Last year during the 2016 NHL Entry Draft’s first round, I took fellow Wheelhouse contributor Zac to the bar to eat jalapeno poppers and watch the Red Wings make their pick. Zac was just starting to get into hockey for real around this time, so we were going to make an event out of the first NHL draft of his fandom. While we stuffed ourselves with too many caloriesmand tried to deal with the fact that the one tv we could see was a few seconds behind the one behind us, I kept getting more and more excited as Jakob Chychrun fell closer and closer to the Red Wings. “I think they’re going to actually get a shot him. That would really help their back end really soon,” I said. But then the clock struck 0:00 and the Datsyuk trade went through, sending Chychrun to Arizona. I ate my cheesecake and mulled over the Cholowski pick a few rounds later. I remember thinking I’m disappointed but I guess it could be worse.
Fast forward to the end of the 1st round after two players I wanted the Wings to draft fell to their lap. I keep telling my wife “I think we might actually get Vilardi or Liljegren.” She doesn’t recognize their names but she knows I’m excited. And then Ken Holland picks Michael Rasmussen and I’m left thinking once again I’m disappointed but I guess it could be worse.
Michael Rasmussen is a billion feet tall and weighs almost 16 stone, which I assume is somewhere close to the Mountain in Game of Thrones. He scored 55 points, 32 goals and 23 assists, in 50 games last season with the Tri-City Americans. The season before he had a respectable 18 goals and 25 assists in 63 games. He’s a center who loves to crash the net and from all account plays a responsible two-way game on top of it. I’ve heard his playing style compared to Ryan Getzlaf (hair loss and face punching comparables still to be determined), which sounds great. I know if someone was handing out young Getzlaf’s for your team I’d be lining up. So why am I disappointed?
If you take away Rasmussen’s powerplay points you’re left with 17 goals and 12 assists in 50 games in the WHL which isn’t known to be a defensive powerhouse of a league. That level of 5v5 production is concerning. You can look at it two ways: Rasmussen will be a boon to the Red Wings sagging powerplay numbers, or Rasmussen’s production might be brought down by the Red Wings truly awful powerplay. Obviously it’s too soon to tell which of those will be true (please be the former), but Rasmussen feels like more of a gamble than we needed to make at the 9th overall pick with arguably more stable options on the table. The Wings need a top line scoring center and a top pair defenseman probably more than anything else in the world right now. Gabriel Vilardi and Timothy Liljegren were both on the board and I feel were much more safe picks to fill those roles.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Vilardi’s skating really was a bigger detriment than we knew. Maybe Liljegren’s slump wasn’t just because he was recovering from mono. Maybe Rasmussen will be a dynamic #1 C in a few seasons. Pro scouts know a lot of facts I’m sure the general public isn’t aware of. But then I hear Holland mostly explain it was his size and that the Wings are gonna try and push for the playoffs again, and my brain again says I’m disappointed but I guess it could be worse.
Missing the playoffs hasn’t changed anything for the Red Wings. Like every draft, all we can do is hope.