The Detroit Red Wings came into the NHL entry draft hoping to add defensive depth. They left it with Xavier Ouellet topping their list of five new blueline prospects.
The Red Wings used their so-called “bonus pick” — the second second-rounder acquired from the Ottawa Senators for their 24th overall pick in the first round — to select Ouellet 48th overall in St. Paul, Minn., on Saturday.
The 6-foot, 174-pounder put up eight goals and 35 assists for 43 points along with a plus-27 rating in 67 games with the QMJHL’s Montreal Juniors as a teammate of fellow Red Wings prospects Louis-Marc Aubry and Trevor Parkes.
Mark Leach sums up Ouellet’s style of play succinctly, saying, “He plays our game.”
“We love the fact that he has very good skating ability and excellent mobility,” said Leach, the Red Wings QMJHL scout. “His puck-moving ability, vision, hockey sense and poise under pressure throughout the season were very good.”
Despite his impressive numbers as a 17-year-old, Ouellet shouldn’t be categorized as an offensive defenseman. He isn’t going to quarterback a No. 1 power-play unit in the NHL, but he could be an effective two-way rearguard who can log time with the man advantage.
“He might be a very solid two-way guy, solid in his own end with a little offensive touch to him,” Leach said. “He’s got some ability to move the puck well and break out and accelerate away from a forechecker, which is very important.”
Red Wings director of scouting Joe McDonnell compares Ouellet to Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, an effective veteran who has 640 games under his belt.
“He’s a good two-way guy who really moves the puck well,” McDonnell said. “He makes a great first pass and that’s something a lot of teams have trouble finding, and we think he’s really good at that. That first pass is so important.”
Foot-speed is one knock on Ouellet, as is his somewhat below-average size. But what he lacks in those areas, he makes up for with his willingness to battle.
“He’ll do what he has to do in play in hard areas,” Leach said.
Ouellet and fellow second-rounder Ryan Sproul instantly become two of the best defense prospects in the Red Wings’ system, perhaps only behind top-ranked Brendan Smith, who will graduate soon, and Brian Lashoff, an American Hockey League farmhand.
“We wanted to get a nice stockpile of (defensemen) we can work with,” McDonnell said. “We think we added some real good ones.”