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Bultman: Red Wings’ NHL Draft, Jacob Trouba trade, free agency thoughts


Bultman: Red Wings’ NHL Draft, Jacob Trouba trade, free agency thoughts

LAS VEGAS — After a whirlwind of a weekend at Sphere, where the Detroit Red Wings added eight new prospects to their farm system in the 2024 NHL Draft, the action is only just getting started for general manager Steve Yzerman.

Here are 10 thoughts on Detroit’s draft class, the controversial Jake Walman trade earlier this week, and what more could be on the horizon with free agency set to open Monday.

1. If Red Wings fans were looking for Detroit to take some swings at forward, I think it’s fair to say the team attempted to do that early on Day 2.

Their second-round pick, Max Plante, is a skilled playmaker, finishing second on the U.S. NTDP this season in assists — trailing only James Hagens, the early favorite to be the first pick in the 2025 NHL Draft. In the 2022-23 season, his under-17 campaign with the program, Plante actually finished third in points behind Hagens and Cole Eiserman. This past season, he was sixth but was fourth on a points-per-game basis. There’s offense there, and much of it comes courtesy of his brain.

“Tremendous hockey sense,” Yzerman said. “Moves the puck really well. Very deceptive skater. He moves well on the ice. But yeah, really like his hockey sense and his creativity, his playmaking.”

The Athletic’s Corey Pronman had above-average grades on Plante’s skill and compete level, although a below-average grade on his shot. That last point, in addition to his size at 5 feet 11 inches and 177 poounds, is probably the biggest question mark in his profile — but that’s part of the deal in the second round. Pretty much everyone has some kind of question.

2. Plante is the son of former NHLer Derek Plante, who played eight NHL seasons, most of them in Buffalo. Perhaps, then, it should be no surprise the Red Wings’ second-round pick has a sharp hockey brain.

“I’m very lucky and fortunate to be around such great hockey people,” Plante said. “I’d say my dad probably watches more hockey than anyone in, probably, the world. So just growing up and coming home, I’d skate on the outdoor rinks and then come home and my dad would be watching hockey. So there was nothing really else on the TV, I’d just be watching hockey.”

Unsurprisingly, Plante is committed to play his college hockey at Minnesota Duluth, where his dad once served as captain and where his brother Zam (a Penguins prospect) now plays.

That doesn’t mean he plays the same way as his dad, though.

“His dad would be a better skater, but you could probably ask his dad, he might agree that his son’s probably smarter than he is,” said Kris Draper, Red Wings assistant GM and director of amateur scouting. “I hope he agrees.”

Draper emphasized that hockey sense factor repeatedly on Plante, noting “it seemed the lines that he was on just seemed to play well that night” and that he could play up and down the lineup, on the power play and penalty kill.

“The important thing that we love is he can play with really good hockey players,” Draper said. “And he showed that.”

3. Detroit ended up taking forwards with its first three picks, starting Friday with first-round pick Michael Brandsegg-Nygård and continuing with Plante and third-round pick Ondřej Becher.

Becher is a double overager in the draft as a 2004 birthday but had a big-time breakout in 2023-24 at age 19 in the WHL, scoring 96 points in 58 games for Prince George. He also tallied 10 points in seven games at world juniors. That certainly caught Detroit’s attention.

“It just looked like everything potentially that he had maybe as a 17- and 18-year-old kind of hit as a 19-year-old,” Draper said. “Got a great opportunity and took advantage and looked really comfortable. He’s a kid that certainly put up great numbers, and his skating (is) something that when you watch him play, he has that extra gear that you talk about.”

A third-round pick always has something of an uphill climb to the NHL, but clearly Detroit is hoping to have hit on a late bloomer here.

Detroit’s biggest need entering the draft was at forward, particularly on the wing, and they used their early picks to address it — though Yzerman downplayed the intentionality of that.

“It’s just how our list laid out, and where we were picking in each round, we had forwards,” he said.

4. When it was all said and done, the Red Wings picked three U.S. NTDP players on Saturday: Plante in the second round, followed by defenseman John Whipple in the fifth round and winger Austin Baker in the seventh.

