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Deep defensive draft helps Red Wings

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Czech defenseman Filip Hronek meets Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson (right) and coach Jeff Blashill during the second round of Saturday's NHL draft. (Photo by Getty Images)

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Red Wings stuck to a defensive script during the second day of the annual NHL draft and in doing so managed to do something they haven’t done in 23 years.

For the first time since 1993, the Red Wings took four defensemen in the first five rounds.

“We had identified this as being a fairly deep draft for D,” said Tyler Wright, the Red Wings director of amateur scouting. “It was an organizational need that we thought we needed to get more defense into our system. Now when we got into the later rounds, the D just kind of kept falling to us.

“We walked away pretty happy today. Everybody says that but we're legitimately pretty excited. We targeted quite a few guys in areas and we thought we addressed those needs in more than one thing within the organization.”

In 1993, Anders Eriksson was the first defenseman taken by the Wings in that draft, and the only one of the four blue liners to reach the NHL.

With both picks obtained from a Friday night trade with Arizona, the Red Wings selected blue liners Dennis Cholowski at No. 20 and Czech Filip Hronek at No. 53. They then added two more defensemen: Swede Alfons Malmstrom and Ontario native Jordan Sambrook.

“It’s crazy,” said Hronek, in the only English that he spoke when he was brought to the podium inside the First Niagara Center Saturday morning.

“Sorry, I don’t speak English. Just a little bit,” he said.

The 18-year-old said his favorite NHL player is Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson, though when asked about his knowledge of the Red Wings he rattled off a few of the club’s stars – Niklas Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg, Dylan Larkin and Petr Mrazek.

Through a translator, Hronek described his playing style as “an offensive defenseman. I like to play with the puck a lot. I like to create the play.”

According to several scouting services, Hronek flew under the radar because he’s a late-1997 birth date (Nov. 2), making him ineligible to play in under-18 international tournaments last season. Despite his lack of exposure, scouts were impressed with his vision and patience with the puck. He’s got excellent hockey sense to go with terrific instincts in the offensive end, where he potentially could quarterback the Red Wings’ power play of the future.

Like every young prospect, Hronek will need to make strides with his physical development and get significantly stronger.

Sambrook, who played for the Erie Otters, said he was honored to be selected by a “very historic franchise.”

The 6-foot-2 righthanded shooting blue liner described his style as a two-way defenseman fashioned after the St. Louis Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo.

“I can jump in the play, contribute offensively,” Sambrook said. “I’m working on my defensive game, being more physical, adding size. … I’m a tall guy but I’m not the heaviest. Put on some pounds definitely will help me.”

Here is a glance at the Red Wings’ 2016 draftees:

Dennis Cholowski

FIRST ROUND (No. 20)
Dennis Cholowski, Chilliwack (BCHL)
Position: defense | Height: 6-foot-2 | Weight: 177 pounds | Shoots: left

Red Wings Director of Amateur scouting Tyler Wright: “The kid is 6-foot-2 and one of the best skaters in the draft. Physically he needs some strength, he needs time. He’s an elite thinker. We think his hockey sense is very good. He’s just a guy that can play in any position, late in a game, early in a game, never have to hide him because of size and skating ability.

“He’s just a heckuva hockey player. He’s got great mobility, he’s a very good skater, he’s got good puck skills; he can move pucks very well. He can jump into the rush, he can defense plays in all situation. I think all that stuff he could get better at but he’s got a good package and a good starting point as far as development. We believe he’s got top-four potential and that’s why we took him.”

Red Line Report: Fluid rearguard has good offensive skills and is a fine four-way skater with agility and the elusiveness to evade forecheckers. Makes excellent breakouts, crisp, and on the tape. Scans the whole ice looking to make plays, takes his time with the puck and doesn’t rush his passes or panic. Also has patience to skate the puck out of his zone rather than force ill-advised passes. Likes to pinch and join the attack, often venturing in deep. Shows a hard, accurate shot from the point. Plays both special teams and in all key situations, and generally controls the play with poise and confidence. Head’s up and defensively aware around his own end, rarely making a bad decision. Maintains tight gaps and hardly gives puckhandlers any space to make plays. Has grown five inches in the past two years and has developed into a very steady, reliable, and underrated two-way defenseman.

Givani Smith

SECOND ROUND (No. 46)
Givani Smith, Guelph (OHL)
Position: right wing | Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 194 pounds | Shoots: left

Red Wings director of amateur scouting Tyler Wright: "We kind of tried to address a little bit of a need for the organization. He's a big kid, big, strong, powerful kid that plays nasty. So we had the opportunity to step up on him and we did. … If he's not helping out on the score sheet or he's not figuring in offensively, he's making their other best players really be aware of what's going on on the ice. It's that innate instinct that you either have or you don't have, you can't really develop it. He loves it and he relishes that role. He's a big frame he's a big kid, strong, powerful kid, so it was an area of need that we thought through the organization and that's why we had him so high on our list.”

