Detroit Red Wings 2021 NHL Draft Preview: Part II - The Defensemen

Brandt Clarke 2021 NHL Draft prospect
By Jeff Watters

June 25, 2021

Welcome to Part II of a four-part weekly series previewing the 2021 NHL Draft. In this week’s preview, I’ll be profiling the top defenders who could realistically be taken by the Red Wings with the 6th overall pick. Next week, in Part III, I’ll tackle the idea of drafting a goaltender in the first round. Finally, Part IV will break down some of the options the Red Wings could explore with the 22nd pick.

Check out the rest of the series here:

Part I – The Forwards

Part III – The Goalie 

Part IV – The 22nd Overall Pick (July 9)

While Part I may not have covered all of the forwards the Red Wings could consider taking with the 6th overall pick, the three defensemen listed below really are in a tier of their own when compared to the rest of the blueliners in the 2021 NHL Draft. It would be a surprise to see the Red Wings — or any team — deviate from these three if they decide to pursue a defenseman early (aside from Owen Power, of course).

As mentioned in Part I, Power will not be included here as he is not going to be available when the Red Wings pick at 6th overall.

The Defensemen

Brandt Clarke | RHD | Nové Zámky (Slovakia) | 6-2 | 190 lbs

Clarke made his pro debut in Slovakia this season and really impressed after getting acclimated to the bigger European ice surface and stronger competition of a men’s league. The Ottawa native had 5 goals and 15 points in 26 games for HC Nové Zámky. Clarke followed this up with an excellent showing for Team Canada at the World U18s in Frisco, TX, where he took home a gold medal.

Why the Red Wings draft Brandt Clarke:

Clarke is the most intelligent and offensively gifted rearguard in the 2021 draft. He’s also the lone right-shot defenseman among this year’s top draft eligibles.

Clarke has incredible vision, soft hands, and elite movements in the offensive zone. His fantastic edgework makes him extremely difficult to contain, and he’s always in attack mode. Clarke routinely jumps up into the play, and his elusiveness — combined with his intelligence — seems to constantly keep him a step ahead of the competition. His ability to get to the middle of the ice and generate offense (as a defenseman) is unmatched by his peers.

Simply put, Clarke plays an aggressive style and he has the smarts to make it work.

The 6-2 blueliner is also among the best puck-movers in the draft. Whether it’s completing a clean breakout pass from deep in his own zone, firing a cross-ice feed to a streaking teammate in the neutral zone, or running a power play from the point, Clarke moves the puck with speed and precision.

Defensively, Clarke has some work to do but is far from a liability in his own end. He doesn’t shy away from physical altercations and his edgework allows him to quickly switch directions and adapt to incoming threats. As he fills out his frame, expect him to become a reliable two-way defender at the next level.

Why they don’t:

If you’re somebody who scans over the Red Wings depth chart while trying to identify areas of need, you’ll probably come to the conclusion Clarke doesn’t quite fit the bill for the Red Wings. The Wings aren’t exactly thin on the right side of the blueline.

Clarke’s skating has also been a point of contention for most of the year. His skating is…different. It’s awkward at times and it’s far from aesthetically pleasing. If the Red Wings feel his unorthodox stride will limit him defensively against NHL competition, they may wish to go in another direction here.

As Clarke is always in this “attack mode” there is an element of risk to his game as well. He can cheat for offense, and this can get him into trouble at times. His roaming style of play may give the Red Wings pause when assessing how he would fit into their system and future lineup.

The bottom line:

When you look at Brandt Clarke as a complete package there is certainly a lot to like. He has the tools and the toolbox to make everything work in unison.

If the Red Wings were to select Clarke with the 6th overall pick, he would immediately become the club’s future power play quarterback and give Detroit a nice one-two punch of Seider – Clarke on the right side of their blue line. 

Simon Edvinsson | LHD | Frölunda (SHL) | 6-5 | 207 lbs

The lanky Swede is undoubtedly the most polarizing defenseman of the 2021 draft. Edvinsson split time between Frölunda — both J20 and the SHL — and Västerås (HockeyAllsvenskan) this season, and created more questions than he answered with his up and down draft campaign.

SImon Edvinsson 2021 NHL Draft prospect
Simon Edvinsson is a big, rangy defender who could be among the first 5 players taken in the 2021 NHL Draft. | Photo: Bildbyrån
Why the Red Wings draft Simon Edvinsson:

Edvinsson is a big, mobile, skilled, left-shot defenseman who’s already very defensively sound. He uses his size well and he’s supremely effective in breaking up transitions. Edvinsson also has good gap control and can shut down cycles along the boards with his big frame. Edvinsson’s reach is a major advantage, and he uses it well to keep play to the outside and prevent high danger scoring attempts against.

Edvinsson is a very confident player. When he calls his own number — as he often does — he can be very fun to watch. He’s a strong skater and is skilled enough to weave in and out of traffic while rushing up the ice with the puck. He has good lateral mobility and can make opponents look silly as he opens up passing and skating lanes with his improving footwork in the offensive zone.

While not the best puck-moving defensemen in the draft, Edvinsson is no slouch. He can complete some really impressive passes both in transition and in the offensive zone. He also has fantastic hands and works well in tight spaces.

