The Detroit Red Wings’ 2022 Draft class is classic Steve Yzerman. The Red Wings’ general manager has developed a reputation for inscrutability, and that was on full display on July 7 and 8. Most, if not all, of the team’s selections were considered “off-the-board” by most and has led to tons of evaluators poking holes in Detroit’s draft class. Here’s hoping that Yzerman and the Red Wings’ amateur scouting staff have found some diamonds in the rough once again.
I can’t be the only one who was surprised by some of these names. Amadeus Lombardi? Tnias Mathurin? These are great names, but how many of us have ever heard of them before Red Wings director of amateur scouting, Kris Draper, called their names on Day 2 of the NHL Draft? If you’re like me, you’ve been searching for information to help form a better opinion of the next wave of Detroit prospects.
I will go over each Red Wings selection from the 2022 Draft to provide you with some extra context and details about their play style, fit with the organization, and long-term projection.
8th Overall: Marco Kasper – Rögle BK (SHL)
Marco Kasper saw his draft stock rise consistently throughout the season. He wasn’t on most radars to begin the season but worked his way into the first round on most rankings by December. His impressive play in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and at the World Championships further improved his draft stock to the point that he was considered by many to be a lock as a top-15 pick. That came true as the Red Wings selected him eighth overall. What kind of player is he?
Kasper’s claim to fame is his skating, but his elite motor takes a close second. The Austrian center played 10 games in the SHL in the 2020-21 season, where his excellent skating and work ethic made sure he didn’t look out of place even as a 16-year-old. In 46 SHL games, Kasper slowly earned a bigger role with an excellent Rögle organization that has built a great reputation for developing young players.
With 11 points in 46 SHL games, Kasper impressed for a player who only turned 18 in April 2022. For reference, one of the Red Wings’ star rookies last season, Lucas Raymond, scored 10 points in 33 SHL games during his draft year. Even though offense isn’t Kasper’s calling card, he still showed well in one of the best professional leagues in the world.
Most talent evaluators project Kasper to be a high-end middle-six center at the NHL level who caps out as a solid second-line center. However, the Red Wings believe that he is going to be a top-six center who could be their long-term solution in the 2C slot and could even slot in higher if need be. As Yzerman said on the draft floor, they believe that Kasper has underrated skill and will be a better offensive player than most give him credit for. If he is able to pair his defensive and physical game with improved offensive production, then the Red Wings will have solved one of their most lasting issues of depth down the middle.
40th Overall: Dylan James – Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
Ranked by many as a third-round pick or later, seeing Dylan James selected near the beginning of the second round was a bit of a surprise, though perhaps that was a mistake. James played in the United States Hockey League (USHL) last season, where he scored 61 points in 62 games as a rookie and tied him for 17th in league scoring. He’s a competitive winger with a high-energy, two-way game. As a rookie, he was used in all situations by the Sioux City Musketeers and played big minutes on both special teams as the Musketeers went on to win the USHL championship. That was enough for James to be named the USHL’s Rookie of the Year.
In an effort to help build some excitement for this pick, here’s a list of a few players who have won this award in the last 20 years: Joe Pavelski, Max Pacioretty, Johnny Gaudreau, Jake Guentzel, Anders Lee, and Andrei Svechnikov. Now, to temper expectations, nearly every other winner of the award that I didn’t mention (which would be 14 of 20) has had a middling impact at the NHL level at best.
James will get the chance to prove that his game can translate at a higher level of competition this season when he joins the University of North Dakota in the NCAA. If he can go from USHL success to NCAA success, then he will be well on his way to joining the list of prospects drafted by the Red Wings who have made their doubters eat their words.
52nd Overall: Dmitri Buchelnikov – SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)
None of the Red Wings’ picks in the 2022 Draft raised more eyebrows than Dmitri Buchelnikov, selected 52nd overall. There were plenty of players still on the board who were ranked higher and believed to be better than him, but thankfully, the scouting community (myself included) has no say in who the Red Wings, or any team for that matter, will select in the draft.
