Detroit Red Wings:
The 1983 and 1989 drafts have to be considered the best in Detroit history. While I’ll go with the 1989 draft some people might argue that the ’83 draft should rank higher.
For much of the 1970’s and early ‘80’s Detroit was a hockey wasteland. Between 1966-67 and 1982-83, a span of 17 seasons saw the Red Wings qualify for the playoffs on only two occasions. The club’s turnaround to better fortunes began with the 1983 draft. Thankfully for Detroit fans, the North Stars decided to select Brian Lawton 1st overall while Hartford nabbed Sylvain Turgeon with the next pick. Drafting 3rd the Islanders did no wrong with their selection of Pat Lafontaine. This allowed the Wings to select Steve Yzerman. Criticized early in his career for not being a clutch player who could lead his team to playoff success and after almost being traded to Ottawa for Daniel Alfredsson, Yzerman would have the last laugh. The Red Wing great recorded 1755 points in just over 1500 games while captaining Detroit to 3 Stanley Cup titles. He would also win the Lindsay, Smythe, Selke and Masterton awards during his illustrious career.
In that same 1983 draft the Wings drafted Bob Probert in the 3rd round and selected Joey Kocur and Petr Klima in round 5. Probert and Kocur would prove to be among the best heavyweights during an era in which fisticuffs would occur nightly. The popular Probert would often patrol the ice allowing Yzerman the space to show off his creativity. Probert appeared in one all-star game and did enjoy a 29-goal season. A testament to his character, Kocur enjoyed a 17-year career that included 3 Stanley Cup championships. Klima was an enigmatic player who nonetheless could score goals as evident by his six seasons of 30+ goals. After riding the bench for much of a prolonged overtime period Klima stepped onto the ice and scored the game winning goal for the Oilers against Boston in game 3 of the 1990 finals.
As important as the 1983 draft was to resurrecting a moribund franchise the 1989 draft would help secure the foundation for championship success. With their first two picks, Detroit drafted Mike Sillinger and Bob Boughner both of whom would enjoy careers of some success. In round 3 and 4, Detroit nabbed future hall of famers Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov. Regarded as one of the best defensemen in history, Lidstrom would be a member of 4 Stanley Cup winning teams with Detroit while capturing the Norris Trophy 7 times. Federov, 6th round pick Dallas Drake and 11th round selection Vladimir Konstantinov will be discussed further in the sections below.
The 1989 draft is not only the best draft in Red Wings history but has to be considered one of the best in NHL history not only for the number of drafted players who went on to play in the NHL but more importantly for the quality of their play and the impact they had on the Red Wings championship teams.
If you want to know why Detroit struggled throughout much of the mid-70’s to early 1980’s just look at the club’s drafting from 1972-1976. The best player taken by Detroit was defenseman Reed Larson (1976/2nd round/22nd overall) a good but not great defenseman who owned a rocket of a slap shot and would put up some impressive offensive numbers for a defender. During these 5 drafts the Red Wings had a total of …
*55 draft picks
*4 first round selections all in the top 11 (best being Rick Lapointe)
*3 second round picks
*9 third round picks
You would expect your scouting department to come up with some decent players over a five year span.
In the 1988 draft, Sheldon Kennedy would be the only Red Wing selected who would appear in an NHL game. The 4th rounder recorded 107 points in 310 career games. Detroit had a first, second and two 3rd round selections giving the team 4 of the top 59 picks.
Another dry spell for the Wings came during the draft years of 1992-1997 with Darren McCarty a second round pick in 1992 and Tomas Holstrom a 10th round selection in 1994 being the most notable players selected. A closer look at this 6-year period is summarized below:
*60 players drafted
*5 first round picks (highest being #22)
*6 second round picks
*5 third round picks
Although this period did not have as many first round picks in the upper portion of the round you would again expect your drafting department to come up with a few hits.
With the next pick…
In the early 1980’s, the Red Wings had the opportunity to draft two of the most despised players of their generation. In 1982, Detroit took pugilist Craig Coxe with the 66th pick overall in round 4. The Whalers selected defenseman Ulf Samuelsson with the next selection. The Swede was known for playing on the edge and is especially despised by the Bruins Cam Neely who fell victim to a questionable Samuelsson hit during the playoffs which likely hastened the wingers retirement from the NHL. Samuelsson would rack up close to 2500 career penalty minutes in 1080 games. He was an important part of the Penguins Stanley Cup championship teams led by Mario Lemieux.