Whipple is a 6-foot-1 left-shot “D” committed to Minnesota, and Draper praised his skating, steadiness and competitiveness. He also noted Whipple’s apparent comfort in playing against opponents’ top players.

As for Baker, Draper pointed to his strength and athleticism, a “powerful skater” ticketed to play his college hockey at Michigan State.

5. To me, the most interesting late-round pick, though, was 6-foot-3 Swedish winger Charlie Forslund. Funny enough, Pronman actually had Forslund connected to Detroit in a seven-round mock draft earlier this month.

The story of Draper scouting him actually required some happenstance, though.

Forslund played in the third-division Swedish league for a small club called Falu IF. That understandably makes him a little bit off the main radar. But when Draper went over to Sweden to watch SHL defenseman Dominik Badinka earlier this season, he found out at the last minute that Badinka wasn’t going to be in the lineup that night. Red Wings scout Håkan Andersson called to give Draper the news as he was getting on the train to see him in Gothenburg but asked if he’d go see Forslund instead.

So, Draper went “deep in Sweden” to go watch him play, and he liked what he saw.

“He’s got good size, he can skate, he can really shoot the puck,” Draper said. “Got a couple goals that game, and obviously we did a lot of background check and information on him.”

He’s a longer-term project, for sure, but he is going to a bigger organization now in Mora — the same club that developed Brandsegg-Nygård.

“That organization has done well with good, young hockey players,” Draper said. “So that kind of played into it.”

6. Detroit took a goalie in the fourth round, Landon Miller, who played his first full season in the OHL last year for the Soo.

Miller played for the Red Wings’ Brick Invitational team in 2015-16 (along with Baker, the seventh-rounder) after former Red Wing Ryan Barnes reached out to him to play goal after Miller had been cut from the Toronto teams. Now, he’s a Red Wings prospect for real.

And the Red Wings’ final pick of the day was an overager, defenseman Fisher Scott — a Colorado College commit for whom Draper said the Red Wings’ U.S. scout was “pounding the table.”

“He’s a very good skater, obviously put up good numbers this year (in the USHL for Dubuque) going into C.C., where it looks like he’s going to have great opportunity to play a lot,” Draper said.

7. OK, onto the non-draft intrigue, with July 1 and the start of free agency just two days away.

Obviously, the big story earlier this week was the Red Wings’ sequence of trades in which they dealt 2023 second-round pick Andrew Gibson to Nashville for a 2024 second-round pick and prospect Jesse Kiiskinen, but then flipped the second-round pick (originally Tampa Bay’s) to San Jose with Jake Walman for future considerations.

It was a surprising trade, perhaps less so in that Walman was moved — Detroit had a crowded blue line, and Walman did find himself on the outside looking in at the end of last season — but more so in that the Red Wings attached a second-round pick to move him and his contract, which lasts two more years at a $3.4 million AAV. I asked Yzerman on Friday why he was willing to attach that pick to move Walman, and here’s what he said, in full:

“Well, we were able to, in the trade with Nashville, acquire a same-level prospect, at least on our board, for Andrew (Gibson) in Jesse Kiiskinen, and get a second-round pick,” Yzerman said. “And then it’s really difficult to move money right now, and I’ve tried. Honestly, I’ve tried. And needed to move at least one contract to do some of the things we want to do. And unfortunately, that was the price to do it. So I didn’t really want to trade Andrew Gibson, but we were able to recoup a prospect and get a pick that we used to move out a contract.”

There are still some unanswered questions, such as why Detroit hadn’t placed Walman on waivers first, but that was Yzerman’s explanation: moving money out to set up other things they wanted to do. And it was notable that he emphasized “I’ve tried” in that conversation.

8. I was personally surprised at the cost to move Walman, whom I consider a legit NHL regular on the blue line, but it was notable that it was virtually identical to what it cost St. Louis on Saturday to trade Kevin Hayes to Pittsburgh on a very similar contract (two more years at about $3.6 million). And funny enough, I had asked Penguins GM Kyle Dubas on Friday about the costs to move money right now, and why they were still so high despite the cap no longer being flat.

“I think it depends,” Dubas said. “There seems to be a lot of teams trying to preemptively move players. I think the term is something that gets lost a little bit, or the reputation of the player, or how things ended for the player, and then how badly the other teams want the player. I think it’s so circumstantial.

