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Red Wings’ asssistant GM Jim Nill says size will matter at the Draft

The NHL Draft takes place tomorrow and Saturday in Pittsburgh (TSN covers the draft in Canada; NBC Sports Network and then CNBC will air the 1st round, which starts at 7 PM EDT on Friday, and the NHL Network and NHL.com will cover rounds 2-7 on Saturday starting at 10 AM), and the Red Wings’ have the 49th overall pick in the second round and then the 20th overall pick in rounds 3-7 (picks 80, 110, 140, 170 and 200), and Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill will make the final calls as the amateur scouts go over their lists over the next 36 hours.

Nill told the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell something surprising: for the first time in a long time, the Wings will alter their blueprint somewhat, having decided that Nicklas Lidstrom’s departure and the playoff successes of bigger teams that play chip-and-chase hockey mean that size and toughness will finally trump the team’s “small but skilled” model it’s stuck to for the past 15 drafts:

“Look at the history of our team the last seven or eight years and we’ve lost (Steve) Yzerman, (Brendan) Shanahan, (Brian) Rafalski and now (Nick) Lidstrom,” said Nill, who oversees Detroit’s drafting and scouting. “That’s some of the best talent in the history of the game. You can’t just replace that kind of talent easily. Our skill level is down, so we have to get bigger. The playoffs proved that. It’s a big-man’s game now.”

In the past, the Wings would’ve just continued to draft skill regardless of the player’s size with Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall being examples of picks that were questioned on draft day because none of that trio was six foot or even close to 200 pounds. However, Nill said the Wings no longer have the luxury of compiling enough talent to out-skill teams.

“The new CBA has leveled the playing field for all of us,” Nill said. “We all have our core group of five or six players making five or six million and you have to build around that. It’s about filling in holes in your lineup now and drafting for needs. You’re not going to see 14 or 15 skill players on your team. The days of a team having way more skill players than other teams are over. The cap doesn’t allow it, so you have to get bigger and stronger.”

Nill said rule changes and styles have also forced the Wings to re-examine things. The unintended consequence of some rule changes aimed at increasing the speed and offence in the game have also eliminated the need for certain skill elements.

“Even the way the game is played now has forced changes in drafting,” Nill said. “It used to be, you had to be able to make a play to get the puck up the ice. Now, with no red-line, you can throw the puck up the ice, tip it in and chase it. You need certain players to play that way. There’s a lot of different dynamics going on in the game right now. A lot of teams are trying to figure it out.”

The Wings are also facing the reality of trying to retool their team without taking a huge dip in the standings or having the benefit of top draft picks.

“We’ve had to change (our drafting approach) too because of where we pick,” Nill said. “We’ve not had the opportunity to draft in the top 10-15 where you can get those slam-dunk picks. We’re drafting kids that are four or five years away from helping us.”

Nill tells Waddell much, much more about the team’s philosophical change, but here’s the most important line thereof:

“It really is,” said Nill when asked if the NHL draft is really the trade deadline more than the annual February date. “The next two or three weeks will set the whole scene for next season. The draft and July 1 are the time when you do your deals. After that, it’s too hard to do because you’ve committed most of your money and you can’t move money.”

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It’s reasonable to argue that the Wings “shouldn’t” have let the team slip, but the thoughts above certainly indicate way more depth than I had regarding how to make changes, and probably more depth than some fans give the front office credit for in analysis and adjusting philosophies as the game changes. It has me less concerned about whether the think tank knows what they’re doing, and more about the level playing field and still coming out with better players than team Y.

Posted by Bugsy on 06/21/12 at 09:34 PM ET


FWIW, it probably doesn’t take much to think deeper than me hockeywise, BTW.

Posted by Bugsy on 06/21/12 at 09:35 PM ET

Crow's avatar

That’s the best news I have heard in a long time.  Hopefully, it’s just the beginning.

Posted by Crow on 06/21/12 at 11:23 PM ET

Hootinani's avatar

This was the news I was really dreading to hear.  The circus act that is the NHL has finally crushed the Wings spirit to the point where they are going to abandon what hockey should be, and become the fuchin St Louis Blues North.

I always commended Detroit for not doing what every other NHL team did every year, and that is trying to fashion their team into the SC champions from the prior season.  Regardless of the outcome, which has been pretty damn good overall, they stayed the coarse and stuck to their structure.  And to hear Nill come right out and say “we need to be just like them” breaks my heart.

Posted by Hootinani from the parade following Babs out of town on 06/21/12 at 11:23 PM ET


It is very nice to know that under a new team vision size and grit are important. I only hope they do not swing into the other extreme after the last ten years of the “small and skilled” extreme.

Because what really wins SCups is the right BALANCE of size, grit AND skill. Just look at ‘97 and ‘98 teams. They had loads of all three ingredients under wise man Bowman and another wise man Devellano.

Posted by Alex on 06/21/12 at 11:32 PM ET


I always commended Detroit for not doing what every other NHL team did every year, and that is trying to fashion their team into the SC champions from the prior season. 

I don’t think it’s a reaction to this year’s winner, it’s more a reaction to the fact that the Wings have been beaten up and worn down by bigger teams for three years in a row.

On top of that, I don’t think Detroit is planning an overhaul, they’re just realizing that having a team full of undersized skill players isn’t enough.

Posted by Garth on 06/22/12 at 09:30 AM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.