The Detroit-Sweden pipeline is back in a big way, baby. The Red Wings dipped into the nordic nation’s prospect pool early and often at the 2020 draft, crowning three players from the Tre Kronor.
Detroit kicked things off on Tuesday night when they selected winger Lucas Raymond with the fourth pick overall, then returned to the well on Wednesday by grabbing big defenseman William Wallinder in the second round and high-potential pivot Theo Niederbach later in the frame at No. 51. GM Steve Yzerman said he looked into getting another first-rounder yesterday, but was still happy to have three second-rounders.
“At the top of the draft you like to think you have more certainty,” he said. “With each round, the difference between prospects gets smaller and smaller. We have skills or characteristics that we value. I always joke we’re looking for good players and they come in all different forms.”
From there, the Red Wings grabbed prospects from other countries – including a third second-rounder in Cross Hanas, promising Czech netminder Jan Bednar and solid Canadian blueliner Donovan Sebrango – but for a franchise that won championships with the help of names such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall, the influx of Swedes is a pretty fun narrative.
And while the new picks are young, they still remember their forebearer’s history.
“I know about them,” Wallinder said. “Kronwall, I loved his hits and everyone knows who Lidstrom is – he’s the best Swedish defenseman that ever played. It feels amazing, I’m proud to be part of this amazing organization and I know they’ve had really good Swedish players.”
Wallinder had first-round potential and really only missed the cut-off by one pick, going 32nd overall. But the kid has size, mobility, puckmoving ability and smarts.
Niederbach, another second-round pick, offers a wealth of intrigue, as he had previously missed all of 2018-19 with a knee injury. That was also supposed to be his first season with Frolunda’s junior team after moving over from KB65.
“Yeah, it was real tough to know you’re going to miss a whole season of hockey, especially when you have moved to a new club and a new town,” Niederbach said. “But after six or seven months, when I went on the ice again, you could say I saw the light out of the darkness.”
Scouts love Niederbach’s smarts, skill and work ethic while acknowledging that he’s physically behind many of his peers due to the loss of development time while injured. But that only means his potential is still revving up and early in 2020-21, Niederbach has been on a tear with 15 points in his first nine games for Frolunda’s under-20 squad.
Perhaps in the future, Niederbach can center a line with Raymond, the undisputed jewel of the class and a kid who is already contributing to Frolunda’s SHL team. Playing against men has been great for the dynamic winger’s development.
“You really have to be strong in battles along the boards and take what is given,” Raymond said. “You have to have an attacking mindset.”
While Raymond doesn’t know when he’ll come to North America yet, he is pretty stoked about joining a Red Wings team in the midst of a rebuild.
“They have a lot of great young guys and play a really fast game,” he said. “From what I’ve seen it’s really fun hockey. I’m really excited.”
The first wave of Detroit’s new building blocks are beginning to arrive in the form of players such as Filip Zadina, Moritz Seider and Joe Veleno, but the franchise needs to keep stacking talent if they hope to catch up to the rest of the Atlantic Division in the coming years. With the three Swedes they picked up early in 2020, the Wings took another step in the right direction.