Can Stevie Y Rekindle the Glory of the Red Wings?

Stevie, why? Resignation of GM Steve Yzerman is a dark day for the ...
Photo Courtesy of Dirk Shadd | Tampa Times

Steve Yzerman, the renowned former captain of the Red Wings, was a Hall of Fame player, recording 1,755 points in 1,514 games and guiding the Red Wings to three Stanley Cups (’97, ’98, ’02). As incredible as his playing career was, Yzerman has shown to be a world-class GM as well. 

He took over the Lightning in May of 2010. In the eight years with Yzerman at the helm, they made the playoffs five times, making at least the third round three of those five years. By the time Yzerman left the Lightning in September of 2018, the team was and is a juggernaut. While Yzerman can be credited for much of the Lightning becoming one of the most dominant forces in the NHL, one aspect in particular stands out: drafting. 

Prior to Yzerman arriving in Tampa, the team was floundering. After winning their first and only Stanley Cup in ’04, the team hadn’t made it out of the first round and they had missed the playoffs all together for the three years straight before Yzerman’s arrival. Furthermore, their success at the draft was atrocious.  From 2001 to 2009 (nine years before Yzerman arrived), the Lightning had some of the worst drafting success in the league. 

They were drafting an NHLer about 13% of the time (league average is 25%). They hadn’t drafted a single a star between 2001 and 2007 (they did draft two stars in 2008 and 2009, Hedman and Stamkos, runway consensus 2nd and 1st overall picks).  Yzerman changed all that and brought them back to respectability and beyond.

In the nine-year period prior to Yzerman arriving, Tampa appeared unable or unwilling to recognize high-end offensive skill and draft them. By the Hockey Prospecting model, the average DY NHLer probability of all the forwards and defensemen the Lightning drafted from 2001 to 2009 was 32%.  Moreover, there’s a group of players each year at the draft we’ve found with the Hockey Prospecting model (I’ll call them Group A).  These players tend to make the NHL and turn into stars much more often than the other group, and they only make-up about 25% of all players drafted.

Tampa Bay Drafting F & D – 2000 to 2018

YearAvg. DY NHLer Prob.PicksGroup ANHLersStars
200134%8100
200224%5110
200328%4000
200427%6010
200535%8200
200629%3000
200724%8010
200845%6221
200946%5221
201043%7220
201142%5331
201247%7310
201344%5310
201444%7222
201537%8100
201639%9300
201736%6200
201827%5000

From 2001 to 2009, Tampa drafted only eight of these players (drafting within this group 15% of the time). From 2010 to 2018 (the Yzerman era), Tampa drafted 19 of these players (drafting within this group 32% of the time).

So immediately upon arriving in Tampa, Yzerman himself, or through a trusted advisor within the system, started prioritizing more of these players.  These players all had one thing in common: offensive skill and production.  That is, they produced more than their peers, relative to the league and age. The Lightning started taking far more of these players and saw immediate results.

If we take only the years from 2010 to 2015 (2016 and beyond players are still developing and we can’t say for sure yet), their NHLer success rate nearly doubles – 13% 2000 to 2009; 23% 2010 to 2015.  The Lightning also drafted three stars during that time – Kucherov, Point and DeAngelo – none of which were top 3 picks, but all looked like top tier first round talents at the time they were drafted.

If we look further, Tampa wasn’t only starting to key in on this specific skilled group, they were starting to key-in on the very best ones.  With each of Kucherov, Palat, Gusev, Drouin, DeAngelo and Point, the players were one of the best remaining players at the moment they were drafted (according to the Hockey Prospecting DY NHLer and Star probabilities). 

Kucherov, playing in the under-scouted Russian junior league, looked like a top 5 pick and had a 60% chance he was going to become a star and was a forgone conclusion that he would make the NHL. He was drafted in the 2nd round, probably going a bit higher than where most people figured he’d go. Palat was drafted in the 6th round as an overager after a big year in the QMJHL. Given what is left at that point in the draft, a team should be keying in on really young players (Summer-born first year eligible) with upside or high-producing overagers, like Palat. Gusev had been performing well in that same Russian junior league for years and was a 2+ overager when he was taken. At the time he was taken, he profiled exactly like Theo Fleury. Gusev has just arrived in New Jersey, after annihilating the KHL (the 2nd hardest league in the world) for 4 or 5 years. Drouin was the 3rd overall pick in 2013, right after MacKinnon and Barkov, exactly where he should have gone.

DeAngelo was drafted late in the 1st round. Off-ice issues kept him out of the top 10 but his production, as a defenseman, in the OHL was something you see once a decade. They were able to trade him for other assets down the road when it was deemed he wasn’t fit with the team. Point profiled like a player that generally gets drafted in the mid-1st round and does well in the NHL. Because he’s small, he was still there in the third round and he was the best option, by Hockey Prospecting, at the time.

