Buffalo, New York – The NHL Scouting Association is, above all, a week of meetings.
Yes, there is a physical exam taking place – mostly on Saturdays, with an accompanying media zoo. But the bulk of Buffalo’s value and time goes into meetings between prospects and teams. It is common for players to get together with more than 20 teams. The teams will probably meet around 60 potential customers. With that in mind, you can’t read too much into the fact that any team meets any one player.
But sometimes, your ears pop at the sound of one. And that’s what happened on Saturday, when, after prospect forward Samuel Hunzik said Detroit was one of 25 teams he’d met, he also took it a step further: “Detroit was one of… .
At the end of the day, there is a lot to be learned from a 20-minute conversation. But given that we know Detroit GM Steve Yzerman seen In Hunzik’s playoff series, some smoke is starting to build up here.
The Red Wings have two picks, at No. 9 and 17, in the first round, and Honzek could theoretically play anywhere, as a 6-foot-4 forward who can play in all positions. Hunzik says if he had Drothers he would play wing, but this week he told teams it was up to them and he had no problem playing center.
Center, of course, is the most advantageous position, and Hunzik’s physicality – with a good skate for his size – will give him a solid ability to stay there, although he might tell us he has a slight preference for the wing. Corey Brunman likens Hunzik to Bruins forward Pavel Zacha, who just finished a 57-point season with the record-setting Bruins, with time in both starting positions.
Again, he belongs in the conversation on both Detroit draft picks, but the idea of targeting Honzek at No. 17 is clearly particularly appealing, as it means the Red Wings could land another top target — from a larger group of players — at No. 9.
One of those candidates would be Hunzik’s native Dalibor Dvorski, who was also among those Detroit interviewed in Buffalo. For much of the year, Dvorsky’s stock has been in a state of flux due to its uneven results in Sweden’s Allsvenskan compared to its age group. He was dominant in the Swedish J20 league, scoring a goal (and more than two points) per game, and almost did the same in a stellar display at the World Under-18 Championship. In Allsvenskan, however, his production was more sluggish, scoring 14 points in 38 contests for AIK.
It’s worth noting here, however, that Dvorsky is on the youth side this semester. He played the entire season at the age of 17, and won’t turn 18 until later this week. This is an appropriate context, especially when noting the difference in outcomes between competing with peers and with men. Dvorsky mentioned John Tavares and Anze Kopitar as players he molds his style of play after, noting their ability as good two-way centers with “great offensive instincts, good shooting, a good hockey IQ and they are strong at the puck as well”.
WHL center Nate Danielson is another center man in the Red Wings’ range, albeit on the older end of the class rather than the younger side. You could argue that Danielson’s pick might be a bit redundant over Detroit’s first-round pick of Marco Casper last year, as he skates on smooth ice, moves in two directions with higher scores on the competition and probably less offense value. But adding either Dvorsky or Danielson to the fold would suddenly give the Red Wings an enviable center picture in the future, with Kasper, Dylan Larkin, and Andrew Copp already in place (though the latter could certainly move to the wing in his later years).
I would expect at least one of the two to be picked before the Red Wings finish in the ninth, however, both are likely gone. This scenario, in which they are both picked in the top eight, however, likely means Detroit has a chance on the player they have highlighted since early in the process: US NTDP winger Ryan Leonard.
Finding an ideal to compare to Leonard is difficult, because despite his attractive combination of strength and offensive touch, he still measures under 6 feet tall, leaving room to wonder how much of this powerhouse will ultimately hold up against the pros. But his game reminds me of Tyler Bertuzzi in some ways, and getting a competitive caliber player who can add real offense will tick two big boxes for the Red Wings, who need to replace Bertuzzi moving forward.
One comment from Leonard that I enjoyed this week. I asked him about his gold-medal overtime goal for the United States at the U18 worlds, and about the blocked shot leading up to it—which Team USA coach Dan Moses highlighted in a recent interview. the athlete. I wanted to know: Is he still feeling the effects of the lump?
He admitted that “his leg was a little irritating”. “But it’s the gold medal game, it’s overtime, your adrenaline is in control. I don’t feel a thing. I told them I was fine to go, name called, and then yeah. Game.”
Toughness and competitiveness can, at times, feel like buzzwords in the NHL draft process, considering every team clearly desires these attributes. But this is a very good embodiment of what Red Wings is trying to build. I also still believe Leonard’s teammate, Gabe Perreault, will be in the Detroit mix – for a Red Wings team lacking offense, Perreault’s brand of intelligence and creativity would fill a huge need.
That’s a lot of names, and it speaks to the depth of this category, especially in the future. And that’s one argument for the Red Wings to use the ninth pick instead on one of the best defensemen in the class, confident they can still get a forward they like at 17, but aware that the top ‘D’s in the class – including David Reinbacher And Dmitry Symashev, Tom Wilander, Axel Sandin-Bilica – they may be snatched up before that time due to relative rarity.
