In the second look at Detroit’s procurement and development template, we explore the farm system in the ’00s, how Detroit uses Europe for development and understand the role scouting plays in the Red Wings success.

Among American teams, the Detroit Red Wings are the owners of the most Stanley Cups (11) and were a powerhouse franchise for decades during the 20th century. Between 1934 and 1966, the Red Wings made the Cup finals 18 times and estsblished Detroit as Hockeytown. Although the 70s and 80s were a nightmare, Detroit is once again considered a model franchise and powerhouse courtesy strong work in the procurement department in the last 25 years. We’re looking for clues, and this is the second of three installments on the subject (the first is here).

Detroit’s Farm 2003 to 2007

  1. Did they have hugely successful farm teams? This five year period did see an improvement in performance for Detroit’s AHL team. They did make the third round of the Calder Cup playoffs two times during the 5-year period. 
  2. Who were their best AHL players? This five year period was much stronger than the last one, with some outstanding NHL calibre players turning pro. Niklas Kronwall, Jimmy Howard, Valtteri Filppula and Johan Franzen are among the exceptional group of grads.
  3. How did you establish the criteria for prospects who became NHL players? I used 200 NHL games as an entry to "actual NHL player" so some of the first round picks fell well below that (which is typical of any organization).
  4. During these 5 years, which players (and player type) reached that level? In our previous look, only Jiri Fischer was drafted and reached the 200 NHL game level. This time the draft was a major source of useful NHLers for Detroit. All of Niklas Kronwall, Tomas Kopecky, Tomas Fleischmann, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen and Jimmy Howard have gone on to quality NHL careers. Jonathan Ericsson and Kyle Quincey are extremely likely to pass the 200 game mark and will be included in the group as we discuss them for our purposes. From this five year period, only Matt Ellis and Brett Lebda were undrafted free agents and then went on to play in 200 or more games. 
  5. Is that a large number of players in a 5-year period to have NHL careers? 10 players in a 5-year period who go on to have NHL careers as regulars would seem to be an average to above average total. Add to that the quality of these players and I think it’s reasonable to suggest that the Detroit farm system was pumping out at a high rate during this period of time. 
  6. Did they have a lot of turnover at the coaching position? A little less turnover this time, Danton Cole and then Greg Ireland. Both went on to further coaching assigments, but neither emerged as an NHL head coach ala Mike Babcock in the previous 5 season stretch. 
  7. What happened to all those draft picks once they arrived in the AHL? All of them (save Franzen) played in the minors–at least a season and usually two to three full seasons. The Red Wings appear to use the entry level contract as a three year audition in the AHL, with some callups here and there as a reward. Johan Franzen didn’t play in the AHL, but he also played in Europe until his mid-20’s (continuing the Zetterberg/Datsyuk development system we discussed last time). To make the point clear: Detroit held back the water on very good young talent (Jimmy Howard, Tomas Kopecky, Jiri Hudler) for years, and even men like Kronwall and Filppula played a year or more in the AHL. Of the 44 players drafted in the period 2000-04 (the same number exactly as the previous 5 year period) 12 players have made it to the NHL for at least a cup of coffee (one less than the previous group). 
  8. How many first round failures did they have? None. Detroit had only one first round pick in the 5-year period 00-04 and it was Niklas Kronwall. If we’re ever looking for an outer marker for a nice run of second and third round picks in a 5-year span, Detroit’s 00-04 is a killer. 
  9. Who were the best draft picks from the years 2000 to 2004? Niklas Kronwall, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen and Jimmy Howard. None in the group are Z or Datsyuk, but we can only hope that a draft cluster like Marincin, Hamilton and Pitlick turn into that group. Detroit’s scouts deserve monuments–they’re really good.
  10. Who went straight to the NHL without going to the minors? Same as last time, the Euro’s. In the last look, it was Datsyuk and Zetterberg, this time Johan Franzen. And even that is misleading, Franzen was 24 when he was drafted in 2004.
  11. How old were these Euro’s when they came over and stuck with the Detroit Red Wings? Zetterberg was 21, Datsyuk was 23 and Franzen was 25. All stepped right in. 
  12. Three Euro’s developed this way in 10 years isn’t much. Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen. It’ll do. 
  13. Anything else? Red Wings were less active in free agency during this period, owing to the impressive grads and then later the cap system. Still, they did bring in free agents like Daniel Cleary on look-see’s and of course were great at that too. It sounds tiresome, but winning breeds winning and a guy like Cleary might have gotten two or three invites but the Detroit letter probably meant more.  
  14. So, in the 10 year period we’re looking at, how many talents could be considered close to or de facto "impact" players? I’d argue Zetterberg and Datsyuk are both impact players, and that Kronwall, Franzen, Filppula and Jimmy Howard are above average NHL players. That’s six in-house top drawer "keepers" for Detroit.
  15. Anything else? Yes. See below.

