The Detroit Red Wings, one of the original six teams of the National Hockey League, find themselves two wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup. The front office has worked over the years to acquire the best talent available to ensure nothing short of a borderline dynasty. How did they do it? Here are the five best players, in terms of GVT and Relative Plus/Minus, on the Red Wings and here is how they found themselves in Motown.
Pavel Datsyuk, C
GVT: + 24.4
RPM: + 27.6
The banged up Center who missed Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals was drafted by the Red Wings in the 6th round, 171st overall, in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft held in Buffalo, New York. Having lost Right Winger Doug Brown to the Nashville Predators in the 2008 Expansion Draft the day before, Detroit was looking to take a flyer on a forward who could add depth to the lineup. Very few teams took a look at the 5’11’’ southpaw, and its rumored that only Detroit ever took notice, because of his underwhelming size. In fact, Red Wings Director of European Scouting Hakan Andersson ‘accidentally’ discovered the former Frank J. Selke trophy winner upon taking a trip to scout Dmitiri Kalinin, who was also playing in the Russian Superleague. Following the 171st overall selection between forwards Andrei Trochinsky, who went to the St. Louis Blues, and Jacques Lariviere, who went to the New Jersey Devils, Datsyuk posted an impressive 1.23 Points Per Game in his first draft-eligible season in the Russian Superleauge. Since coming over to the NHL, Datsyuk has been one of the most dominant Centers in the game and, this year, has managed to be the second greatest Offensive Generator behind fellow Russian Alexander Semin and one of three candidates selected for the Hart Memorial trophy, which celebrates the NHL’s most valuable player of the regular season.
Nicklas Lidstrom, D
GVT: + 20.7
RPM: + 23.2
The veteran defenseman, also fighting injuries, has spent his entire 17 years with the same team up in Detroit. A bit more of a standout to scouts then his fellow Red Wing teammate, the Swede was drafted in the 3rd round, 53rd overall, by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft held in Minnesota. Despite struggling in his earlier years in the Swedish Elite League, Lidstrom managed to post a respectable 0.61 PPG, or 0.11 PPG above the offensive defensemen threshold for NHL success, in the year following his selection. The 39-year-old Swede’s career in the Sweedish Elite League is often compared to Victor Hedman’s time in one of the most difficult leagues in Europe, though Hedman has put up similar numbers as a defenseman at an earlier age than his predecessor. Since coming over to the NHL in 1991, Lidstrom has been one of the most durable players in the league in ice time and one of the most dominant forces in the game, being among the top 10 defensemen in terms of GVT for the past 20 years. In this postseason, the puck moving defenseman has been one of the key ingredients in Detroit’s run for the Stanley Cup. Detroit’s future Hall of Famer has also won four Stanley Cups, six Norris Trophies, one Conn Smythe and has set three franchise records.
Marian Hossa, RW
GVT: + 19.7
RPM: + 22.4
The southpaw forward was drafted in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft out of Slovack Extraliga, the highest level of hockey in Slovakia. The league might not sound completely familiar to Hossa fans as the Slovack Extraliga has frequently changed names over the past decade. At the time the right winger was playing in Slovakia, the league was simply called Extraliga. Two years prior to being draft eligible, at the young age of 15, Hossa managed to score 91 Points, 42 Goals and 49 Assists in 53 Games Played for a 1.72 PPG total in Slovakia. The back to back Stanley Cup Finals participant was drafted in the first round, 12th overall on June 21, 1997 by the Senators at the Igloo, a place Hossa would later call home for one year. The first round class of the 1997 draft ended up including some of the better talents of recent years, with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Olli Jokinen, Roberto Luongo and Dan Cleary all among the first few selections. After only 7 games in the NHL with the Senators, Hossa was demoted to the Western Hockey League, WHL. In his one season in the WHL, he managed to win rookie of the year honors and played a key role in the team winning the Memorial Cup trophy. Ever since, with the exception of the lockout, Hossa has played every season in the NHL. The only accomplishment left for the talented Slovakia-native is to win the most coveted trophy in sports: the Stanley Cup. Hossa reportedly turned down a multi-year offer, worth $9 million per season from the Edmonton Oilers last season and a lucrative one year offer from his previous team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, to take a one year, $7.45 million deal from the Detroit Red Wings in order to win a championship. Going into the Finals, Hossa figured to be one of the key difference makers for a Detroit repeat as he was switching teams in this rematch of last years final round. With the Red Wings up two games to none in the Finals, Hossa just might finally get that championship ring.
Brian Rafalski, D
GVT: + 16.6
RPM: + 10.9
The 5’10’’, 191 lbs. defenseman went undrafted largely because of scouts and front offices having reservations about his size, even though this has backfired on front offices from time to time. Despite posting around 0.50 PPG in the United States Hockey League, Western Collegiate Hockey Association, in Sweden and in Finland, the talented puck moving defenseman was unable to find an NHL home until the New Jersey Devils showed interest in 1999, 9 years after his first draft-eligible season. Upon entering the NHL, the Michigan-native defenseman won a Stanley Cup against the Dallas Stars in the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals, and put up very impressive numbers that were only second among first year players to fellow rookie teammate Scott Gomez. The offensive defenseman finally returned home to play for the Red Wings after signing a 5 year, $30 million deal in July of 2007. Named by the Sporting News in 1999 as the best hockey player not playing in the NHL, Rafalski has been one of the most uplifting, feel good stories in hockey. Never getting the chance to be drafted into the NHL after being looked over, the Red Wing defenseman kept playing until his talent was too apparent to be ignored. Ever since getting his chance, Rafalski has consistently been one of the best defenseman in the National Hockey League.
Henrik Zetterberg, LW
GVT: + 15.5
RPM: + 7.2
The 5’11’’, 185 lbs. left winger was drafted 210th overall in the 7th round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft between Layne Ulmer, drafted by the Ottawa Senators, and Vladimir Kulkov, selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 1999 draft was unique because many thought it would end up being one of the deepest and most talented drafts ever, yet only the Sedin Twins, Martin Havlat and Henrik Zetterberg emerged out of the 1999 draft class as stars. The alternate captain of Detroit was another gem discovery made by Red Wing Director of European Scouting Hakan Andersson. In similar fashion to Datsyuk, Henrik’s on ice performance was well received by Detroit Red Wing brass upon seeing him play, and the Red Wings, especially Assistant GM Jim Nill, saw Zetterberg as a great, late round selection with potential. In his first season in the NHL, Zetterberg emerged as an offensive threat and finished second in rookie of the year honors, falling short to the Calder trophy winner and St. Louis Blues defenseman Barret Jackman. On January 28, 2009, the Swede inked the most lucrative contract in Detroit Red Wings history, agreeing to a 12 year, $73 million deal. In Game 1 of this years Stanley Cup Finals, Zetterberg played outstanding hockey and continued to excel in Game 2. He now stands only two victories away from winning his second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.
Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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