Wilander, in particular, has been an up-and-comer since his stellar play at the U18 worlds, having helped Rögle win the Swedish J20 Championship. And if his interviews with teams are going in anything like His interview with Brunemann and me on “the athlete Hockey offered, “I only expect that to continue. Willander was impressive on a number of subjects, but he impressed me most when he talked about the origins of his great skating—his best as a player, in my opinion.”
“I was awful at first,” Wilander said. “I was like, truly Bad at skiing. In fact, it was so bad that I asked my dad to take a whole winter off from school just to practice skiing, and that’s how bad it was. At least that’s what he told me. I guess it didn’t come naturally to me, but we trained a lot when I was young.”
Wilander’s dad is Sollentuna’s director of youth hockey, and that definitely helps. But the commitment to developing his skating—to this current level, no less—really stands out as an indicator of the defenseman’s drive. He said he focused a lot on improving his offense this season, both technically and tactically, and by the end of the year Wilander was playing big for Sweden, scoring three goals and eight points in seven games at the U18 World Championship. And his goals for himself are higher.
“Obviously I aim high. I want to be the first kind of guy,” he said. “But I feel like my strength is in the two-way game, I feel like I’m strong in skateboarding, I compete hard and I’m going strong on the boards.”
His meeting in Detroit was scheduled for shortly after we spoke, so I don’t have any notes on how that happened, but I left the conversation totally impressed. He even showed a sense of humour, when asked about the idea of playing with fellow Rögle producer William Wallinder to form a Wallinder-Willander pair (he said it had already happened before at a fair).
He’s seen Red Wings fans joke about the idea as well, saying, “I think it’s a good idea, it gets the commentators to get… something to wrap their heads around.”
There’s another upside to getting the League in one place to collect, too: Reports and rumors about what players might be like start to roll between now and the draft (which we’re now just over two weeks away from).
And the Red Wings found themselves in the middle of that over the weekend, with Pierre LeBron reporting that homegrown producer Alex DeBrincat had given the Senators a list of preferred destinations should Ottawa decide to trade him. Of course, Detroit is among the most interesting landing spots — not just because of DeBrincat’s roots here, but because the Red Wings are desperate for a scorer of his caliber, and have plenty of space and assets to acquire him. He was near the top of our list of potential Red Wings trade targets last month.
The details of such a trade, if it were to materialize, would be fascinating between two teams that appear to be on similar timelines.
Ottawa gave up the seventh and 39th picks in last year’s draft, as well as a third player in 2024, to acquire DeBrincat, but that was with two years of team control remaining, one of which was in a $6.4 million team friendly. That’s no longer the case, with DeBrincat an RFA to one year of unrestricted free agency, a qualifying offer of $9 million, and coming off his least productive season since 2019-20. Simply put, the Senators are not going to get back what they gave up to DeBrincat last summer.
But we’re still talking about a multiple-time scorer with 40 goals, which is exactly why the Red Wings are so interested in the cost.
What could it be? A good comparable trade in recent times might be Kevin Fiala’s trade this past summer from Minnesota to Los Angeles. The 25-year-old Fiala, an RFA who was a UFA placing year, had a stellar season with the Wild when he was dealt to the Kings as the 19th overall pick by Brock Faber.
It’s easy, then, to say that the default Red Wing package may need to be built around pick 17 and a high-profile prospect.
Finding the Faber formula is tough, as he was a very good prospect but also had some unique circumstances as a college player after two years of being able to go to free agency. However, he was a semi-NHL prospect who looked like he was going to be outperformed in the second round. Two names that come to mind would be winger Jonathan Berggren, who made his NHL debut last season, and Wallender.
A loss in either would affect Detroit, but the Red Wings would get the ready scorer they desperately need in the top six. But of the two, Berggren might make more sense, bringing back Ottawa another smaller, attack-minded player who can fit right into their lineup, unlike Wallender, who might need more time to run (and who might prefer a Detroit save, too).
Even if the trade succeeds, though, there’s still an order to pay DeBrincat, who is unlikely to get AAV in line with the $9 million QO in a long-term deal, but would still be owed a hefty raise.
Sure, Detroit would be happy to get DeBrincat on something like Fiala’s seven-year, $7.875 million contract, but his career statistical profile is actually closer to that of Patrik Laine, who signed for four years, $8.7 million last summer.
Alex DeBrincat Comparisons
|Podium year G / GP
|Podium year P/GP
This creates a bit of a puzzle. Laine’s only four-year deal is a confounding factor, but DeBrincat’s representation can certainly argue that Laine is his best company. That’s the same maximum hit Dylan Larkin has, and despite DeBrincat’s quality, there have been enough ups and downs in his production (even with relatively high ground) that $8.7 million might be uncomfortable territory. Especially after giving up several key assets in the process.
So while the alignment is clear, on multiple levels, the Red Wings still have a lot to think about on that front — and with the draft and free agency fast approaching, only about two more weeks to make a decision.
(Photo by Alex DeBrincat: Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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