Ken Holland

The failed goalie has done a helluva job atop the NHL’s most decorated brantrust. An article from many months ago gives us some insight into how Detroit does their business. The article is here and I’ll post some of the good quotes:

  • We don’t put an emphasis on size. If you look at Darren Helm, Zetterberg or Valtteri Filppula, they were all weak little kids, but they had hockey sense. We knew that they would get strong with time. They were all world junior-type players. Not all of our picks pan out, but the ones that do have skills and good hockey sense.
  • Also, because our team is good, we don’t have to rush players. Filppula was a regular in the Finnish League and when he came over, we put him in the AHL for a year. He had a good rookie season there and the next year he makes it as a regular with our team. You only make our team when you’re ready. You don’t make it just because you were a second round draft pick and you have entitlement. You make our team because you are ready to play.
  • We are always on the lookout for players who have attained a level of success, but might be a bit down on their luck or are looking for another opportunity. In that regard, we were fortunate to get the likes of Osgood, Stuart, Cleary and Darren McCarty among others, who helped us win the Cup this season.

I didn’t find the article, it was passed along (I apologize for not retaining the name of the person, please post below or email me and I’ll give credit). Anyway, it’s a gem of an article.

Edmonton’s Farm 2003 to 2007

  1. Did they have hugely successful farm teams? Yes, but with an explanation. During htis period, Edmonton shared their farm team with other clubs, and in one of those seasons the shared team made the Calder Cup finals. The club also missed the playoffs twice during this period. 
  2. Who were their best AHL players? High draft picks finding their way and guys they traded for like Raffi Torres. Edmonton had several first rounders on most of their AHL teams during this period. 
  3. How did you establish the criteria for prospects who became NHL players? I used 200 NHL games as an entry to "actual NHL player" so some of the first round picks fell well below that (which is typical of any organization).
  4. During these 5 years, which players (and player type) reached that level? A shorter but more impressive list than the previous 5 year period for Edmonton. Ales Hemsky, Brad Winchester, Matt Lombardi (who they didn’t sign), Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene, Zack Stortini, Kyle Brodziak, Tom Gilbert, Raffi Torres and Jeff Woywitka.
  5. Which Oiler drafted players played in the AHL and then had 200+ NHL games? Winchester, Lombardi, Hemsky, Stoll, Greene, Stortini and Brodziak. 
  6. Is that a large number of players from the AHL to have NHL careers? The number isn’t as impressive as the quality of player. I’d suggest that Hemsky, Lombardi, Stoll and Greene have emerged as quality NHL players.
  7. Did they have a lot of turnover at the coaching position? Huge turnover, owing mostly to the shared teams. Geoff Ward, Don Lever, Todd Richards, Claude Julien and others spent time coaching Oiler kids in the AHL during the 5-year period. I do believe it had an impact on the young men drafted by Edmonton but have no idea how to quantify it. Suffice to say that Detroit didn’t have the same issues during this period.
  8. What happened to all those draft picks once they arrived in the AHL? Edmonton drafted a gigantic number of players in the 5-year period 2000-04: 57 names were called plus Robin Kovar who was a hanging chad. 25 if them have appeared in an NHL game, and those numbers (57/25) are both superior to the previous 5 drafts (47/19).
  9. How many first round failures did they have? The Oilers 95–99 had six draft failures, so there’s no way they could do as badly 2000-04. Right? Of the 6 first rounders between 2000-04, I’d say Ales Hemsky is a ringing success, Devan Dubnyk is tracking toward being a plus, and Alexei Mikhnov, Jesse Niinimaki, Marc Pouliot and Robbie Schremp are draft failures. So, it’s better but there’s definitely room for improvement. 
  10. Who were the best draft picks from the years 2000 to 2004? Ales Hemsky, Matt Lombardi, Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene. I’ll mention Dubnyk because he may one day belong here.
  11. How many draft picks went straight to the NHL without going to the minors? Ales Hemsky, although Matt Greene spent very little time in the minors too.
  12. How many came right to the NHL at 20? Hemsky was 19.
  13. Anything else?  As with the previous look, Edmonton rushes everyone, even the defensemen. Matt Greene left college a year early, spent 26 games in the AHL (on a shared team) and then started his NHL career. I’d bet you a 2-4 his development would have been miles different in Detroit, and those who remember the mistakes young Greene made during the deep run in 2006 spring can attest to a need for more experience. It’s no small item.