After going undrafted in 2021 (his first year of eligibility), Buchelnikov was one of the youngest over-aged players in the draft. He was born just nine days before the cut-off date for the 2022 Draft, which means he was barely eligible last year. It’s common to see the youngest players drop down the draft board or miss out on being drafted completely. He is only two months older than 2022 first-round picks David Jiricek and Pavel Mintyukov and is younger than all the top players from the 2021 Draft.
The Red Wings’ Russian scout Nikolai Vakourov reportedly fought hard for Buchelnikov and is already establishing a great relationship with him. Buchelnikov has requested a translator and some video sessions with the Red Wings staff so that he can learn English while preparing his game for the NHL. That eagerness to improve and further his development is encouraging in such a young player.
Buchelnikov plays a flashy offensive game and scored the second-most points in Russia’s top junior league, the MHL. His nationality, electric offensive game, lack of NHL size (5-foot-10), and draft position have reminded some of a player Yzerman drafted during his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning: Nikita Kucherov.
I’m not saying that Yzerman has found another second-round steal as he did with Kucherov, drafted 58th overall in 2011, but you can’t deny the similarities. Hopefully, Buchelnikov will continue to develop his game in Russia for the next couple of years before he joins the NHL. If he does, we will likely see the conversation shift from him being one of the larger reaches of the 2022 Draft to being a steal.
105th Overall: Anton Johansson – Leksands IF J20 (J20 Nationell)
Few players in the 2022 Draft played in more leagues in their draft year than Anton Johansson. He played for the Leksands IF club in two separate U18 leagues, at the U20 level, as well as earning a four-game call-up to the SHL. As is common for teenagers who play in the SHL, Johansson was given very little ice time, but it is a positive sign that he was trusted with any responsibility. While his production and success predictably waned as he shot up the ranks of Swedish hockey, it was encouraging to see Johansson continue to impress his caoches at each level.
With a June 2004 birthday, Johansson is on the younger side of this draft, but his physical maturity is well ahead of most of his contemporaries. At 6-foot-4, 179 pounds, he could put on a bit more muscle, but he is a physical specimen, nonetheless. What is his game like?
Johansson is a good skater with excellent mobility for someone his size. He’s a big, right-handed defender who appears to fit in well alongside the other tall defenders in the Red Wings organization, including Moritz Seider, Simon Edvinsson, and William Wallinder. Kris Draper, the director of amateur scouting, recognized a hole in the team’s prospect pool that Johansson can fill as a big right-handed defender and believes that, with more muscle, he will really begin to break out in Sweden over the next few seasons.
113th Overall: Amadeus Lombardi – Flint Firebirds (OHL)
The second of three fourth-round selections was Amadeus Lombardi, a contender for the coolest name in the draft. The Red Wings were able to get a lot of eyes on Lombardi throughout the season as he played in Michigan for the Flint Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). His offensive production, 59 points in 67 games, only tells part of the story as his role changed significantly throughout the season.
Lombardi, a left-handed center, earned a lot more ice time from his coaches by the end of the season. He was excellent in the OHL playoffs, where his tenacity really shone. His forechecking and effort on both sides of the puck were clear, and he thrived when he was given license to be a bit more physical. He will be returning to Flint for the 2022-23 season, where he will hope to build on his successful rookie campaign, playing a much bigger role for a full season.
129th Overall: Maximillian Kilpinen – Örebro HK J20 (J20 Nationell)
The third player that the Red Wings selected in the fourth round was Maximillian Kilpinen, another left-handed center who played in the Swedish junior leagues last season. He only played 38 games in 2021-22 as he worked through an injury during the first half. He likely would have played for Team Sweden at either the Hlinka Gretzky Cup or at the U18 World Junior Championships if he had been healthy.
Kilpinen scored 25 points in 27 games in the Swedish junior leagues, adding nine points in six playoff games. If he had played a full season at that scoring pace, he could have been in the top 30 in league scoring as a draft-eligible player, which is quite impressive. He is going to be playing in the Swedish junior league again next season, though I expect him to sneak into a few SHL games by the end because of his decent size (6-foot-0) and his great skating.
