Two of the biggest names in hockey are switching addresses at a very intriguing time. Steve Yzerman is heading back to Detroit, this time as GM, while his former boss, Ken Holland, heads to Edmonton. On its face this is interesting news, but because both moves are happening so late in the season, there is another layer to investigate: how will this affect the draft?
As currently slated, Detroit will pick sixth overall this summer, while Edmonton will make the eighth selection. For both organizations, this will be a very important draft, but how will the change in staff affect the long-term results?
If history is any indicator, it could mean quite the shift in Detroit.
When Yzerman originally left the Red Wings for Tampa Bay in 2010, he was GM for the Lightning when they picked sixth overall that year. But by all accounts, it wasn’t really his draft; Yzerman was hired in late May, just a month before the picks were made. The Lightning selected Brett Connolly with their first-rounder, a bit of a gamble since the prolific junior scorer had missed most of the campaign due to injury. Connolly spent one full season and parts of several others with the Lightning before getting traded to the Bruins during the 2014-15 season and eventually, he won a Stanley Cup with Washington. But like a number of players drafted right before Yzerman’s tenure really took hold, Connolly didn’t stay in Tampa long.
Of the five top-100 picks the Lightning made in 2010, none were on the roster beyond 2014-15: Connolly and hard-nosed defenseman Radko Gudas were traded, while the other four never made it to the NHL. From 2009, only Victor Hedman survived; Carter Ashton and Richard Panik were both gone by 2014, while Alex Hutchings never made it past the AHL and ended up in Europe (none of the late-round picks in either draft made it to the NHL).
Now, this is not a matter of Yzerman going mad with power or anything like that; but a GM usually brings his own guys on the management side and that was the case in Tampa Bay. Al Murray came in as director of amateur scouting for 2010-11, while Stacy Roest joined as director of player personnel in 2013-14.
Under Murray, Tampa Bay’s first draft included Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Nesterov and Vlad Namestnikov (who was eventually part of the Ryan McDonagh trade with the New York Rangers). The next draft yielded goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and grinder Cedric Paquette and in the ensuing years, they would be joined by Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph.
According to Bob McKenzie, Roest and Murray are staying with Tampa Bay, so Yzerman will have some decisions to make (though assistant GM Pat Verbeek is expected to join Yzerman in Detroit). Right now, Tyler Wright is the director of amateur scouting in Detroit and has been since 2013-14. Under his stewardship, the Red Wings have added Dylan Larkin, Dennis Cholowski and Michael Rasmussen, among others.
Over in Edmonton, Holland’s front office moves will be very interesting to follow, since the Oilers have struggled in the draft of late. Yes, Connor McDavid worked out (shocker!), but the organization is still smarting over Jesse Puljujarvi’s slow development and other recent picks outside the top 10 have yet to make a lasting impact. Sadly, one of Edmonton’s best depth selections of the past decade has been defenseman Erik Gustafsson – and all of his NHL points have come with the Chicago Blackhawks. Gustafsson was never signed by Edmonton after he was taken in 2012’s fourth round.
In a sense, this gives Holland quite a bit of freedom; he can bring in his own people (and by the sounds of it, he will have autonomy). Now, we wait and see what he does with that freedom.
The 2019 draft will be big for both the Red Wings and the Oilers. While the first two picks of the class basically seem locked in – Jack Hughes to New Jersey, Kaapo Kakko to the Rangers – there is a whole cohort of players after that who could go in varying orders. Dylan Cozens, Bowen Byram, Kirby Dach and Vasili Podkolzin are all options to go third, but do the math and you’ll notice that at least one of those players will still be on the board at No. 6 for Detroit. And that’s not even considering high-end NTDP talents such as Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, Matthew Boldy and Cole Caufield – all of whom are also top-10 talents. So Edmonton will get a crack at a very good player, too.
Yzerman and Holland will both have to be on their toes for their picks and hopefully they can get familiar enough with their new scouts to make the selection count. Because at this point, both franchises need an early win at the draft table.