

Brannstrom is another Vegas draft pick that has since been dealt to a Red Wings’ division rival.

The main piece going to Ottawa in the trade that sent Mark Stone to the Golden Knights, Brannstrom is a gifted skater and offensive defenseman, and would be paired with Filip Hronek in Detroit had the Wings gone this route.

Would Brannstrom have been a better pick at 9th overall? Yes.

Robert Thomas, C – 20th Overall

Thomas was just a point-per-game player for London in his draft year, but many believed he had huge offensive upside. 

Well, many would be correct. 

Thomas tucked away 10 goals and had 42 points in just 66 games for the Blues last season.

Would Thomas have been a better pick at 9th overall? Yes.

robert thomas st. louis blues
Robert Thomas sure would look good in the Winged Wheel | Frank Franklin II, AP

I just named 4 top 6 forwards and a top 4 defenseman, all of whom would have been better selections at 9th overall.

With Suzuki, Necas, Vilardi, Brannstrom, and Thomas all available in Detroit’s most important draft in decades, they passed on all of the above and took who I believe to be a bottom 6 forward in Michael Rasmussen. The Red Wings’ 2017 draft class would look dramatically different had they snagged one of these players in the 1st round.

Ok, so that wraps up the 1st round.  With 10 more picks in the draft, surely we could expect the Wings to identify some skilled, high upside prospects and infuse some much-needed talent into the system, right?

They made their ‘safe’ pick on Day 1, so now it’s time to take some shots on guys with big tools. I mean, 10 picks. They could afford to take some big swings here, couldn’t they?

Nope.

The Red Wings’ Draft Picks (Rounds 2 – 7)

It quickly became apparent this was not the direction Tyler Wright and company were looking to go on Day 2.

Here are the Red Wings selections from rounds 2 – 7. Noted is their height/weight (more on that later) and current status with the team:

Rd.

Pick

Player

Ht,Wt

Status

2

38

Gustav Lindstrom, D

6-2, 187

DET - ELC

3

71

Kasper Kotkansalo, D

6-3, 198

Unsigned

3

79

Lane Zablocki, RW

6-0, 190

Free Agent

3

83

Zachary Gallant, C

6-2, 192

SJS - ELC

3

88

Keith Petruzzelli, G

6-5, 185

Unsigned

4

100

Malte Setkov, D

6-7, 205

Unsigned

5

131

Cole Fraser, D

6-2, 198

Free Agent

6

162

Jack Adams, C

6-5, 205

Unsigned

6

164

Reilly Webb, D

6-4, 201

Free Agent

7

193

Brady Gilmour, C

5-10, 181

Free Agent

You know what stands out to me when I look at the list (aside from the obvious – ‘who??’)?

“Eh…Keith Petruzzelli has a shot?”

keith petruzzelli drafted by red wings
Keith Petruzzelli may have the highest upside of any of the Wings’ 2017 picks. | Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

I’d say it’s not very promising when you’re looking at probably your best value pick in the draft at 88th overall – especially when you’ve already made 5 other picks!

The worst part is, what stands out to me today, in 2020, is what stood out to everyone in 2017:

Out of all of Detroit’s Day 2 picks, the goaltender in the 3rd round may be their best pick. The goaltender chosen with the last of their FOUR third-round picks on the day.

Oof.

Let’s get into the main reason the 2017 draft was such a disappointment:

The “Themed” Draft

Every year, as the draft wraps up, we get to hear from Hakaan Andersson, European Scouting Director, and the Director of Amateur Scouting (then Tyler Wright, now Kris Draper).

As Wright fielded questions and shared his thoughts on the players chosen by Detroit, a trend became apparent.

The Wings had identified a need to get bigger, and instead of targeting skill and the best players available the Red Wings focused on adding size to the organization.

This…was an issue.

It’s not so much the fact that the Wings opted not to sign 5 of the 11 players Detroit selected in the 2017 less than 2 years after they were selected. Most guys will never make it, and the faster you can identify which players to move on from, the better. There are only so many contracts you can offer.

