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Wings nab big defensemen in draft

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Red Wings know that Nicklas Lidstrom won’t be around forever and with NHL teams adopting bigger, more physical centers, it only stands to reason that those asked to defend them should be of equal size.

“We know that we have to start getting bigger on the back-end,” said Jim Nill, the Red Wings assistant general manager.

The Wings pegged five defensemen, all over 6-feet tall, in the second day of the two-day NHL draft held at the Xcel Energy Center.

In a move to acquire an additional draft pick, the Wings traded their only pick in Friday’s first-round, No. 24 overall, to the Ottawa Senators. In exchange, the Wings received the Sens’ 35th and 48th picks.
Xavier Ouellet

The Wings used two of their three second-round picks to take defensemen. First they took 6-foot Xavier Ouellet of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the 35th pick. Then 13 picks later the Wings tabbed 6-3 Ryan Sproul of Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontatio Hockey League.

“The Ouellet kid has real good skills and moves the puck well,” Nill said. “The Sproul kid is a big kid, but he has good skills too.”

In all, the Wings selected five defensemen, three forwards and a center. Of the nine picks, the Wings landed three players from Canada, two from Slovakia, and one each from Sweden, Czech Republic and France.

Asked if the Wings were adhering to a quota mandating the selecting of Swedish players, Nill joked, “We have to keep the Swedish government off of our backs. We have to start paying taxes if we don’t.”
Ryan Sproul

For the 17th straight year, the Wings selected at least one Swedish player when used a fifth-round pick (146th overall) on 6-2 defensemen Mattias Backman, who played in 27 games with Linköping Junior in Sweden’s SuperElit League.

“He’s another big defenseman and our guys caught him late in the year,” Nill said. “We like his size and his puck-moving.”

After the Backman pick, the Wings finished the draft by selecting two more blue-liners: 6-4 Czech Richard Nedomlel (six-round) and 6-2 Russian Alexei Marchenko.

“Nedomlel, he’s a Czech kid, a big, strong kid, and plays real hard,” Nill said. “Marchenko will play or the Rssian World Junior team this year.”

Marchenko had 11 goals and 23 assists for CSKA-Krasnaja Armija Moskva, who won Russia’s MHL championship last season.

After Friday’s trade, Nill said that there were players on a list of 15 possible that they thought might fall to them early in the second round. One of those was Slovakian forward Tomas Jurco, who played last season for the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

“He has high-end skills,” said Nill, of Jurco, who plays for former Red Wings forward Gerard Gallant. “He was one of those 15. So we knew we could get somebody if we moved down.”

Gallant, who played 11 NHL seasons, including nine with the Wings, told Nill that he compares Jurco to Marian Hossa, a big, rugged forward, who is hard to knock off of the puck.

“He’s come over from Europe and he’s used to playing a lot of games,” Nill said. “He’s a you kid who is learning, but the skill is not a problem.
Philippe Hudon

“This year he had to really take a backseat because they had about six go-to guys. He came in as the go-to guy, but then there’s (Jonathan) Huberdeau on a very good team. So he had to learn to play within a team concept, which is important, because that’s the next step. Yet he still got a lot of points, so that’s good.”

Another draftee on the Wings’ wish list of 15 was Ouellet, and Sproul wasn’t far from that list.

“The game is changing and you have to move the puck, and all of our guys are good puck-movers,” Nill said. “You want some size, but the combination is that you have to move the puck.”

The Wings also took three other forwards: Peterborough center Alan Quine (third round), Czech winger Marek Tvrdon (fourth round), who played for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, and Canadian center/forward Philippe Hudon, who has played the last three seasons at Choate Rosemary Hall prep school in Wallingford, Connecticut.

Nil described Quine as a “kind of a Darren Helm-type. Real good speed, always on the puck, tenacious, plays hard, but still has some pretty good skills.”
Alan Quine

Nill compared Tvrdon to last year’s fourth-round pick, Teemu Pulkkinen, a 5-11 forward from Finland. “He’s like Pulkkinen last year. He started the season then hurt his shoulder and never played all year. We caught him early and he was really good. We’re kind of rolling the dice on him.”

As for Hudon, who finished his high school academic career with a 3.4 grade-point average, and is headed to Cornell University in the fall, Nill said, “He’s very competitive and works hard, … and he’s smart.”

The Wings draft picks will be invited to the club’s week-long development camp, which begins July 7 in Traverse City, Michigan.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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