I’ll have a third installment before the end of the month, but there are some things that have come into view:

  1. In the post cap era, both Edmonton and Detroit rely on their farm teams. However, the Red Wings appear to plan on having their kids play most or all of their entry level deals in the AHL (with a callup or two during that period). The Oilers elevate their players as soon as (or before) they’re ready, and this is true throughout the study. There’s nothing specifically wrong with that (I firmly believe the Oilers should have kept Taylor Hall last fall and should keep RNH based on what we’ve seen so far this fall) but the Oiler rookies are less likely to be effective plug and play types upon recall to the NHL.
  2. Detroit found a way to use minor free agency (the Draper group) in a way Edmonton and other bottom feeders were pehaps less able to do in the pre-CBA period. Although Edmonton did sign Rem Murray and MA Bergeron and Ty Conklin along the way, Detroit seemed better able to procure "plug and play" types like Draper (and in later years Daniel Cleary) that were rejected by other NHL clubs. Comment #3 from Ken Holland above speaks to this point. 
  3. The salary cap made Detroit a more effective draft and procurement team. Their assembly line development system doesn’t care which of Justin Abdelkader, Cory Emmerton or Darren Helm develops into a keeper, just that one of them does or that another forward forces one of them down if required. It’s a great system if the scouts can keep the conveyor belt rolling. Edmonton is not at this level, although recent efforts by Stu MacGregor and staff have them headed in that general direction (we’ll discuss this more in the final installment).
  4. Almost all of the really good players skip the AHL. That’s a league for developing vital role players, former scorers who need to learn the finer points and embrace a new role on their team, or late developing goalies in need of more sorties before maturing.
  5. Developing kids in Europe is possible for Detroit, but they do things in a unique way. Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Franzen did not come to North America on the first available airplane. Detroit appears to (I have no evidence) have found a home for each player to develop on a specific time line. That’s a huge item, Oilers lost Jani Rita and one of the reasons might have been riding pine in the SM-Liiga.
  6. Detroit built a huge part of their team with second and third round picks early in the 2000s. Whatever else we learn from this, "luck" and "Detroit" are in the same sentence enough that we have to suspect "luck" may have a friend called "skill" in Motown. 
  7. In the 10 years I’ve looked at to prepare for this comparison, Edmonton selected 6th overall two times and had one dozen first round picks. Detroit had 4 first round picks, the highest being 25th overall. And yet it is Detroit that drafted Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

I will have a summary and conclusion that discusses these things (and more) in the next little while, but want to leave you with some more reading material if you’re up for it. Showerhead is a respected member of the Oilogosphere going back a long time, and posted something on the subject of Zetterberg and Datsyuk (and how they were developed) a few years ago. His concluding comments include the following:

  • I really could not think of a better development curve for either player. Entering the NHL at 23 and 22 respectively, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were both given the opportunity to mature in professional leagues before their rookie seasons in the NHL.

I won’t spoil it all for you, it’s here and a solid read.

  • YFC Prez

    If there’s one thing i’ve learned from these 2 pieces it’s that the Oil have had a great many draft busts. I knew it was bad but never really looked at the numbers on paper before. I wonder how Schremp or Rita would have turned out if they were in the Detroit system.

  • ubermiguel

    Great reads Lowetide.

    I’d read that Holland article before, and “they were all weak little kids, but they had hockey sense” always stuck with me. RNH is a great example of hockey sense being more important that size.

    Are guys like Stajduhar, Bonsignore and Descoteaux guys we picked up based on size, regardless of lack of hockey sense?