Edvinsson has a ton of skill, and as a result, he’s often miscast as an offensive defenseman. While there certainly may be more offensive production there in the future, the Red Wings would likely take the big Swede with the hopes of developing him into a shutdown, puck-moving, two-way defender.

Why they don’t:

Although Edvinsson has a unique profile and may have one of the highest ceilings of any player in the 2021 draft, there are some red flags.

First, and most obviously, Edvinsson does have the tendency to make some very questionable decisions with the puck. These blunders often appear while he’s initiating a breakout with a pass to a teammate or skating the puck up the ice himself.

One shift, you may see Edvinsson sauce a beautifully placed feed to a streaking teammate through the neutral zone; the next, he may toss a muffin to an open wing or throw the puck into a maze of sticks and skates for no apparent reason.

In transition, he may make an incredible move at the opponent’s blue line and slide a perfect pass under a stick to a trailing teammate OR skate the puck into a heavy traffic area and attempt a one-on-three break-in with zero chance of retaining possession.

As you may have already guessed by now, Edvinsson is incredibly inconsistent. Game to game, period to period, Edvinsson can flip the switch from engaged and exceptional to lackadaisical and frustratingly ineffective. 

While Edvinsson is a very strong skater, he lacks the game-breaking speed to expect his current “run and gun” transition game to translate to higher levels. He’s big and he’s skilled — but so is everyone else in the NHL.

The bottom line:

Edvinsson would be a peculiar, albeit intriguing pick. The Red Wings know the Frölunda organization inside and out, and if they feel they can fix these lapses of judgment and nurture Edvinsson’s two-way game, this could be an incredible addition. There’s a fearlessness to Edvinsson’s game that is definitely exciting. It makes you wonder what he could be capable of if developed properly.

But given what we know about the types of players the Red Wings tend to target, it’s difficult to envision them taking a defenseman whose hockey IQ has come into question this season. Not at 6th overall.

Luke Hughes | LHD | USNTDP (USHL) | 6-2 | 176 lbs

The youngest of the Hughes brothers, Luke had an impressive year with the USNTDP. The dynamic defender had 4 goals and 15 points in 18 games in 2021 before a season-ending foot injury landed him on the shelf in March.

Why the Red Wings draft Luke Hughes:

Hughes is a brilliant skater who uses long, powerful strides and deft edgework to excel in transition. He can weave in and out of traffic, open up passing lanes, and patiently survey his options as he approaches and glides through the neutral zone.

He’s also able to generate offense while set up in the o-zone. Hughes walks the line effectively and has the vision to spot teammates and identify shooting lanes while in motion. He’s a consistent offensive threat.

There’s a lot of projection with Hughes as well. He’s added a couple of inches since last summer, and although he’s yet to fully utilize his new physical tools, the possibility that there could be more to come is incredibly intriguing. His skating could become even more powerful, and his shot will inevitably improve as well.

Hughes is one of the youngest players in the draft. In fact, if he were born just one week later he wouldn’t be draft-eligible until 2022. That’s not insignificant, as Hughes is nearly 7 months younger than Clarke and Edvinsson, and almost a full year younger than projected number one pick, Owen Power. 

As a defenseman especially, a lot can change developmentally in a year. And given that he’s already taken tremendous strides this past season, that may be reason enough to give Hughes the edge over some others who may be in the same tier today.

Luke Hughes USNTDP 2021 NHL Draft prospect
Luke Hughes has an exciting blend of speed and offensive instincts from the back end. | Photo: Rena Laverty/USA Hockey’s NTDP
Why they don’t:

While Hughes plays an exciting brand of hockey for a blueliner, his defensive game leaves a lot to be desired.

This includes questionable reads — with and without the puck — in the defensive zone. Hughes can appear lost and unengaged in his own zone at times and hasn’t yet learned how to use his size to his advantage. Yes, he’s just 17, but this is the risk of taking a raw defense prospect early in the draft. It could be chalked up to inexperience, but one could also point to a lack of awareness that may be difficult to refine in the future.

Hughes also suffered a season-ending injury back in March — according to J.D. Burke, Hughes tore several ligaments in his foot. Will this have any effect on Hughes’ mobility long-term? For a defenseman who relies on his skating, this could be a moderate concern.

While Hughes’ age may give you reason to dream of what he could be a year from now, the unknown can be daunting as well. There’s less certainty with Hughes at this stage and the Wings may prefer to select a player further along in their development with the 6th pick.

The bottom line: 

The upside with Luke Hughes is truly tantalizing. Adding a smooth-skating, offensively gifted, left-shot defenseman would fill a huge area of need for the Red Wings. Detroit is in no rush to compete and would have plenty of time to wait on Hughes as he makes the jump to college hockey and develops in Michigan.

Final Thoughts

In Clarke, Edvinsson, and Hughes, the 2021 NHL Draft features a trio of confident, mobile, and skilled defenders.

While all three come with question marks, the Red Wings could be looking at an opportunity to add another top 4 or even top-pairing defender to their already promising pool of blueliners.

So, who would you prefer? What do you look for when evaluating a young defenseman? Is it Clarke’s intelligence and elusiveness? Edvinsson’s combination of size and skill? Hughes’ speed and effectiveness off the rush?

Let me know down below and I’ll catch you next week for Part III – The Goalie.

Featured Image of Brandt Clarke: Peter Jesenský

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