The Detroit Red Wings have the 24th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and speculation is abounding about who exactly they will take with that first pick. It’s pretty much gospel at this point, that if the Red Wings see something in a prospect, he must have the tools to succeed.
The Wings are not impervious to getting some duds, but on the whole, they have an exceptional track record when it comes to discovering overlooked talent.
It wasn’t too long ago, that Detroit was criticized by some for “mortgaging off their future”, by trading multiple first round draft picks for established NHL players, in order to shore up their roster for deep playoff runs. They have rebuilt their farm system in recent years however, by both finding late round gems, and using the early picks they did have well.
When looking at the 2011 NHL draft class, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. This is because the overall talent level in this draft is not on par with the draft classes of the last 3-4 years. There is no clear cut number 1 player in this year’s draft, so pretty much every draft ranking out there is incredibly subjective.
That’s not to say that this year’s class is bad, in fact it’s far from it, but the players being drafted this year have more work to be done before they could make it at the NHL level, as compared to their peers from previous years. One could say that this year’s prospects are more “raw talent”.
It is the opinion of some experts, that after the first half of round one, any and all rankings will virtually be useless. Some mock drafts may have a player going in the middle of the first round, while others have that same player going at the end of round two. This draft will be much more about GM’s and scouting staff’s gut feelings more than anything.
That being said, there are a handful of prospects the Wings will be looking at, but I believe they will ultimately take Vladislav Namestnikov with their first pick at 24th overall. Namestnikov has been projected to go as early as a mid first rounder, and as late as an early second rounder, so I believe there will be a happy median, and the Wings will get him in the latter stages of round one.
One huge plus in getting Namestnikov, is that the biggest logistical problem when trying to sign him in the future, is seemingly taken care of. If you couldn’t tell by his name, Namestnikov is Russian, and it’s always a tougher task to get Russian players to come over to North America. Especially with the KHL trying to prop itself up as the NHL’s biggest rival. Namestnikov decided to make the jump to North America this past season as an 18 year old, and played with the London Knights of the OHL.
He scored 30 goals and 38 assists, for 68 points in 68 games played. Some have said they expected a bit more offense out of him, but considering he was adjusting to a new style of hockey, a point per game pace is pretty darn good.
Namestnikov would be a good fit for the Red Wings for a number of reasons. For one, the Wings have a history producing slightly smaller European forwards, with flare in the offensive zone. Namestnikov is exactly that. He is a very fluid skater, has good speed, and possesses a solid set of offensive tools. His stickhandling is on par with just about everyone else in the draft, and he can play the role of playmaker or sniper.
He needs to improve on the defensive side of the game, and he needs to gain a lot more strength, but improving on those two things go hand-in-hand. Bulking up will allow him to be stronger on the puck in his own zone, and with that will probably come an increase in his scoring as well.
For Namestnikov, his biggest test will be in the training room. He needs to add about 30 pounds to his 6 ft. frame if he wants to make an impact in the NHL, but if he can dedicate himself in the weight room, he could really blossom.
Another reason Namestnikov would be a good fit for Detroit, is that he would have the perfect mentor to look up to. Back in 1998, the Wings drafted another small Russian forward with offensive prowess, who now just so happens to be in the discussion as the best player in the league, and his name is Pavel Datsyuk.
Based on his skill set, Namestnikov could be called a very rough version of Datsyuk. It’s unlikely Namestnikov will end up being as good as the man affectionately known as “Houdini”, but having him as a teacher would do wonders for his development. When Datsyuk entered the league, he had Igor Larionov and Sergei Fedorov as his mentors, so it would seem all to appropriate if Datsyuk played mentor himself for this young prospect.
Bottom line is, if there is any organization that can develop Namestnikov to reach his full potential, it’s the Red Wings. They have an uncanny ability to unearth gems in any round of the draft, and this year should be no different.