One year later, the Red Wings drafted Lane Lambert with the 25th overall selection in the second round. At #26 the Canadians nabbed Claude Lemieux who would go on to enjoy a long productive career and be recognized as one of the best clutch players in history. Lemieux excelled not only in the post-season but also for getting under the skin of the opposition. This was exemplified by his brutal hit on Kris Draper during one of the classic Avalanche-Red Wing playoff encounters.
Had the Wings drafted both Samuelsson and Lemieux they could have conceivably iced a line-up in the mid-80’s that included the two aforementioned players along with the respected heavyweights Joey Kocur and Bob Probert. Talk about an intimidating line-up!
In 1987, the Red Wings made Gord Kruppke the 32nd overall pick. Kruppke would play 23 games in the NHL registering a grand total of 0 points. With the very next selection, Montreal drafter John LeClair who on 5 occasions would be selected to either the NHL first or second all-star team. The big winger who excelled with Eric Lindros and Michael Renberg on the Flyers “Legion of Doom” line would go on to score 406 goals in 967 career NHL games.
Late Round Bargain:
In round 11 of the 1989 draft, Detroit picked defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov with the 221st overall pick. Due to a serious automobile accident Konstantinov’s career ended in 1997 at the age of 29 following a six year career with the Red Wings. Known as an excellent defender who played an aggressive style, Konstanitnov was an invaluable member of Detroit’s 1997 Stanley Cup winning team. He was voted to the NHL’s 2nd all-star team on one occasion and was a Norris Trophy runner-up to Brian Leetch in his final season.
As mentioned earlier the Red Wings had some notable periods of drafting futility in the 1970’s and 1990’s, however, perhaps no other team has selected so many quality players after the 3rd round. In 1979, John Ogrodnick was drafted in round 4 and went on to score over 400 goals in a 15 year NHL career. The one time first team all-star selection would enjoy seven seasons of 30+ goals. It was once rumored that Minnesota General Manager Lou Nanne offered all of this team’s draft picks in one draft year to the Red Wings for Ogrodnick.
In 1981, the Wings drafted Gerard Gallant in the 6th round. The current head coach of the Florida Panthers, Gallent would enjoy some productive years in the motor city playing alongside Steve Yzerman. He would record four consecutive 30+ goal seasons for Detroit in the mid to late 1980’s. Gallant’s career ended as a result of a back injury while in his early 30’s.
The 1985 and 1986 drafts saw Detroit grab some useful players in Randy McKay (1985/6th round) and Johan Garpenlov (1986/5th round). McKay would play over 900 career games and win a couple of Stanley Cups with New Jersey. Garpenlov enjoyed a 12-year career hitting the 20 goal mark on a pair of occasions.
The Red Wings struck gold in the 4th round of the 1989 draft when they selected Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov. A three time Stanley Cup champion with the Red Wings, Fedorov was one of the best two-way players in the history of the game. In the 6th round of the same draft year, Dallas Drake was selected by the Wings. Drake would be a member of one cup winning team in Detroit, playing over 1000 career games and recording close to 500 points.
In 1998, Detroit selected the best player to come out of that draft not in round 1, 2 or even 3, but in the 6th, when Pavel Datsyuk was drafted. The ultra-talented and stellar defensive forward like Fedorov is one of the best two way players of his era. The two time Stanley Cup champion has been awarded the Lady Byng Trophy on 4 occasions and is a 3-time winner of the Selke Award.
The following year saw Henrik Zetterberg get nabbed in the 7th round. You can argue that just like the previous draft year the Red Wings ended up with the best player in the draft. From the 1999 draft class only Daniel and Henrik Sedin who were taken 2nd and 3rd overall by the Canucks rival Zetterberg as the best player in this draft class.
The shrewd drafting of players like Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Fedorov were clearly huge draft successes that contributed to Stanley Cup glory in Detroit.