Visualising the development of Detroit Red Wings draft picks made by Ken Holland since 2008

The Detroit Red Wings have now had two NHL Entry Drafts led by Steve Yzerman and the Yzerplan. Just two years removed from the end of the Ken Holland era, the makeup of the Red Wings still very much have Holland’s influence all over the team, and we can look back into his recent draft work to see how the team has evolved before he left.

Holland served as the general manager for the Red Wings since 1997 to partway through 2019. Over this span, Detroit won three Stanley Cups and was a known as one of the NHL’s most dominant teams over a time frame that lasted decades, not just years.

As a part of the series where I visualise the development of prospects as selected by a GM, Reddit user ImNemmy wanted to see how Detroit’s draft picks since their last Stanley Cup in 2008 have developed. Since 2008, Holland was a part of 11 more NHL Entry Drafts for the organisation, in which the Red Wings amassed 84 prospects who have all seen varying degrees of success since being drafted.

Given the large time frame, we can get a sense of how the Red Wings tend to select and develop players, and see if there are any discernible trends.

While you’re here, please enjoy the other posts in the series:

Visualising the development of Calgary Flames draft picks made by Brad Treliving

Visualising the development of Vancouver Canucks draft picks made by Jim Benning

Visualising the development of Edmonton Oilers draft picks made by Peter Chiarelli

The data visualisation tracks the developmental path of every prospect brought into the Red Wings organisation by Holland between the 2008 draft through to the 2018 draft. Each player is labelled based the highest number of gamed they played in any league within a season. Their year-by-year progress is then shown to see a high-level look at the entire prospect development network.

How to read the visualisation

To see the progression of every pick, I made a modified alluvial diagram with the x-axis showing years. The first column indicates the league a drafted player played in prior to being selected by the Red Wings. Every sequential column thereafter shows where each player played in the following years.

While every player is technically represented, they were grouped based on year-by-year progression. The leagues were roughly arranged based on typical development paths, with the NHL being placed highest as it’s the ultimate goal. The order does not reflect any definitive ranking between leagues, but rather serves as a means to simply label different subsets of leagues.

The AHL, KHL, and ECHL were listed first as players tend to develop in these leagues after being drafted. CHL leagues are grouped altogether, followed by the NCAA, and European leagues such as the SHL, Liiga, HockeyAllsvenskan, etc. making up the European subset. Lower leagues in Canada, the United States, and Russia make up the last sets of leagues.

Note: the large time span has led to some previous Red Wings draft picks retiring from hockey, which is shown by the “RET/Retired” label, as well as one player finding his way to the Australian Ice Hockey League, which is denoted by the “OTH/Other” label.

Each player’s path is traceable by moving across each column horizontally and following the path. Whenever a path truncates, that indicates where the most recent season was played (i.e. 2019-20 seasons).

Since the overall time frame is rather long, sequential years are only logged until a player’s draft plus nine (D+9) year. Anything after that is grouped into a nine plus (D>9+) column, which represents the 2019-20 status of players who have been around for more than ten years.

All prospect data was retrieved from, and the visualisation was created with R and modified with Adobe Illustrator. The R “tidyverse” and “ggalluvial” packages were used to create the visualisations, and the colour palette was adapted from Carto.

Observations from the dataviz

The visualisation can be used to discover many insights and tidbits about Holland’s drafting tendencies in terms of where the team scouts for talent, as well as where and how Detroit prospects develop and whether they turn into NHLers.

Here are some observations from the visualisation that can be said about Red Wings drafting and the final decade of the Holland era.

  • The Red Wings were not afraid to draft from European leagues, as a sizable amount of players played out of Swedish and Finnish leagues during their draft years.
  • For players drafted out of the CHL, if they don’t end up in at least the AHL by their D+3 years, they likely won’t see prolonged time in the NHL at all.
  • Out of all prospects, just three made it to the NHL in their D+2 year: Dylan Larkin, Michael Rasmussen, and Filip Zadina. Of the three, only Larkin has proven to be a full time NHLer. Zadina split time between the NHL and AHL last year, and Rasmussen spent the whole 2019-20 season with the Grand Rapids Griffins despite playing 62 games with the Red Wings in 2018-19.
  • Among all players who made it to the NHL between their D+3 through D+6 years, almost all of them saw time in the AHL in the season before making the jump. The two exceptions are Mattias Janmark (D+3) coming from the SHL and Christoffer Ehn (D+5) who also came from the SHL. Janmark made the NHL as a part of the Dallas Stars’ roster after being a part of a trade that sent Erik Cole back to the Red Wings. Ehn now has two seasons with the Red Wings under his belt.
  • From the above observation, it’s clear that the Red Wings really believe in developing a prospect in the AHL rather than rushing them. The only other players to have bypassed the AHL were Larkin and Rasmussen, in which the former played six playoff games in the AHL and the latter ended back with the Griffins the following season after being ineligible for the AHL the year prior. This could be a fundamental development philosophy Detroit upholds that has led to long term success in the NHLers they produce.
  • There are six players who were drafted between 2008 and 2010 who are still in the NHL: Gustav Nyquist, drafted in 2008; Tomas Tatar and Nick Jensen, drafted in 2009; and Riley Sheahan, Calle Jarnkrok, and Petr Mrazek, drafted in 2010.
  • Three players drafted since 2008 have since retired from professional hockey: Max Nicastro, Julien Cayer, and Stephen Johnston. All three were actually drafted in 2008. None saw a single game in the NHL at all, and Nicastro was the only one to make it to the AHL for 25 games in 2012-13.
  • Johnston was also the player that went to play hockey in the Australian Ice Hockey League after finishing his Canadian Interuniversity Sport career. He also played a season in the New Zealand Ice Hockey League before officially calling it a career.
  • Only two Russians were drafted directly out of Russia by Holland since 2008. One was of course Alexey Marchenko, who was last seen in the NHL in 2016-17 splitting games with Detroit and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s been playing out of the KHL ever since. The other was Alexander Kadeykin, who was drafted out of the KHL and has been there every year. Evgeny Svechnikov is Russian, but was drafted out of the CHL and has spent the past four seasons predominantly in the AHL.

These are just some of the observations that can be made by looking at the chart. Try and see what you can determine for yourself. There’s a lot more detail left to be discovered. If you’re interested, the data used to create the visualisation can be downloaded below. The data is colour coded the exact same way as the chart so following the progression of individual players is actually easier using the data itself.

What’s next for Detroit

It’s pretty much unanimous that Holland has one of the most impressive resumes of any GM in hockey of all time. A large reason the Red Wings saw so much sustained success for so long was thanks to their work year in and year out at the draft.

As Holland is well into a new chapter of his career trying to right the ship in Edmonton, Detroit welcomes a familiar face with Yzerman to begin a new era. Not many organisations can say they’re lucky enough to go from a GM like Holland to a GM like Yzerman. Whatever direction the Red Wings take with prospect development, they’re likely in good hands.

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Thank you to Reddit users ImNemmy, NeuralHandshake, and Zetterburger40 for corrections in the observations.

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