The Red Wings are in a similar but different situation than the Lightning when Yzerman arrived.  The Red Wings will miss the playoffs for the third straight year, after finishing the shortened (COVID-19) 2020 season with one of the worst records in modern history. The Red Wings were a powerhouse for fifteen years before recent history.  They are rebuilding now, in a big way.  But despite being 3-4 years into the rebuild, the Red Wings are not poised to rise out of it anytime soon. One of the biggest reasons is their drafting the past few years has not been as good as it could have been.

Despite losing their juggernaut status around 2011, the Red Wings drafting has been average at best over that period.  They haven’t drafted a single star (Larkin looks like he is evolving into one though) and they do not appear to have one in the system. Rasmussen, Zadina, Veleno and Seider all likely make the NHL, but it’s highly unlikely there’s a star amongst them.

To be clear, they’re not drafting like the Lightning were before Yzerman arrived (i.e., taking chance after chance on players that have no chance of making the NHL). The Red Wings average DY NHLer probability between 2010 to 2018 was 39% and they’ve drafted within Group A 33% of the time. They’re drafting NHLers. But the Red Wings are missing the mark significantly in a different way. Over the past number of years, especially in the first round, they’ve continually drafted a lesser option, when more, sure-fire, options were available.

Detroit Red Wings F and D draft history – 2010 to 2018

YearAvg. DY NHLer Prob.PicksGroup ANHLersStars
201046%6420
201141%9510
201228%5010
201333%8220
201444%6310
201545%5100
201631%6000
201736%10200
201843%8400

Recall earlier when I spoke of the Lightning drafting those six players and they were one of the best options available at the position. This is exactly what the Red Wings need to start doing to accelerate the rebuild and regain their glory.  Perhaps Yzerman’s previous history doing this will shine through with Detroit as well?

Here’s a few examples of what I mean… in 2016, Detroit took Dennis Chelowski at 20th overall.  DeBrincat was the best available option at the time, by a fair bit. In 2017, Michael Rasmussen was taken 9th overall.  Valimaki, Suzuki, Vilardi or Brannstrom were the best players available. In 2018, Filip Zadina was taken 6th overall. Bouchard, Q. Hughes, R. Merkley, and Smith were the best options available. Zadina was 13th best option available. They also drafted at 30th overall in 2018 where they selected Joe Veleno. Addison and Shafigullin were the best available options. In 2019, with their second straight 6th overall pick, Detroit chose Moritz Seider. Boldy, Dorofeyev, York, Kaliyev and Harley were the best options available.

This is just a simple example of some recent first round picks. This can be extended throughout the entire draft. If you’re a member of Hockey Prospecting, you can see for yourself with the Drafter Tool within Hockey Prospecting tools. At any moment of the draft, you can see who the best available options were according to the Hockey Prospecting model. See the short video above for an example.

I’m not professing that the players Detroit chose won’t end up being good NHLers.  Maybe they do. Seider, in particular, had a very good first pro year in the AHL and could be ready for primetime very shortly. However, none of them looked like they were going to be a star or real difference maker when they were drafted.  A few years removed from being drafted, they haven’t progressed enough that they look like a star now either. If any end up as stars, they will be 1 in 100 outliers.

What does Detroit’s prospect system looked like if they had drafted DeBrincat, Valimaki, Bouchard, Addison and Boldy over the past four years. One of them would already be a star in the NHL with the other four primed to make an impact in the next few years. Will Yzerman’s presence and former experience start to push the team in the direction where they start to cash-in on the high-value players that are available to them when they pick? Can he turn Detroit around, uncover more stars and turn them into a juggernaut, like Tampa?

This draft is a very, very important one for Detroit. The Red Wings will likely be drafting first or second overall. They cannot afford to miss at this draft. They have to draft an impact player. In all likelihood, they will take one of the obvious top ranked players, LaFreniere or Byfield.  Luckily, both players profile very favorably, and both look like they will be future superstars.

But this is a very deep draft with lots of substantial talent and probable NHLers.  The Red Wings own 11 picks in the 2020 draft, with four in the first two rounds. This draft could go a long way in turning them around but they’ll have to hit on more than one player.  In a perfect world, they need to hit big and draft 3-5 NHLers and even draft a couple stars. Yzerman is going to play a major role in that as he’s the one making the final decision. My advice to Mr. Yzerman as he takes on this new challenge in Motown is simple – do what you did in Tampa, follow the talent and choose the best skilled option available at each pick.

Click the button below to become a member of Hockey Prospecting and get full access to the Hockey Prospecting tools, like the Drafter tool.

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