Why Red Wings stuck to their ‘DNA’ and drafted Michael Brandsegg-Nygård at No. 15

LAS VEGAS — All along, as the 2024 NHL Draft took shape, Michael Brandsegg-Nygård just felt like a fit to the Detroit Red Wings.

As it turned out, he felt the same way they did.

“I had a little feeling,” Brandsegg-Nygård said. “So when I saw Detroit was on the clock, I hoped for it.”

That feeling proved prescient, as Detroit went to the stage in the middle of the Vegas Sphere and called Brandsegg-Nygård’s name, making him the first Norwegian player ever picked in the first round of the NHL Draft.

“I think it means a lot,” he said. “I can only speak for myself, but I know Mats Zuccarello was a big role model for me, and I looked up to him, and it was cool to see a Norwegian guy play in the NHL. … And hopefully me and (Norwegian defenseman Stian Solberg, who went 23rd) can be role models for young hockey players back in Norway.”

On those grounds, Brandsegg-Nygård is already a great story. What Red Wings fans will be more interested in is whether he turns out to be a great pick.

Already, there are plenty of opinions about the decision back in Detroit — a result of what felt like perhaps the most obvious team-player fit outside the top 10. He looks the part of a future NHL power winger — a big-bodied scorer who can make an impact in many different ways. He can score. He can win pucks for teammates on the forecheck. And yes, he will do his part in the defensive zone.

These are all, unambiguously, positive qualities.

There will be those who question the pick, though, because of how much rhyme it has to some of Detroit’s other recent picks, including 2022 first-rounder Marco Kasper and 2023 first-round pick Nate Danielson. Indeed, the Red Wings have developed a reputation as a team that emphasizes competitiveness and two-way ability in the draft. And at times, that over-arching profile — shared by nearly every first-round pick the team has made under general manager Steve Yzerman — has probably obscured some of the other abilities their prospects possess. Danielson, for example, is a high-end skater with considerable skill, but the fact he was also a competitive, responsible center has become the primary thing he’s known for.

In Brandsegg-Nygård’s case, the attribute that may be getting lost is his shot. When he was asked Friday night what his best skill was as a player, he quickly answered “probably my shot.” And Yzerman agreed.

“He can really rip it,” Yzerman said. “But it’s not like he’s just a one-dimensional shooter. All parts of his game: He’s got pretty good hands. I see him being more of a shooter than, say, a half-wall quarterback on the power play, but he can play in the bumper, he can play down on the goal line, and he can still make a play. But I’d say primarily, his greatest strength (is) he can skate down the wing and he can rip it.”

To that end, Brandsegg-Nygård showed that ability in some of his most important games of the year. He had four goals and 10 points in 12 playoff games for Mora in the Allsvenskan playoffs, the third most points ever by a U19 player in that league’s playoffs. That was an even better scoring rate than he had in the regular season (8 goals and 18 points in 41 games), and he added three more goals and 5 points at the men’s World Championship.

“I think you want to see that,” assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting Kris Draper said. “I think you always talk about regular season, and guys scoring in the regular season, and then it’s like, ‘OK, when the games get tighter and the games get more important and they get bigger, you want to see what’s he going to do then?’ And obviously Michael responded by putting in some good numbers and scoring some big goals for that team.”

As Yzerman pointed out, that fills a major need in the Red Wings’ farm system. Detroit has invested significant draft capital on defense and at center in the last six years, but its pipeline has gotten thin on the wing. Brandsegg-Nygård addresses that right away, and in a way that won’t need to be sheltered or necessarily be paired with a specific type of player opposite him. He’s the type of player who should fit with anyone because of the number of elements he brings to the table. So while the shot may be the best trait, those other traits — his responsibility, competitiveness and smarts — do come into play.

“He plays a pretty responsible game for a young guy,” Yzerman said. “Like, we all played junior, we worried about scoring. We didn’t check. And he’s just got a really well-rounded game to him. … I think he’s got a ‘B’ game, I guess you would say. When he’s not scoring, he’ll still be an effective player. But I just think he’s a guy that can play in all situations. Probably play either wing. A lot of different spots on the power play as well.”

And as for the team’s emphasis on competitiveness and two-way play, Draper weighed in on that too.

“I think hockey sense is something that you throw in the mix as well, but I just watched an incredible playoff run for two months, and you see how hard these games get and how little room there is,” he said. “So you need those players that are smart, competitive, that can skate and play in the hard areas, and that’s what we want to target.

“I mean, we don’t have the luxury of picking first overall and getting that superstar that everyone wants to add. That’s not what we have. So we have a Red Wing DNA and a type of prospect that we watch, and that’s what we want to continue to bring into the organization.”

Certainly, Brandsegg-Nygård looks like a playoff-type hockey player. The flip side to the argument might be that the Red Wings have yet to get to the playoffs under Yzerman, and that while there is certainly a long-view vision in mind in acquiring players who project to thrive in that style of hockey (especially in the draft), it’s fair to say the Red Wings still could use more of the easy-offense types that help get teams into the postseason. Whether that type of player was available at 15 is an open question, but in the big picture of Detroit’s building process, adding more one-on-one skill and pure scorers does remain a need.

The draft is not the only way to add those types of players, though. Detroit traded for one last season in Alex DeBrincat, signed one in free agency in Patrick Kane (albeit on a short-term deal), and may be able to secure more when free agency opens Monday.

So, when the Red Wings went on the clock Friday, they stuck to their guns and took a player dripping with that “Red Wing DNA” Draper referenced.

(Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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