Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland has developed the reputation as a GM who isn’t afraid to go off the board or reach for players he likes at the NHL draft. What was once Holland’s hallmark characteristic (who can forget those great Red Wings teams fueled by late picks in Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen) has become a negative trait over time.
The 2016 draft will haunt the Red Wings until Jakob Chychrun decides to hang up his skates for good. Holland whiffed on the chance to draft the cornerstone-worthy blueliner, instead deciding to trade Datsyuk’s dead cap space to the Arizona Coyotes with hopes of taking a run at Steven Stamkos.
That chance never came, and Chychrun, drafted by Arizona, made the NHL as an 18-year-old defenseman with skill in all three zones.
Holland allowed a prime NHL-ready talent to slip through his fingers again at the 2017 draft, this time rolling the dice with the highest draft pick Detroit has had in 27 years. With home-run offensive talent Owen Tippett still on the board at pick No. 9, the Red Wings elected to draft center Michael Rasmussen instead.
It’s impossible to know for sure how draft picks will pan out over time. Rasmussen could be in the Hall of Fame someday, while Tippett could be a reclamation project by 2020. The reverse could also turn out to be true, though, and the Red Wings passed on an awfully talented player for the second consecutive draft.
The one-two combination of Chychrun and Tippett seems to stand head and shoulders over Detroit’s duo of Rasmussen and Dennis Cholowski, even from the outset. That should be tough for the Red Wings’ brass to deal with, since the organization is in dire need of more talent across the board.
To wit: the Red Wings will regret passing on the chance to draft Tippett, instead electing to go with the more prototypical power forward in Rasmussen. This isn’t to say that Rasmussen won’t be a good player someday. He could be a great one.
It’s just baffling to watch a team that scored fifth-fewest goals per game on average pass on a winger who thrives when it comes to filling the net. Stanley Cup-caliber teams are built down the middle of the ice, but why reach for a middle-of-the-pack center when a high-end winger has slid down the draft board to your spot at No. 9?
The move doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, and when coupled with how Holland has been handling the draft over the last several years, it shouldn’t inspire much confidence. The Red Wings haven’t exactly done a great job of developing NHL-caliber centers recently, either. If Rasmussen was going to jump right to the pro level and be a top-six center — something the Red Wings badly need — this season, then perhaps leaving Tippett to the Florida Panthers wouldn’t appear so brutal.
Odds are good that he’ll be returned to juniors to continue to hammer out his game, though, while Tippett has a very good chance of making the Panthers right out of training camp. The reason for that is simple: Rasmussen is a bit of a throwback power forward, while Tippett plays the game the way the NHL is trending right now.
He’s quick, agile with the puck and has an outstanding release. Shooters like Tippett are rare commodities, and it’s not like he’s undersized, either. Standing at 6-foot-1 and weighing in at 200 pounds, this isn’t one of those waterbug forwards teams in the late stages of the first round like to take a risk on.
Tippett has the size, quickness and shot to make the jump to the NHL right now, and the Red Wings essentially balked at the chance to draft the next Phil Kessell. Player comparisons are tricky sometimes, but it’s not too difficult to see why Tippett and Kessel draw comparisons to one another.
Moreover, Tippett has had to overcome a lot of adversity to make it to this level of hockey. Intangibles are difficult to properly value, but it’s evident that this young man is mature beyond his years. As the Red Wings enter their post-Euro Twins rebuild — or whatever Holland wants to call it — these are the kinds of players worth building around.
To reiterate: none of this is a knock on Rasmussen. It is a knock on the Red Wings, their scouts and Holland for continuing to pass up talented players at the draft table in the name of antiquated ideas about what makes forwards worth selecting.
Fans in Detroit already were going to have to spend the next decade-plus watching Chychrun thrive with the Coyotes. Now they’re going to have to watch Tippett push for 30-goal campaigns with the Panthers as well. Both players could be members of the Red Wings. Instead, Holland’s attempts to be the smartest guy in the room backfired horrifically in back-to-back draft years.