137th Overall: Tnias Mathurin – North Bay Battalion (OHL)
The Red Wings selected another great name in the fifth round, Canadian defenseman Tnias Mathurin. Mathurin played an injury-shortened season in the OHL in 2021-22 with the North Bay Battalion, where his physically imposing defensive game was on display. He’s not a player that will provide offense, with only15 points in 44 games, but his defensive potential was too tempting for the Red Wings to pass on him.
Mathurin is a big defender (6-foot-3, 201 pounds) with a left-handed shot, who is a surprisingly good skater for such a big player. He is reliable defensively but will likely need to improve his offensive skillset if he wants to crack an NHL roster, especially if that team is the Red Wings, considering the logjam of left-handed defensemen in the system. Big, mobile defensive defensemen are hard to find, so the Red Wings took a chance on one in the fifth round.
201st Overall: Owen Mehlenbacher – Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
The Red Wings added two more centers in the seventh round, the first being Owen Mehlenbacher of the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. Mehlenbacher is a big physical center with a high motor. He is excellent at protecting the puck and winning puck battles, especially in the offensive zone, where his nose for the puck provides him with some great high-effort scoring chances.
He had a less than impressive rookie year in the USHL in 2020-21, and his 2021-22 season started in a similar fashion. However, once he began to learn how to use his physical gifts to his advantage, he broke out, finishing the season with 42 points in 56 games. He has committed to the University of Wisconsin in the NCAA, where his physical advantages will be less pronounced, so he will likely have a bit of an adjustment period. His effort level should help him adjust, even if it takes him a while. Draper has announced that Mehlenbacher will play another year in the USHL with an increased role before heading off to university, so hopefully, he can build off his great 2021-22 campaign.
212th Overall: Brennan Ali – Avon Old Farms School (USHS-Prep)
The Red Wings’ final selection in the 2022 Draft was Brennan Ali, another left-handed center who is taking the USHL route. Ali played most of his games for Avon Old Farms school in the United States High School Prep Circuit (USHS-Prep) in 2021-22, but he made the jump to the USHL towards the end of the season, playing nine games for the Lincoln Stars. Draper has also announced that Ali intends to play a full season with the Stars next year before he heads off to the University of Notre Dame for the 2023-24 season.
Ali has a real chance to be a steal as many scouting outlets had him ranked as a fourth-rounder, and the Red Wings took a swing on him with their final pick in the seventh round. He played for Team USA at the 2021 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he scored three points in four games, showing off his above-average skating and finishing ability. Ali will look to improve on a mediocre showing in his small USHL sample size next year, where he will likely earn an expanded role.
Red Wings 2022 Draft: What Have We Learned?
We have learned (again) that trying to predict how the Red Wings operate on draft day is an exercise in futility. Although their draft class is full of surprises, I have gained confidence after digging into these players and learning more about their recent play. In our most recent THW – Grind Line, each of our Red Wings writers graded the draft class, and I gave the Red Wings a C+ – the ultimate neutral grade. That was before I really researched the picks and was rather underwhelmed at how the Red Wings had bucked the public consensus.
However, after completing this exercise and coming to terms with the fact that the Red Wings have proven people wrong even recently, I have changed by grade to a B. Obviously, grading prospects immediately following the draft is impossible as they have many more years to prove what kind of players they will become. But I have much more confidence now that this draft class will be considered a success in several years, especially their picks in the first two rounds.
What do you think about the Red Wings’ 2022 Draft class? Do you think they reached a bit too often? Where is your trust level at with the Red Wings’ scouting department? Which member of the draft class has your favourite name (Lombardi is mine) Sound off in the comments below!
Logan is a sports writer for the Detroit Red Wings as a member of The Hockey Writers team. He loves reading about statistics and advanced analytics, and discovering how they can enrich his hockey analysis and writing. Logan also writes about more general hockey topics on his blog https://www.crashthecrease.blog.