    The Oilers had some of those “down on their luck” very useful pick-ups in the 80s. McSorley, Krushelnyski MacT, Low and Muni come to mind.

  • SkinnyD

    Meh. Detroit took Jari Tolso with their 120th pick in ’99…way before Zetterberg – so does that mean they thought he had more hockey sense than Zetterberg? If so, did they not commit a collossal error in judgement there?

    Their system makes sense – don’t rush kids when you don’t have to. Don’t set young prospects up for failure. I get it. But they also had the luxury of being able to do that back then, and keep their core together (or adjust it by continuing to bring in established top-end talent) and still win. The Oilers developed a couple of decent teams but just couldn’t compete with the rich teams like Detroit to keep them together. And yes, that’s the sound of me being jealous in hindsight. 🙂

    I’m hopeful that Tambellini is trying to develop a system akin to both Detroit’s and the Pittsburgh/Chicago models. Establish good development teams/systems (including overseas) and build the team around a core of 3-4 stellar talents (i.e. Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Eberle, and hopefully Dubnyk).

  • Calvin

    It’s very clever what you have done with your articles, Lowetide. I find myself drawn to read yours simply because I know that there will be a smoking hot babe at the end of it.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    Yeah, the Wings have been at the top of the heap for many years but what do they have to show for it. Certainly not the 5 cups in 6 years that the Oilers accomplished in the 80s. Yeah, Hollands drafted well but so did Sather back then. It’s like a toprate hedgefund manager that has a string of excellent years then falls off into mediocrity. I wager that the Wings’ best days are in the past for awhile.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Good day LT, great read! I heard over the weekend that the NHL is considering bumping up the draft age to 19, except for the better players(RNH). I was just wondering if you’ve heard anymore on that, and are they going to allow newly drafted kids to play in the AHL instead of sending them straight back to junior.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    The comparison is interesting, but we’re talking about a different level of talent based on good drafting and an fantastic scouting system in Europe.

    Even if Jani Rita were drafted by the Wings and given the same path and patience, there’s little chance he could have turned into a Zetterberg, Datsykuk or even Franzen.

    Until the Oilers have success at the NHL level, they can’t afford to use the Wings development model.

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    I don’t know if you’d appreciate a plug in here or not LT, but for anyone who enjoys articles like this would most definitely enjoy a book called “Road to Hockeytown” about Jimmy Devellano.

    Basically he is the architect from the ground up and the common denominator between Detroit and their 20-year winning history.

  • SkinnyD

    It is a good article but I have one problem with it Lowetide. We are not actually comparing two organizations in the exact same spot.

    You would have to go back and compare the Detroit Red Wings in the 80’s to compare properly.

    Obviously a bad team is not going to be able to be as patient as a team that is a Stanley Cup contender.

    Good read, nevertheless.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Jani Rita Meter Maid, Nothing Can Come Between Us…

    The problem with inattentive development (i.e., the rita case), is that the counterfactual is hard too know. My hunch is he couldn’t muster the success of any of Zett, Dat, or Fraz… but he may very well have been a descent player.

    The Detroit model seems to be:

    1) have an awesome team

    2) have great scouts dreg the world hockey swamps for unsourced talent

    3) slow roast the underclass, surprise the nhl with rockstar rookie 24 year olds

    The oil would never wait for Gagner or Smid to develop. But they did seem to stall with Omark (is he the most detroit-like player development wise?)

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Could we please shift the focus of this thread to Shawn Horcoff please. Dem der sure be some passion on display. You can’t put a price on dat der kinda entertainment.

  • Jerk Store

    I think part of the success of the Detroit plan is finding players with the skill set they are after and trying to develop them.

    The Oilers misfortunes have a few aspects, but I think a key one is drafting or acquiring players that don’t have the right skill set and expecting/hoping that they will change.

    Like Schremp will compete harder and skate at a pace appropriate for a small player in the NHL.

    It does seem like that has changed thankfully.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    How and when kids develop has many factors . The team setting they enter is a big part of it . Detroit very seldom has a bad club to begin with , and thus can afford to let them develop further than most clubs before being in a position to use them on main squad . Detroit also very adept at forsight and what they will require down the line to stay at an elite level . Role players, Detroit has a real knack for finding . Oilers on the other hand have often let many go before they fully develop one way or the other .

