PITTSBURGH – For the 10th time since 1997, the Red Wings watched from the sidelines as other NHL clubs made first-round selections at Consol Energy Center on Friday night.
Granted, the lack of recent first-round picks for the Wings has mainly been the result of bona fide deadline deals that bolstered runs at the Stanley Cup with the acquisitions of players like Brendan Shanahan, Chris Chelios, Dominik Hasek and Mathieu Schneider.
Friday’s first-round pick went to the Tampa Bay Lightning in return for defenseman Kyle Quincey at the trade deadline last February. It was the first time in eight years that the Wings departed with a first-round pick at the trade deadline since getting Robert Lang from Washington in 2004.
The Wings also elected to trade down in 2006, 2009 and 2011, surrendering first-rounders to land Cory Emmerton, Landon Ferraro and Tomas Jurco in the second rounds.
The Red Wings were one of four teams Friday – joining Colorado, Nashville and Carolina – without a first-round pick on Day 1 of the annual draft that is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
While it was a relatively quiet night at the Wings’ table on the carpeted floor of the arena, the front office and amateur scouting staff mapped strategy for the remaining six rounds, which will take place on Saturday.
“We’ve been through it before, but you’re still working the floor, you’re still making calls,” Wings assistant GM Jim Nill said. “You never know what’s going to happen in the meantime.”
With its first pick not occurring until No. 49, the Wings will likely enter Saturday with a take-the-best-available player mentality.
“Where we pick we’re looking for the best player,” Nill said. “The teams that pick in the top 10 or 15 you can kind of pick for position because you might have three defensemen who are all good, you could have three forwards who are all good, so if you want a forward and a defenseman you have a choice. But where we’re picking it’s hard to say let’s get the best goalie because there aren’t any goalies that you like at that moment. It’s really about the best player.”
Despite the lack of first-round picks over the last decade, Nill and his scouting staff have made splashes with such late-round gems as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom and Jonathan Ericsson.
“It’s about all of the scouts. It’s about all of our local scouts whether it’s Hakan Andersson in Europe, Ari Vouri in Finland, Mark Leach in the Boston area, their main job is to turn over every bush and try to find a player and the draft comes down to those guys who have done the work. They go out and search the woods for the player and bring me or Joe McDonnell in to see what is there, but it’s really those guys who bet down the bushes.”
Regardless of what transpires this weekend, the final grade for the Wings’ draft class of 2012 won’t be decided for a few years, Nill said.
“It’s usually three to five years, and that’s the tough part about the draft,” he said. “If you have a bad draft you may not see it right away but you’ll see it in five years. That’s why you don’t want too many years were you kind of cut the chain because that would catch up to you.”
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