Moritz Seider’s Road to Hockeytown

October 2, 2020

Red Wings fans are eager to see hot prospect Moritz Seider — a German teen who likes Disney movies and Nutella — hit the ice in Detroit

By Eric Adelson

Moritz Seider became a viral sensation the very second he became a Detroit Red Wing.

Video of the teenage German defenseman’s hands covering his face in shock bounced around the globe as he reacted to becoming the sixth pick in the 2019 NHL Draft last June. “I was not expecting it at all,” he says on the phone from the German town of Mannheim, where he’s riding out the pandemic.

When Wings’ general manager and legendary former captain Steve Yzerman arrived onstage to make the pick, Moritz’s mom, Sabine, tapped him on the leg and told him to get ready to be chosen. Moritz tried not to scoff. “OK, Mom,” he said at the time. “I know you’re nervous. We need to keep calm.” Mom nailed it. Her son was picked. And Moritz’s face went full-on emoji (the shell-shocked one). “She was right,” Seider says. “Mothers always have a special feeling in their bellies.”

Neither of Seider’s parents are accomplished athletes. But that moment might have been a little peek at a family trait: Seeing into the future.

Detroit Red Wing Moritz SeiderCourtesy of Detroit Red Wings

General Manager Steve Yzerman of the Detroit Red Wings and Moritz Seider.

If you’re going to understand what the Red Wings hope to gain in Seider, you have to understand what the Red Wings lost less than a decade ago. Nicklas Lidstrom was the glue that held the Wings dynasty together, and he was arguably the greatest all-around defenseman ever to play the sport. (Please take your Bobby Orr opinions to the comments section.) To give you a sense of Lidstrom’s value — beyond the four Stanley Cups he won — he played in 263 playoff games with the Red Wings, and since he retired in 2012, the team has played in only 31.

It’s unreasonable to suggest that Seider, only 19, is Lidstrom’s heir, but it’s not likely a coincidence that Yzerman used his very first pick as general manager to draft a largely unheralded defenseman out of Europe. (Lidstrom, a Swede, was the 53rd pick 30 years prior, in 1989.) Yzerman defended the surprise pick by praising Seider’s “hockey sense,” which is certainly something Lidstrom had bushels of.

“It’s the single most important thing for any player to have,” says Red Wings director of player development Shawn Horcoff, “vision and hockey sense.”

The Red Wings are in a rebuild — a euphemism in sports for when a team is an eyesore — and giving up 122 more goals than you score is indeed heinous. If you’re a Wings fan under the age of 40, you probably don’t remember the precedent to this ugliness. Back in the early 1980s, before “Hockeytown” was a brand, the “Dead Things” were so wretched that owner Mike Ilitch tried to bring fans to the arena by giving away a car during intermission. It was so bleak that you didn’t even have to buy a ticket to a game; fans could walk down to Joe Louis Arena, enter the drawing, and leave.

The road to NHL lore was thrilling. Yzerman was the cornerstone, but Europeans vaulted a good team to great: specifically, Lidstrom and the Russian Five, which included defensemen Slava Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov. Detroit became a global story again — on and off the ice.

Now here we are in a sadder echo of a long-ago lull, with the Red Wings in the basement and the city in a pandemic-triggered downturn. Seider knows a little bit about the history, and the thirst for renaissance.

Detroit Red Wing Moritz SeiderCourtesy of Detroit Red Wings

“I know a little about the car industry [and that] back in the day, [Detroit] was one of the richest cities in the States at the time,” says Seider, who grew up in Erfurt, Germany, and had never been to Michigan before getting drafted. “Crime and all that stuff went up a little bit. People with money went out of the city. I was fascinated coming into a club with [so much] history. I was pumped up, ready to go. I was excited to see the city.”

He hasn’t seen much: After the pandemic interrupted the NHL season, he’s now back in Germany, training. “There’s nothing to be sad about,” he shrugs. “I got a lot of time left to be ready in the NHL.” (As of press time, the 2020-21 season is tentatively scheduled to start on Dec. 1.)

Seider says he’s only had “a couple meals” in Detroit, however he’s happy to share his food agenda for when the time comes: “I need a mix of everything. I’m a big sushi fan. I also like my pasta. Some rice, quinoa. A lot of cheese, fresh cut ham. And my little bite of Nutella.”

He did, however, provide an appetizer for starving hockey fans. His heady, steady play in the minors last winter turned a lot of heads, and soothed a lot of skeptics. Popular opinion shifted from “Are we sure about this guy?” toward “When can we see him in Little Caesars Arena?”

Detroit Red Wing Moritz SeiderSam Iannamico/Griffins

Seider spent last season with the Grand Rapids Griffins (the minor-league affiliate to the Red Wings), where his steady performance turned a lot of heads.

“It’s very hard to find a defenseman with that size and skating ability who can play big minutes,” says Horcoff. “I don’t know where you get those players if you don’t draft them.”

No, his stats weren’t eye-popping, but his vision was. Again — the Seider gift is seeing a little bit into the future.

“It’s all about reading the game and trying to be ahead of your opponents by two to five steps,” he says. “Maybe it will give you a little more time. That’s what I try to do. And I never had trouble with that at all. How quick can you turn your head to look up the ice — not to see your opponents but seeing my guys? I always see where my guys are and not so much where the pressure is coming.”

This sort of intangible has been part of his hockey life from the beginning, when he was a kindergartner skating laps with his classmates and a local coach noticed his raw talent.

His parents, who ran a home for the elderly, were wary but they eventually gave in. Seider — who eventually became the rookie of the year in Germany’s top league — grew up watching Red Wings nemesis Scott Niedermayer as well as Lidstrom, and he studied the way they chose when to join the offensive rush without losing any defensive leverage.

Detroit Red Wing Moritz SeiderCourtesy of Detroit Red Wings

He picked more traditional jersey numbers as a youth — 21, 18 — but eventually settled on No. 53 because it was the year of his grandfather’s birth, and also because he liked the Volkswagen Beetle from Disney’s “Herbie” movies (which was emblazoned with 53 on the side). He is prepared to be called “Herbie” because of this choice. “It would be funny,” he says.

It would be fitting: a beloved import scooting around the Motor City. “It will be a lot more fun in five to six years,” he says, and it’s not quite clear if he’s talking about life in Detroit, or cheering for the Wings. Maybe it’s both.

You know those Seiders — they always see it coming.

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