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Yzerman sees a deep talent pool in the upcoming NHL Draft

Detroit's GM is zoned in on turning Red Wings around

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- Since he became Red Wings general manager on April 19, Steve Yzerman has had little time to think about anything not related to rebuilding the Original Six franchise.

"It's been very busy. I find myself very busy every day. I'm not sure what exactly I'm accomplishing each day but it's been busy," Yzerman told reporters on Thursday afternoon in the Red Wings' dressing room. "That's how I feel at the end of every day. There's a lot of things going on. I'm trying to just get to know some people. I'm trying to get organized for the draft.

"You have amateur scouting meetings. You have pro scouting meetings this week. I went to the combine for a week, spent a week in Europe. There's a lot going on, with the focus on the draft and then second priority would be getting prepared for July 1 (free agency). And then you have all you're staffing - issues isn't the right word - but get things in order. It just takes time.

"We're kind of chipping away at it all. Certainly for the draft we're going to be very prepared and we're going to be very prepared for July 1. I'm not too worried about that. We'll chip away at the other things."

Yzerman held an informal gathering with the media on Thursday to preview the NHL Entry Draft next Friday, June 21 and Saturday June 22 in Vancouver.

The Wings will pick sixth overall in the first round on Friday and have nine more picks on Saturday in Rounds 2-7.

If the Red Wings keep every pick, they'll have five picks in the top 66 and six picks in the top 97, including three second-round picks.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: WHO WILL WE PICK AT #6?Join us on Friday, June 21 at @LCArena_Detroit to find out! FREE event includes opportunities to win great #RedWings prizes, alumni autographs, locker room tours & more. #DRWDraft #LGRWDetails & to RSVP: https://t.co/Pkn0chzeID pic.twitter.com/k48kJxCGBG

According to Yzerman, the Red Wings are confident they'll select a very good player at sixth overall, but he admitted after forwards Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, slated to go No. 1 and No. 2, the draft board is fairly wide open.

"We're going to get a good prospect, yes," Yzerman said about the sixth pick. "I would say I got maybe a group of six or seven. Pretty certain two players are going to be gone 1-2, which order, don't know. From that third pick to the 12th to 15th pick, you ask 31 teams, it could be a very different order. There's a group there we think No. 6 is going to come out of. We'll be excited about any of those kids.

"The big two up top, they get a lot of attention and they deserve it, but we're as excited, maybe it's a different level of prospect, but we're as excited about the 35th pick. We don't know who'll it will be at this time but we are excited. We do think there's a good group of players I'd say at every step of the way, so yeah, I think there's a lot of good prospects in this draft."

Building a team through the draft is essential in a hard cap league, and Detroit's GM couldn't be more clear at how important it is for the Wings' rebuild to hit on as many picks as possible.

"Ideally, we'd hit on all of these prospects and have players that turn out for us, but there's no guarantee of that," Yzerman said. "When you look back at the histories of drafts and the percentage of players playing for us, it's more difficult than it seems. It sure speeds things up the more players you get out of each draft, it speeds up the (rebuilding) process."

But Yzerman believes the Red Wings have had some success in recent drafts and likes many of Detroit's prospects already in the Wings pipeline.

"The last two drafts, the team's had a lot of picks. And they're all encouraging at this point. Getting them from the draft to the NHL, even for first-round picks, there's not a guarantee. But I'm excited," he said. "Filip Hronek is one who played in the NHL last year who did very well at the world championship. He's coming along. You look this year, (Joe) Veleno will come and turn pro this year. With (Filip) Zadina and (Michael) Rasmussen coming, there are kids coming. (Jared) MacIsaac will play another year of junior.

"We've got a couple of Swedish kids that look promising. So there are a lot of kids. I'm hopeful the ones we expect to make it, make it and then what would really expedite the process would be a couple of the kids that you're hoping for really take a step forward. We certainly have a lot of youngsters coming. We're hoping that we run a good program and they make it to the NHL. But there certainly are a lot of young kids and that gives you more chances."

It's pretty clear Yzerman has been steadfast in his duties as the Red Wings' top man and though he will have a say in the upcoming draft, he's comfortable letting Detroit's scouting staff play a significant role.

"I intend to be a part of it. But as the draft goes on, you have to really rely on the scouts. This is what they're paid to do," he said.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Detroit #RedWings EVP and GM Steve Yzerman addresses the media at Little Caesars Arena to discuss the upcoming #NHLDraft.🎥 Watch full: https://t.co/AVIRadQmxA pic.twitter.com/D9Thx4MEeY

Yet, there are more ways to rebuild a team than just through the NHL Draft and Yzerman is more than willing to pursue all avenues available as he begins his quest to turn the Red Wings back into perennial Stanley Cup contenders.

"We have spots on the roster available. I would look, before a trade, at free agency to fill those roster spots," Yzerman said. "I also want to have some opportunity for our younger players to fill those spots, but we will look at free agency.

"But I'm not going to sign a free agent just to sign a free agent. The player has to fit what we're trying to do, the contract, the term of the contract and the value of the contract have to fit. I can't tell you how active we're going to be, but we're certainly going to reach out to players and agents of guys we think could fit into what we're doing."

As far as Detroit's trio of unrestricted free agents -- Niklas Kronwall, Thomas Vanek and Luke Witkowski -- Yzerman has not spoken to Vanek, but has had conversations with Kronwall and Witkowski.

He wouldn't tip his hand on what he was thinking about whether the Wings would offer deals to Vanek and Witkowski, but he did reiterate if Kronwall wants to return, he would be welcomed back. He also said there isn't a deadline for Kronwall to decide on his future and he doesn't foresee the Wings buying out any contracts.

When asked about predicting what the Wings roster will look like next season and his expectations for the team, he was adamant and forthright.

"I'm not going to make any predictions at all," Yzerman said. "I have an idea of what I want to do behind scenes. What the team is eventually able to accomplish at the end of the season, we'll see, but I'm not going to give you a prediction.

"We're all part of trying to get the Red Wings back into Stanley Cups and becoming a good team. I want them (the players) to push each other. They're all in it together. Are they competing for jobs? I don't necessarily look at it that way, I want them to push each other and be a part of making us a good hockey team. But I think the competition is good.

"Nobody is getting handed a position on the Red Wings. I don't care if you're a first-round pick or a free-agent signing. You got to earn your spot. If players have that attitude, they come in and they will work hard and push themselves and the most competitive kids, whether they're on the team at the start of the season or not, we'll have them competing for spots because the most competitive kids are going to make our team better."

On Thursday, Yzerman was asked about how he's been received by Detroiters since being named the Wings GM almost two months ago.

"I've been around Detroit a lot the last 10 years. People have seen me a lot. They're over it," Yzerman said. "And people that haven't seen me don't really recognize me anymore."

It was a typical Yzerman response -- understated, humorous and honest.

Perhaps you can't turn back time, but seeing Yzerman in the Red Wings locker room fielding questions, you get the feeling history truly does repeat itself.

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