DraftBuzz Scouting Report: Smith is a rough around the edges mean yet skilled PF who has a lot of room to be molded in the upcoming years. Smith managed 23 goals despite being on the lowest scoring OHL team and third worst team in the entire CHL. Smith is a powerful forward in every sense of the word ranging from skating to hitting to shooting. He is a hard-driving winger who has a little bit of finesse showing he has potential to be more than just a plugger. He’s physical, agitates, and has no problem cutting to the middle of the ice with authority. He lacks in fluidity and coordination – temporarily, as it seems he is organizing his physical capacity as we speak. While he doesn’t possess high-end skill items, his puckhandling and passing will get smoother as he adds dexterity and settles into his body.

Filip Hronek

SECOND ROUND (No. 53)
Filip Hronek, HK Hradec Kralove (Czech Extraliga)
Position: defense | Height: 5-foot-11 | Weight: 172 pounds | Shoots: right

Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson: “Everybody in the organization liked him. He’s 6-feet, very competitive and we think he has really good character, like almost – it’s stupid to say it – but almost like a captain character. Really more than what you normally see in European players.

“We like him hockey player-wise because he competes in his own end and he’s good with the puck offensively. He was on that top-30 list for the first round and then we got him in the second round. Everybody says it, but we got him lower than we had him ranked.”

ISS Hockey Scouting Report: Already playing against men in Czech Extraliga. Hronek is among the wildcards of this year’s draft class. He is a very mobile puck moving defenseman that has shown steady development in his own zone. He logs a lot of minutes for his team and is relied on in every situation. He makes a good first pass and very tough to play against defensively as he uses his stick and footwork very well to take skaters out of the play. Good puck handling at the blue line to avoid stick checks and get it deep. Although he works hard and has a competitive nature there are big question marks regarding his underwhelming size. Should get lots of interest for 2016 CHL Import draft – would be Impact player.

Alfons Malmstrom

FOURTH ROUND (No. 107)
Alfons Malmstrom,Orebro (Swedish SuperElit)
Position: defense | Height: 6-foot-2 | Weight: 190 pounds | Shoots: left

Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson: “I think he’s a Mattias Ekholm-type of player, a big defensive defenseman. He’s mobile, he’s big, he’s still growing and I think he’s closing in on 6-foot-4 right now. He played junior in Sweden and he was with a camp with his men’s team here after the season was over in late April. I talked to that coach and he said ‘he was our best defenseman.’ He was mean, he was blocking shots, he was doing everything you want to hear about a guy like that. So that’s what we think we have there. That was certainly the category of player that we drafted, like a big defensive guy.”

Red Line Report: Good size and mobility, and some passing skills.

Jordan Sambrook

FIFTH ROUND (No. 137)
Jordan Sambrook, Erie (OHL)
Position: defense | Height: 6-foot-2 | Weight: 186 pounds | Shoots: right

Red Wings director of amateur scouting Tyler Wright: “We actually had him and the (Alfons) Malmstrom kid pretty much equal on the board. The other guy is a little bit bigger, roll the dice and Sambrook was there the next round. Good upside. Good, smooth, not a flashy player but takes care of his business. He's defensively responsible, he moves pucks, he can skate and hopefully he can grow into a bigger role.”

Red Line Report: One of the real sleepers in this draft. His game is so simple and mistake-free, and he just makes intelligent plays and sound decisions all across the ice. Plays with so much maturity and poise - patient and calm under heavy fore-checking pressure. Always positioned well. Likes to handle and skate with the puck, and uses head feints to shake checkers. Willing to move up into offensive flow. Shows surprising patience moving down the slot and firing top-shelf wristers. Defensively aware and always picks up the right man in coverage. Never flashy, but extremely steady and reliable. Tall with a lean, athletic frame. Hits, skates, and moves the puck smartly. Pivots and edging are clean, and his lateral agility is strong. Has the footwork to stick with quicker forwards down low, and the strength to pin and seal men along the walls and win battles.

Filip Larsson

SIXTH ROUND (No. 167)
Filip Larsson, Djurgården (Swedish Junior)
Position: goalie | Height: 6-foot-2 | Weight: 181 pounds | Glove: left

Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson: “He was injured a couple of times. He played really well for us. We saw a couple of games before Christmas and he played really well but then he had some problem with injuries and I think when that happens in your draft year you tend to fall out of peoples’ minds a little bit. I think he was No. 2 on our goalie list and he sat there, so we debated in the fifth round and took a little bit of a chance that he might slip and he did. We hired a goalie coach this year in Sweden and he was extremely excited about him. He thinks he’s a natural goalie talent, so that’s going to be interesting to see. It’s not my strongest area, so we’ll see.”

SEVENTH ROUND (No. 197)
Mattias Elfstrom, Malmo (Swedish SuperElit )
Position: center/left wing | Height: 6-foot-3 | Weight: 194 pounds | Shoots: left

Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson: “I told the guys who haven’t seen him there’s a player in Windsor, Logan Brown, who went early in the first round. He’s that type of player. Now I can’t say he’s gonna be that good but he’s a tall, big forward with a lot of skill and hockey sense. So I was pushing for him earlier in the rounds and but Tyler kept saying to be ‘Do you think we can play the draft a little bit? Do a lot of people know about him?’ and I had to admit, no they don’t. But when you like somebody you want to grab them, so this was great for us. He was in our top 10 on our European list.”

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