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The Detroit Red Wings have suffered a steady decline in winning percentage over the past four seasons, ultimately leading to a last-place finish among all 31 teams in 2019-20.
Even with the worst record of the salary cap era (2005-06–present) at 17-49-5 (prior to the COVID-19 season cancellation), it still wasn’t bad enough to land a top-three pick in the NHL’s draft lottery.
Interestingly, the six worst records of the salary cap era have all missed out on the No. 1 pick in the subsequent summer. In four consecutive seasons of decline, the Red Wings themselves have slipped nine draft positions out of a possible 12; there’s clearly a systemic problem in the NHL draft lottery, but I digress.
The Red Wings have still been able to draft promising young players, despite the lack of the “franchise-altering” label. But general manager Steve Yzerman is in for the long haul. While the organization has those promising prospects and budding young players, there is a lot of work to be done to get the team back to the era of 25 consecutive playoff berths.
That long haul means signings and trades will be made with eyes on the future, not just the ensuing season or two. In one way, Yzerman is showing a dedication to the future is the slower development of prospects through the NCAA.
Many of the top-tier prospects that enter college aim for the one-and-done approach of playing a single season (sometimes two) with a strong NCAA program to develop further before turning pro.
For other prospects — typically those drafted in the later rounds — the ability to develop through four years of eligibility and fine-tune their game is huge. The 2020 NHL Draft will be Yzerman’s second with the Red Wings, where he’ll continue to make the final decisions for the future.
His belief in college hockey has been evident, as every North American player he drafted in 2019 will be playing in the NCAA in 2020-21. That’s only four of 11 players (five, including Finnish defenseman Antti Tuomisto’s commitment to Denver), but that lower number is due to the other six players getting time in various professional leagues overseas.
Former Red Wings GM Ken Holland was developing a collegiate connection within the organization. On the 2019-20 roster, Yzerman inherited NCAA alumni Dylan Larkin, Luke Glendening, Danny DeKeyser, Justin Abdelkader, and Jimmy Howard.
Holland had also signed free agent forward Taro Hirose and 2016 No. 20 overall pick, defenseman Dennis Cholowski, after one NCAA season. Additionally, in April 2019, just days before the official hiring of Yzerman, Holland inked Maine forward Chase Pearson and Denver goaltender Filip Larsson to entry-level contracts.
Yzerman has added to the NCAA alumni count, acquiring defensemen Alex Biega and Cody Goloubef through trades in 2019-20. Strangely, Yzerman did not have a notable NCAA connection during his 10 seasons as GM in Tampa Bay. His most significant association was Russian players including, but not limited to, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov.
Veterans Howard and Goloubef are on expiring deals in Detroit and are unlikely to be extended. Also on an expiring deal is Hirose, who is a likely candidate for a new one- or two-year deal.
In The NCAA
Yzerman has also inherited four prospects still in the NCAA. That includes junior forward Jack Adams of Union, senior defenseman Kasper Kotkansalo of Boston University, junior defenseman Seth Barton of UMass-Lowell, and senior goaltender Keith Petruzzelli of Maine.
Part of the aforementioned 2019 draft class, forwards Ethan Phillips and Robert Mastrosimone of Boston University are entering their sophomore seasons while organizational counterparts enter their freshmen season, including Denver defenseman Antti Tuomisto, North Dakota defenseman Cooper Moore, and Colgate goaltender Carter Gylander. Also entering his freshman season, but a 2018 draft pick of Holland’s, is Arizona State forward Ryan O’Reilly.
In total, pending trades and free agency signings, the Red Wings will have nine collegiate alumni on professional contracts in 2020-21
The above-mentioned rostered alumni are strong examples of the type of development that occurs at the college level. Larkin is the team’s go-to center and likely future captain. Glendening has been a workhorse during his career and is the prototypical “everydayer.” DeKeyser and Abdelkader have been fixtures with changing roles. Prior to 2019-20, Howard has been the team’s starter since the 2009-10 season.
Their paths and careers can be examples for those following in their footprints, not only for the four alumni at various pro levels within the organization, but also for the 10 additional prospects skating in the NCAA.
With help needed at every position in Detroit, the 10 NCAA prospects breakdown to four forwards, four defensemen, and two goaltenders. With those players skating for elite programs with long histories of NHL development, Yzerman’s future pieces are in good hands to mature their game for the future.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.