The issue was placing an emphasis on size throughout the entire draft, and considering it the ‘theme’ of your draft. I.e. drafting for size one year, skill the next year, etc.

That’s trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. There was no theme of the 2017 draft. Draft classes don’t have themes.

You could argue there are trends towards the top of a draft. I.e. there were a ton of good centres available in the first round of the 2017 draft; the 2021 draft looks to have some excellent defenseman available in the top 10.

But you can’t place a theme on an entire draft class.

It’s assuming an entire draft class, filled with players with varying skill sets, strengths, and weaknesses all line up well with the theme you’ve placed on your draft strategy.

lane zablocki victoria royals
Lane Zablocki was taken 79th overall in the 2017 draft. | Jon Howe, Kelowna Rockets

It’s taking big, physical depth players instead of skilled players with the potential to play in your top 9 or top 4.

You can’t place a theme on a draft class. Unless your theme is “take the absolute best hockey player available,” you just can’t.

The Results

The Wings drafted two players (Rasmussen and Lindstrom) who have already played games for the big club.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is neither are or project to be impact players, and both were considered reaches relative to where they were taken in the draft. They were safe picks.

We’ve discussed the players that were available to Detroit at 9th overall, but what about those still on the board when the Wings selected Gustav Lindstrom with the 38th pick?

Well, to name a few:

Jason Robertston, F (Dallas), Alex Formenton, F (Ottawa), Alexandre Texier, F (Columbus), Dylan Samberg D (Winnipeg), Maxime Comtois F (Anaheim).

Sure, some of these guys have the size the WIngs so badly coveted, but Tyler Wright and company went with another safe pick.

In Lindstrom, the Red Wings drafted a smart, 2-way defenseman with very little NHL skill. This would be fine as a mid-round pick, but at 38th overall?  Not the type of pick I would be looking to make.

Lindstrom has the ceiling of a number 6 or 7 defenseman, and that’s fine. That’s an NHLer. But the upside was never there. It was another safe pick in the 2nd round.

The rest of the draft saw the Wings continue to draft for size, and with Zablocki, Gallant, Fraser, Webb, and Gilmour going unsigned by Detroit (Gallant later signed with San Jose), the Wings are now left with Kotkansalo, Petruzzelli, Setkov, and Adams.

Kotkansalo, Setkov, and Adams don’t look to be future NHLers, so that leaves us with Keith Petruzzelli.

Petruzzelli is maybe the best of the bunch when it comes to Red WIngs goalie prospects, but goalies are extremely difficult to evaluate/project, and he is far from a sure thing. 

The 6’5” netminder had a bounceback season for Quinnipiac (NCAA) in 2019-20 after struggling in 2018-19. We can only hope Petruzzelli puts together another solid campaign when the NCAA season begins and takes another step in his development.

Final Thoughts

I like Michael Ramussen and I believe he can be an effective bottom 6 forward for the Wings. It would be nice if he could stick at centre, but that remains to be seen.

I think Gustav Lindstrom is fine. He’ll be a bottom pairing defenseman and I think he’s likely to be selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 expansion draft.

It’s anybody’s guess as to what Keith Petruzzelli’s future holds. He’s years away. I am hopeful. Call it ‘cautious optimism.’

Out of the 11 picks the Detroit Red Wings had in the 2017 draft, that’s it, folks.

I’m not sure where the Wings’ draft philosophy came from in ‘17, but I am thankful we haven’t seen any drafts like this since. If Rasmussen and Lindstrom are indeed all the Detroit net from their 11 picks, the Red Wings 2017 draft has got to be considered a failure.

But hey, if Petruzzelli somehow becomes an elite starter for the Red Wings, Rasmussen hangs in there as a 3rd line center, and Lindstrom does his thing, we can pretend Petruzzelli was taken 9th overall and bump the Rasmussen and Lindstrom picks back a round. 

That would look much better, wouldn’t it?

Featured Image: David Banks, USA Today Sport

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