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Red Wings draft three in 2nd round

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings
The odds of an Erik Johnson or Phil Kessel falling to Detroit at 29th overall in Saturday's draft were about as good as Claude Lemieux having his jersey raised up into the Joe Louis Arena rafters.

Click here to view all of the Red Wings 2006 draft picks.

That doesn't mean the Red Wings failed to nab a player with just as much upside, they just don't know it yet.

It could be a 6'2" sleeper Swede who was so far off the map that NHL staff had to scramble to find a nameplate when they announced the pick, or a slight Czech winger who tumbled four rounds before getting scooped out of the basement.

"We'll find out," said Wings' assistant general manager and resident draft guru Jim Nill. "The draft's a funny thing. You never know."

Late-round steals like Pavel Datsyuk (171st), Henrik Zetterberg (210th), and Tomas Holmstrom (257th) are testaments to that.

"Every year there are two or three guys who come out late in the draft and you're like 'Whoa, I remember him.' That's who we're trying to find."

Not that Nill has much choice.

The Wings' perennial success in the regular season translates into low draft selections well after all the blue-chippers are done shaking hands and posing for pictures.

Saturday in Vancouver was no different.

Nill used three second-round picks to grab a pair of Canadian forwards in Cory Emmerton (41st) and Shawn Matthias (47th), then ranged far into the bush get a virtual unknown in lanky Swedish forward in Dick Axelsson (62nd).

He picked Swedish goalie Dan Larsson at 92nd, then spent a sixth-rounder on slight Czech winger Jan Mursak (182nd), and two seventh-round selections on American winger Nick Oslund (191st) and Canadian defender Logan Pyett (212th).

Of the seven selections made by Nill and his crew Saturday, only two were rated in the top 100 by Central Scouting to start the day.

"It's a weak draft as far as the high-end names - there's no Ovechkin and stuff - but there's always going to be players in the third, fourth and fifth rounds."

Which explains why Detroit kicked off the 2006 draft by trading away their only first-round selection. "We moved down with our first pick to get two other seconds because we had about four or five guys we really liked, so we knew we had a chance to get an extra player," said Nill. "We did that and got Emmerton."

The flashy center scored 26 goals and 90 points in 66 games with the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League last season.

"He's a Detroit Red Wings type of player. He's got a good feel for the game, good head and good skills."

Emmerton started the day ranked 22nd overall, but slipped to 41st.

"Who knows," said Nill, when asked about the drop. "It could be size or something, you just never know."

Falling to the Wings at 41 couldn't have worked out better for Emmerton, a lifelong Steve Yzerman fan.

"He's awesome," said Emmerton. "I just hope I get to meet him."

If Emmerton was upset at not going in the first round, he didn't show it.

"This is great. I mean Scotty Bowman and Mike Babcock, they know what they're doing. It'll be great learning from those guys. And there's all those great players there. I'm just really excited."

"It's what I've been waiting for my whole life."

After catching a falling commodity in Emmerton, Nill jumped early to land 6'3", 211-pound Belleville Bull forward Shawn Matthias at 47th.

"He's another late bloomer," explained Nill. "He didn't play a lot in Bellville in the early part of the year but really started to come on late and played very well for Canada in the under-18s."

A self-professed defensive forward, Matthias knows he's got growing to do before he graduates to Grand Rapids.

"I know I'm not ready to make the jump yet," said Matthias. "I still have to mature physically and develop as a player as well. I think the years will be good for me. I'll just be a better player and eventually make the jump."

Listed at 6'3", 211-pounds, Matthias has a long powerful stride for a big kid, but opts to uses it to catch opponents and shut down passing lanes rather than drive opposing defenders through the boards.

"I'm more of a defensive forward, but as the years come I think I'll progress and become a stronger two-way forward and put some half-decent points up," he said.

Ranked 62nd among North American skaters by Central Scouting, Matthias was surprised to hear his name called early as he did.

"I talked to [Detroit] at the combine and I knew they were interested, but I had no idea the second round."

"There's a such winning tradition and to hear my name called by such a classy organization is just unbelievable."

It wouldn't be a draft if Nill didn't go 'off the map' with at least on mid-round pick. This year it was Axelsson - who didn't make the media guide and wasn't even in Central Scouting's top 400.

"He's a kid who we've watched over in Sweden this year and we really like his skills and his size," said Nill.

A big, rangy forward with a surgeon's hands, Axelsson scored 17 goals in 23 games with Huddinge playing division one hockey in Sweden last year.

"We just hope he continues to develop. He's a bit of a late bloomer but we're hoping he's got some upside."

The Wings took an unheralded Swedish goaltender in Larsson with the 92nd pick, then sat idle through the third, fourth, and fifth rounds before pulling a Czech speedster in Mursak out of the 'sale bin' with the 182nd pick.

Ranked 22nd among European skaters by Central Scouting, Mursak's stock spiraled on the draft floor.

At 5'11", 167-pounds, Mursak doesn't play a physical game, but he's a great skater who can score.

He played alongside Los Angeles first-round pick Anze Kopitar on the Czech national junior team and put up 32 points with the Budejovice junior squad last season.

Given Nill's resume and penchant for pulling superstars out of the thick of the draft, at least one of Saturday's picks appears bound for NHL greatness. As usual, Red Wing fans will have to hold the confetti for a few seasons to find out who it is.

The again, that's what makes the draft so intriguing for Hockeytown faithful.
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