The Detroit Red Wings are confident they landed two solid NHL players in the first round of the draft Friday.
They hope they secured a few more Saturday among the eight players they selected during the second day of the draft at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Their chances are good, since their second-round picks, right wing Jonatan Berggren and defenseman Jared McIsaac, were projected by some as first-rounders. On top of that, they had three third-round picks – defensemen Alec Regula and Seth Barton and goaltender Jesper Eliasson.
The rebuilding Red Wings stockpiled selections since the 2017 trade deadline, increasing their odds of finding talent. They came away with skilled forwards, big defensemen and a couple of decent-sized goaltenders.
“I thought we had a good day again,” Tyler Wright, the club’s director of amateur scouting, told media in Dallas.
It comes on a heels of what many considered a great day, when the Red Wings walked away with high-scoring right wing Filip Zadina (No. 6) and two-way center Joe Veleno (No. 30), players most projected to go higher.
“When you see how fast the game is played, when you look at (Andreas) Athanasiou and (Dylan) Larkin, Dennis Cholowski, they’re all skaters,” Wright said. “When you have a mix of some bigger-bodied wingers, with (prospects Evgeny) Svechnikov and Givani Smith, and Tyler Bertuzzi plays a robust kind of game, we want to be fast, with speed, we want to try to get big. At the end of the day, we wanted skill. That was pretty much the theme going into this draft.”
The Red Wings took Berggren (5-10, 181), who played for Skelleftea’s junior team in Sweden, at No. 33. Hakan Andersson, Detroit’s director of European scouting, likened him to Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson.
“A really speedy forward who plays with great intensity and has a good feel for the net,” Andersson told media at the draft. “A couple of teams said they were planning to take him right after us. Montreal was one of them.”
Berggren, like many Swedes, said the Red Wings were his favorite team growing up because of players like Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom.
McIsaac (6-1, 189) was taken at No. 36 from Halifax (QMJHL), where he was Zadina’s teammate.
“Just a steady defenseman, a hard-nosed player, skates well,” Wright said “I don’t think power play is going to be his thing, but he’s a good penalty killer, plays against the best players, plays physical.
“We tried to target a little bit of defense going into this draft and things just happened as we went in. We had Berggren really high on our list and couldn’t pass up his skill. With McIsaac, we liked the defense.”
McIsaac said he plays both ends of the rink.
“I’m not afraid to mix it up physically as well,” he said. “I think I’m a solid two-way defenseman, a puck-mover, I worry about my end of the rink first and then jump in the offense and control the play.”
Regula (6-3, 203) considers himself a two-way defenseman. He was paired with Evan Bouchard, a player the Red Wings liked who went to Edmonton at No. 10.
“I play a 200-foot game and I can contribute offensively, but I’m real reliable in the defensive end,” Regula said.
Regula’s father, C.J., was the Red Wings’ long-time team dentist. He impressed the club during his interview at last month’s Draft Combine.
“He’s a bit of a late bloomer, a guy that’s got a history with the Red Wings with his family,” Wright said. “He’s driven, he’s big. He had a good year in London playing with Bouchard. Another big body that’s kind of a stay-at-home defenseman that we want to play rugged.”
Wright called Barton (6-2, 174) another late-bloomer type. He played for Trail in the BCHL.
“Very good skater, good size, good puck-moving defenseman,” Wright said.
The Red Wings selected right wing Ryan O’Reilly (6-1, 201) from Madison (USHL) in the fourth round (No. 98).
O’Reilly, a Dallas native, had a contingent of 30-40 family and friends in the arena. He lived in Novi when he played Pee Wee hockey in metro Detroit and practiced often at Joe Louis Arena. He’ll be attending the University of Denver, along with Red Wings goalie prospect Filip Larsson.
“I think of myself more as a power forward and sniper,” O’Reilly said.
Said Wright: “Just a big guy. He’s got to work on his skating, but he’s got a good touch around the net.”
Andersson credited Maciej Szwoch, the team’s European goaltending scout, for the selections of Eliasson and Victor Brattstrom, a 6-5 21-year-old taken in the sixth round (No. 160) from Timra Juniors in Sweden.
“He thinks they’re talented and they have great worth ethic,” Andersson said.
“When you look back on goaltenders, it’s a crapshoot a lot of times,” Wright said. “Just get them into the goaltending pool and hopefully somebody’s going to start separating themselves.”
The Red Wings took a flier on Finnish center Otto Kivenmaki with their final pick in the seventh round (No. 191). He’s 5-8 and 137 pounds.
“He’s very small (but) skilled and has hockey sense,” Andersson said. “In the late rounds we didn’t think there was any more talent there. Obviously, you can draft bigger guys or go in a different direction. We thought he had a lot of talent.”