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Steve Yzerman has been well served investing in Europe, and he may continue the trend for a fourth straight year.

As he finalizes his board for the Detroit Red Wings‘ No. 8 pick in the 2022 draft, Austrian Marco Kasper checks all the boxes for what the Wings prioritize: He’s a center, he has size, and he’s a step up on North American options because he’s been playing in Sweden.

“Sweden is a great hockey country,” Kasper said at the NHL combine in Buffalo earlier this month. “It is good competition there, so I decided to play there. I think it was a good decision.”

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In his first three years as Wings general manager, Yzerman has used team’s first-round picks on Europeans: In 2019, it was defenseman Moritz Seider, who was playing in Germany’s highest league; in 2020, forward Lucas Raymond, playing in the Swedish Hockey League; and in 2021, defenseman Simon Edvinsson, who likewise was in the SHL. That means that they played with and against men, a considerably tougher challenge than playing against fellow teenagers in junior hockey. Kasper, 18, posted seven goals and four assists with Rögle in the SHL in 2021-22, splitting time with its junior club where he had six goals and seven assists in 12 games. (Kasper appeared in 10 games with the Rögle’s men’s team in 2020-21, which overlapped with Seider’s time with the club.)

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At the combine, the 6-foot-1, 187-pound native of Innsbruck explained why he averaged more than a point a game in juniors: “I think I have the puck on my stick more in juniors. In the SHL, everything is so structured. You have to be on the right side defensively all the time.”

He also noted why being promoted to the big club was so beneficial: “It’s tough to play against men, and having to do that every day helped me to see what it is like to be a pro.”

Shane Wright, Logan Cooley and Juraj Slafkovsky are widely projected to be the top three picks when the draft takes place in Montreal on July 7-8, but after that, the real draft begins. Forwards Cutter Gauthier, Frank Nazar III, Joakim Kemell and Matthew Savoie also make sense for the Wings. Having drafted two defensemen and a goaltender with three of his last four first-round picks, it makes sense for Yzerman to prioritize drafting a center.

Yzerman and Kris Draper, the Wings’ director of amateur scouting, interviewed Kasper at the combine; he made the rounds with every team except the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars. Kasper can converse not just in German and English, but he said he learned Swedish within six months of going to Sweden as a 16-year-old. “It was really interesting, learning Swedish and English, because I think it’s important to try to fit in and communicate,” Kasper said. “I tried to learn it as fast as possible, and I also think German is similar to Swedish.”

Kasper could have gotten by on English while in Sweden, and it speaks to his inner drive that he wanted to pick up the native language. It backs up what Kasper shows on the ice: He’s a combination of skill and strength, and playing in the men’s league not only forced him to adapt to a more physical game but also improve his skating. He plays a smart, heads-up game with a dash of grit, using his size and reach to control and defend the puck. He cites his compete level as a reason teams should draft him: “I always try to win. I think I can help teams win important games.”

Yzerman hasn’t fast-tracked any of his picks to the point they’ve transitioned straight from the draft to the NHL. Should Kasper end up being picked by the Wings, he’s in a great program in Rögle to undergo another year of development to ready him for the rebuild.

Contact Helene St. James at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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