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A new Russian for Wings?

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings have a few needs as they head into this weekend's NHL draft in Buffalo, New York.

One of those is a top young defenseman to hold down the blue line for years to come.

The problem with that is defensemen like that rarely last past the top 10 draft picks and Detroit has the No. 16 selection.

The last time the Wings took a defenseman with their first-round pick was in 2007, when they chose Wisconsin's Brendan Smith with the 27th overall pick.

The last time the Wings took a defenseman in the top 12 picks was in 1987 when they took Yves Racine.

While there's no clear consensus among the mock drafts as to which player the Wings will select, the departure of Pavel Datsyuk has more and more mock drafts looking to Russia for the Wings' future.

Kyle Woodlief of Red Line Report, writing in USA Today, has the Wings taking Russian center German Rubtsov.

German Rubtsov

"With Pavel Datsyuk returning to Russia, why not replace him with another fine two-way Russian center," Woodlief wrote. "He’s not another Datsyuk offensively, but he’s sturdy, aggressive, and intelligent."

Jeff Marek of sportsnet.ca also believes Detroit would be a good place for Rubtsov.

"One of the more intriguing players in the draft, Rubtsov is loaded with skill and can play in every area," Marek wrote. "Detroit is a great fit for him."

Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com agreed with Marek.

"The Red Wings will be digging deep in the amateur junior ranks in Russia for a strong two-way center to replace the departing Russian center Pavel Datsyuk," Haggerty said. "The 6-foot-2, 178-pounder is strong on the puck and a high-effort player, and certainly would give Detroit what they're always looking for in their prospects. Some teams shy away from the Russian prospects for any number of reasons, but not the Red Wings even given the difficulty of gauging a Russian prospect at their junior levels. This will be an interesting name to watch in the first round given how limited some of the scouting reports might be for him coming out of Russia's junior hockey ranks, but that kind of thing is right in Ken Holland's wheelhouse."

Chris Peters of cbssports.com made it four mock drafts with Rubtsov as the Wings' pick.

"The top Russian in the draft, Rubtsov has good size and is coming off of a really strong season in Russia's MHL," Peters said. "With 26 points in 28 games, Rubtsov's stat line isn't eye-popping, but very good for the tough MHL. The Red Wings have had good success leaning on the advice of their European scouts and have a good shot at picking up a high-upside player right here."

Rubtsov had 12 goals and 14 assists in 28 games with Team Russia's Under-18 squad.

The other experts all have differing opinions.

NHL.com's Adam Kimelman and colleague Mike Morreale went in opposing directions in their mock drafts.

Jake Bean
Luke Kunin

Kimelman said the Wings will take defenseman Jake Bean from Calgary of the Western Hockey League.

Kimelman said: "The offensive-minded left-shot defender led WHL defensemen with 24 goals in 68 games this season. At 6-0 and 173 pounds he needs to get stronger, but his skating and offensive skill would help raise the tempo and mesh well with their developing young forwards."

In 68 games with the Hitmen, Bean had 24 goals, including 12 on the power play, and 40 assists.

Meanwhile, Morreale's post-NHL scouting combine mock draft has the Wings taking center Luke Kunin from Wisconsin.

Morreale wrote: "A lethal finisher capable of creating offense each shift, the right-shot Kunin (5-11, 192) was named to the Big Ten Conference All-Freshman team after leading the Badgers with 19 goals, five power-play goals and 127 shots on goal in 34 games. Kunin had the best vertical jump (28.98 inches), was seventh in the long jump (113.5 inches) and tied for 13th in peak power output on the Wingate at 17.4 watts/kilogram."

Kieffer Bellows

Corey Pronman of ESPN.com believes the Wings will look again to the US National Development Team for a forward, as they did two seasons ago when they selected center Dylan Larkin with the No. 15 pick.

Pronman likes center Kieffer Bellows for the Wings' pick, as does Timothy Rapp of bleacherreport.com.

Pronman said: "While people often associate Detroit with small, flashy European forwards, their top picks for most part have been domestic, and they haven't been afraid to go after size if it's accompanied by a lot of skill. Bellows -- son of former No. 2 overall pick Brian -- has that in bunches (6-foot-1, 194 pounds), on top of an elite shot, being one of the top all-time goal scorers ever for the USNTDP."

Bellows had 50 goals and 31 assists in 62 games with the USNTDP Under-18 team.

The other three sportsnet.ca writers all have different choices.

Charlie McAvoy
Rasmus Asplund

Damien Cox believes the Wings will focus on the blue line, taking defenseman Charlie McAvoy from Boston University.

"Wings will try to move up, but if McAvoy is there, Detroit is hoping to add a defenceman," Cox said.

McAvoy had three goals and 22 assists in 37 games.

Gare Joyce thinks the Wings will look to a familiar country for their first-round pick and will take center Rasmus Asplund from Farjestads in Sweden.

"Some teams didn’t like Asplund’s attitude at the combine — that he didn’t take the process of testing and interviews seriously enough," Joyce said. "Lots to like about him based on his play at the U-20s though and Hakan Andersson, the Wings’ longtime Euro scout, will have the intel."

Mike McLeod

Sam Cosentino thinks the Wings' choice will be center Mike McLeod of Mississauga of the OHL.

"Full speed, full-time. Once his mitts catch up to his boots, he’ll impact the game in all three areas on the ice," Cosentino wrote.

McLeod had 21 goals and 40 assists in 57 games with the Steelheads.

The Wings also have a second-round pick (46th overall); a fourth-round pick (107th overall); a fifth-round pick (137th overall); a sixth-round pick (167th overall); and a seventh-round pick (197th overall).

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