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Steve Yzerman happy with Detroit's roster after wild week

Red Wings EVP and GM recaps unpredictable week of the NHL Draft and free agency

by Josh Berenter @DetroitRedWings /

DETROIT -- Before last week's 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Steve Yzerman suggested it could be the most unpredictable week in modern hockey history.

After the Detroit Red Wings drafted eight promising prospects and signed several players in free agency, it turns out Detroit's executive vice president and general manager was spot on.

"It's been certainly a wild week in the NHL between trades and then yesterday, players moving teams," Yzerman said after Day 2 of free agency Thursday. "It was probably a little bit more active, a little bit more movement than I anticipated initially. I thought it was entertaining.

"Is it fun? Yeah, it's an incredible challenge. But we all like some form of certainty, and this is the biggest period of uncertainty for us all."

Video: Steve Yzerman address Red Wings free agency moves

The first two new free agents the Red Wings signed on Wednesday were defenseman and Michigan native Jordan Oesterle and Swiss center Pius Suter. Yzerman said he thinks both players could have a huge impact for Detroit this season.

"He is an offensive-minded, playmaking centerman, which was a real need for our team. I think he filled the need for us," Yzerman said Thursday about the 25-year-old Suter. "He is a skilled guy. He's got good hands. I think he's got good hockey sense. He has some versatility to him as well.

"We had a big hole there in the center position for an offensive-minded playmaker. But certainly watching him eight times last year live over a relatively short period of time gives you a good feel for what their strengths are."

Video: Welcome to Detroit, new forward Pius Suter!

As for Oesterle, Yzerman said he likes the versatility that the defenseman brings to the club.

"I think he's versatile. He was used in Arizona, in all situations really -- power play, penalty killing, even strength," Yzerman said about the 29-year-old Oesterle. "He's a good skater, so we think that's important particularly when you get into four-on-four and then three-on-three overtimes. I think he's even played a little bit on the right-hand side. Useful player, his skating is good. I think he complements our left side well and can fill in anywhere there."

On Friday, the Red Wings made another move by acquiring 24-year-old center Mitchell Stephens from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.

Stephens has earned seven points (3-4-7) in 45 games for the back-to-back Stanley Cup-champion Lightning over the last two seasons.


Welcome Back to Detroit

On Day 2 of free agency, Detroit welcomed back defensemen Dan Renouf, Luke Witkowski and Brian Lashoff on deals that give the Wings some flexibility.

"He can go up and play on the right wing. He did that here in Detroit. He did in Tampa," Yzerman said about Witkowski, who is a Holland, Mich. native. "He's rugged, hard-nosed, he's a great person, a great leader. He gives us some depth to play here, to play in Grand Rapids, gives us the flexibility to play him at two positions. Great leadership and tough as nails."

Before free agency began, the Red Wings also re-signed a couple crucial veterans who Yzerman hopes provide stability to a club that has seen a huge roster turnover the last few years.

On Sunday, Detroit agreed to terms with 14-year NHL veteran defenseman Marc Staal, and on Wednesday morning, the Red Wings re-signed 14-year veteran center Sam Gagner, hours before he was set to become an unrestricted free agent.

Video: Sam Gagner signs one-year extension with Red Wings

Keeping with the theme of versatility, Yzerman said he appreciates the skillset that Gagner provides.

"Sam came into the NHL as a high draft pick who was a really offensive-minded player and we re-signed him," Yzerman said about the 2007 No. 6 overall draft pick. "He remade himself in to really versatile player. He did a great job killing penalties last year. Very responsible defensively. Offensively, he does have that versatility that he can play on the power play, a lot of different spots on it.

"Generally, he's a great pro. He's got a great attitude. He's comfortable in the role he has. As a veteran, setting a good example for the young guys. He's patient, he's been through it all."

Yzerman said he's happy with the signings the Red Wings made and is confident Detroit will a better team in 2021-22 than it was last season.

"I hope we're better," he said. "I think every team sits back and you look at your board and you think, you know what, I think we're a better hockey team. So I do.

"We're going to have some younger players playing bigger roles. Sometimes that can be a challenge, but I think our back end is a little stronger, it's a little bit more mobile, maybe a little bit more offense out of it."


Prospect Update

While the Red Wings re-signed a couple veterans who provide leadership and versatility, Detroit's roster is comprised of several talented young players looking to make their mark in the NHL.

Three of those players on the precipice of making their NHL mark are 2018 30th overall pick Joe Veleno, who made his Red Wings debut late last season, along with 2019 sixth overall pick Moritz Seider and 2020 fourth overall pick Lucas Raymond, who hope to make their NHL debuts at some point this season.

Yzerman said Veleno doesn't have a guaranteed roster spot this season, but he likes the development he's seen from the 21-year-old forward.

"He's a young prospect competing for a job. Joe going over to Sweden last year, I think was great," Yzerman said about Veleno. "He got to play a lot and he's gotten much stronger over the last 18 months. We got a little bit of a view of him at the end of the season here in Detroit. He looked pretty good. Without a doubt, he will be a real interesting one to watch in in preseason.

"I don't want him just to be on the roster. I want him to play well. It's important for his confidence in his development to be able to succeed out there, and we're really pleased with his attitude, his work ethic and determination to continue to get better."

Video: DET@CBJ: Veleno roofs PPG for first career goal

Yzerman said he's also pleased with Raymond's development and said the 19-year-old is on the right timeline to possibly join the Red Wings in the near future.

"Lucas, we have very high hopes for him," Yzerman said. "He had a pretty good year in Sweden, missed a little time at the end. He had an issue with his elbow that he had to take get taken care of. We expect him to be fully ready to go at training camp.

"We think he has a real bright future. Is he ready going into September, October, maybe? But we've got to wait and see."

Yzerman was also clear about Seider's chances to make the 2021-22 roster.

"Moritz, if he's in the top six and he's earned that spot in the top six, he'll play," Yzerman said about the German defenseman. "We anticipate him making a really good push to play."

Yzerman said while the Red Wings have several elite prospects, those young players still have to earn their roster spot and nothing will be given.

"For our younger players, if they come in at training camp and do well and they earn a spot, that's great," Yzerman said. "What I'm not necessarily doing is going to leave spots open just to hand it to one of the younger players."

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