  • Jerk Store

    Would it be fair to say a team like Chicago has done at least as good a job drafting as Detroit since 2000? And I am not counting the “free squares on the Bingo card” like Toewes and Kane (and Barker, though obviously that was not a great 3rd overall). Not accounting for these guys, between 2000 and 2008 Chicago has drafted an additional 15 players who have played 100 or more games in the NHL compared to 13 for Detroit.

    Notables include Bolland (2nd rd), Keith (2), Byfuglien (8),Brouwer (7), Seabrook (mid 1st), Wisniewski (5), Hjalmarsson (4) and 8 other seasoned NHLers. These stand up against Detroit’s best in my opinion – though obviously “defense heavy”.

    Detroit seems to be getting a lot of mileage out of their Zetterburg and Datysuk drafts in the late 90s, but I am not sure I am bowled over by their recent draft record since. A lot of “whiffs” to go along with the home runs.

    BTW. Rita was a good example of a player not developing in Europe. How much should we be worried about Klefbom sitting on the pine in Sweden?

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      The point with Rita seems to be that the Oil left him in Europe (not unlike the cases of Zet and Dat) but then didn’t bother to monitor his progress, the teams he was on, his playing time, etc (totally unlike the cases of Zet and Dat)…

      Staying in Europe seems to be a good option for the development of European players – the calibre is high – but that doesn’t mean you can walk away and in two years bam! here’s a Datysuk like player. The oil should have monitored the situation better and intervened if necessary.

      Per Klefbom: Nation Radio this week claimed he was moved a level down from SEL, but is both playing a lot and dominating… if that is correct, that is certainly good news. The future defence corps will need him.

      BTW: LT what kind of control do NHL teams have over signed/drafted players in other leagues? I imagine an NHL team has a fair amount of control over affiliated AHL teams, but what about unaffiliated teams like European or Junior?

  • Jerk Store

    Horcoff, Smyth , Belanger yet to make much of a contibution as yet and thus younger players are outshining them . Simply put – not expected but using up a lot of finances to other early woes . Defence a long ways away from respectability – also not expected to be quite this bad so early . Goaltending better , but not good enough either . Hemsky looks like he’s ready to fly this season , but injuries still nag him . We desperately need some rushing defencemen with a point shot that needs respecting on special teams . Penalties taken by veterans – to many for starters . Swedes need to pick it up , don’t see progress being made there with Omark and/or Paaijarvi . Landers still a question mark . Whitney will remain questionable without not much of a pointshot .

    I expected a fair bit more out of this team than they have shown so far .

  • Jerk Store

    I agree with some of the above in that I wonder if its a good comparison to use a team thats had lots of pizza dollars with one that just a few years ago had 4393 owners. It seems a bit of a stretch.

  • Jerk Store

    I definitely appreciate the kind words, Lowetide. If there’s one thing writing that piece taught me it was that not only would Detroit deliberately avoid rushing players, they would also go to the appropriate lengths to make sure they played in the right role once acquired.

    Case in point: 2003/2004. Fedorov has signed elsewhere and Datsyuk/Zetterberg are both bumped up the roster. Both guys excel, demonstrating significant progression on both sides of the puck, and despite this the Wings still make the decision to add veteran C Robert Lang at the deadline.

    It’s the absolute antithesis to, say, the Oiler’s D right now. Gilbert, Smid, Peckham, etc are all fine players but every single one of them is playing one pairing too high IMO and Edmonton is doing nothing to address it. I know it’s tough to add top pairing defense and I know Detroit’s winning reputation was a huge advantage over where Edmonton is at now but these are the sorts of holes the Red Wings would have found a way to plug.

  • Jerk Store

    Hey Lowetide,

    I know this might sound a little stupid at first but hear me out.

    What about an in depth look at Nashville. The number one rule in their organization seems to be to not go after high-end ufa’s and rely financially on a salary cap within the NHL salary cap. I think it would kinda be cool to have a look at how a team that spends no money still is very competitive. Plus they have a some what lesser version of a Datsyuk/Zetterberg in Hornvist

    If its stupid just tell me know so I dont get my hopes up you will listen to me and take a look haha (jokes)