“Some people have come up and asked, ‘Why did this team give up this, but it was only X for this other player?’ It’s also teams have become, I think, more sophisticated in how they value the draft capital and the actual salary exchange. So you’re going to have, I think for the short run, have a pretty wide variance on what the deals look like.

“That’s just my opinion, as we haven’t been involved in those yet this week, but to me, there’s just a wide variance in how people evaluate it. I think that’s why it comes to that point.”

I didn’t ask him about Walman specifically there, just in general with the recent costs to move money, but it’s good perspective on the factors managers take into consideration.

9. Of course, the natural question is what the Red Wings might be trying to clear space for. As it stands, they have over $32 million in space, though it’s possible more than half of that could be taken up by long-term deals for young RFAs Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider.

One possibility was the buzz around Sphere the whole second day of the draft, after the New York Post’s Larry Brooks reported early Saturday that the Rangers were working on a deal to send their captain, right-shot defenseman Jacob Trouba, to Detroit.

As of this writing, that trade has not yet materialized, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on NHL Network’s draft broadcast that there was hope the deal could happen as soon as Saturday.

Here’s my take on the situation. Trouba obviously has a big-ticket contract at $8 million. The Rangers have some incentive to clear some money, with RFA Braden Schneider in need of a new deal this summer and some major-ticket RFAs and UFAs a year from now.

Detroit, meanwhile, could use a physical, shutdown defenseman on the right side, both to bring some added meanness to its team and to provide some relief for Seider in what was the NHL’s toughest workload last season. Trouba is also the Rangers’ captain, which speaks to the leadership elements he could bring to Detroit.

Brooks has reported that the Rangers could retain around $2.5 million on Trouba, which would take his cap hit down to a manageable $5.5 million. That’s probably about what Detroit would spend on a free agent RHD, while coming with less term (two more years) than they’d likely have to award on the open market. That would set up a nice pathway until 2023 first-round pick Axel Sandin Pellikka is ready for a meaningful NHL role.

Trouba currently has a full no-move clause, but it becomes a 15-team no-trade clause on Monday. Could there be some incentive, though, for him to potentially accept a deal to Detroit (near his hometown of Rochester, Mich.) before he loses some of that control?

The Athletic’s Arthur Staple has more on what Trouba’s no-move clause might mean for any potential deal.

The cost of acquiring Trouba (with money retained) would likely be the key to such a deal for Detroit, as Trouba can certainly help the Red Wings with his profile. It’s worth noting he is already 30, and with his bruising game, some questions come with that. His underlying numbers slipped a bit this year, down to a 46.57 percent expected goals share.

Still, he would be an upgrade on what Detroit has now and bring some key elements they need, and his contract (again, with money retained) would likely be more team-friendly than anything comparable they could find on the free-agent market.

We’ll see where it goes between now and Monday.

10. Finally, if right-shot “D” is one of Detroit’s biggest needs, the other is top-six wing.

Yzerman said Saturday the team still would love to get Patrick Kane signed. “That’s our first priority,” he said, though it should be noted the context there was in direct response to a question about Kane and the top-six winger need if he were to depart.

But as for what happens if Kane doesn’t sign, how big of a priority would that be to sign a heavy-hitter there?

“I would say on wingers, I don’t anticipate us — I mean, never really know — but we’ve got Alex DeBrincat, what I’d consider a sizeable commitment to Alex as far as salary,” Yzerman said. “We’re hoping to do something long-term with Lucas, and if we can’t, we’ll do something short-term with him. But our first priority is long-term, so we’re going to have a lot of money tied up in two wingers. Can we go long-term and a lot of money on another winger? It’s something to consider, depends on who it is. Depends on a lot of things.

“I guess go by every player: It’s not just do we like the player, (it’s) do we like him at the dollar amount? So, whoever it is, if we like him at X dollars and we can fit it in, we’ll try to do that.”

What to make of that answer is probably open for interpretation, as most Yzerman answers are, but top-six wing will be one of my biggest positions to watch for Detroit when free agency opens on Monday.

(Photo of Steve Yzerman and draft pick Landon Miller: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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