Analyzing the Red Wings Forward Lines

With the final Detroit Red Wings roster taking shape, we’re able to get a better understanding of how coach Jeff Blashill will pencil in his forwards for their season opener against Tampa Bay.

After waiving Martin Frk, Teemu Pulkkinen, and Mitch Callahan, plus announcing that Andreas Athanasiou made the team over Anthony Mantha, Detroit’s forwards are set. And at practice Monday, Blashill’s regular season lines finally materialized:


If these lines stay intact, the Red Wings have a solid top-nine and tough, grinding fourth line to produce their offense. Though Pavel Datsyuk is no longer part of the organization after an illustrious career, the Red Wings are still in good shape without the legendary Magic Man.

THW Archives – The Grind Line: Life After Pavel Datsyuk

Let’s break down the four lines that the Red Wings are most likely to roll out when their season begins Thursday in Tampa.

Henrik Zetterberg – Frans Nielsen – Tomas Tatar

Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings.
Switching to the wing will keep Henrik Zetterberg fresh all season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After surprising the hockey world with their deep run in the World Cup of Hockey tournament, Tomas Tatar and newcomer Frans Nielsen were able to join Henrik Zetterberg and the Red Wings for just one preseason game—a 4-3 win over the Maple Leafs.

Frans Nielsen of the Detroit Red Wings.
Frans Nielsen (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It will be interesting to see if this line is able to gel right away, considering their lack of preseason—or any season—time together. Though teammates for the past few years, Zetterberg and Tatar have rarely played together, even on the power play. In addition to Nielsen just joining the Red Wings, the Danish center didn’t even get a chance to skate alongside Tatar at the World Cup.

If the troupe can form an early bond on the ice, they certainly have the hockey intelligence, offensive skills, and two-way awareness to compete effectively against opponents’ top lines.

Justin Abdelkader – Dylan Larkin – Riley Sheahan

Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader
Justin Abdelkader is poised to build on his breakout 2015-16 season. (Bridget Samuels)

Speed kills and Detroit’s second line will have plenty to burn against opponents’ second and third pairing defenders.

Though Dylan Larkin may be Detroit’s most talented player, his likely matchup with opponents’ non-top players will benefit the Red Wings. His line will likely play just as much as the top line but face more favorable matchups. Additionally, the composition of Larkin’s line will allow them to employ either a dump-and-chase possession strategy or use their speed to back off defensemen and carry the puck in. However, his wingers will need to keep up to make this line work.

Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings.
Dylan Larkin (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

After an unexpected selection to John Tortorella’s United States World Cup of Hockey team, Justin Abdelkader is ready to prove his inclusion was no fluke. He’ll also attempt to show that his breakout 2015-16 season is a sign of things to come, rather than an anomaly. Abdelkader’s previous chemistry with Larkin will certainly help with achieving his goals.

On Larkin’s right wing will be Riley Sheahan. The former Notre Dame forward had a great preseason after switching from center to the wing. He impressed The Hockey Writers’ Jacob Messing during Detroit’s home game against Boston:

“In two preseason games, he has flown up and down the right side of the ice and was easily the best player in Detroit’s 2-1 overtime loss to Boston on Friday night.”

Gustav Nyquist – Darren Helm – Thomas Vanek

Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings
Gustav Nyquist will be out to prove that he’s top-six material for the Red Wings. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Detroit’s third line might as well be nicknamed the “Rodney Dangerfield Line,” given their lack of respect over the past few months.

Say what you want about Darren Helm and Thomas Vanek’s contracts, they’ll produce their fair share alongside Gustav Nyquist on the third line. Helm and Nyquist have formed early chemistry during training camp and the preseason, while most of Detroit’s top-nine took part in the World Cup of Hockey tournament or were on the mend.

Nyquist, in particular, is looking to redeem himself after a down season and a World Cup of Hockey snub from Team Sweden. He’ll pair well with the veteran Vanek, who was bought out by Minnesota this offseason. The 32-year-old stated that he can still be an offensive threat after signing with Detroit. Let’s hope that he can back up his words after an uneventful World Cup of Hockey showing with Team Europe.

Drew Miller – Luke Glendening – Steve Ott

Drew Miller of the Detroit Red Wings.
Drew Miller has been moving well this preseason. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Nicknamed the “OMG Line” by The Hockey Writers’ Brandon Peleshok, the Red Wings fourth line couldn’t have had a stronger preseason showing. Drew Miller, Luke Glendening, and Steve Ott ground down low and capitalized on scoring opportunities when they were presented. The three combined for five goals and 13 points in four preseason games. Though preseason games are just that, their scoring touching was certainly a bright spot for the Red Wings.

Detroit’s fourth line also had a few creative cellys after chipping in their five goals:


Healthy Scratches

Andreas Athanasiou won't be in Detroit's press box for long. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
Andreas Athanasiou won’t be in Detroit’s press box for long. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

At first, Andreas Athanasiou will be Detroit’s lone forward healthy scratch. That won’t last long, though. Athanasiou was kept in Detroit over Anthony Mantha because of his versatility. He can play a limited, checking role on the fourth line or contribute offensively in the top-nine. Athanasiou can also play on the penalty kill alongside Glendening, Miller, Ott, Helm, Sheahan, or Abdelkader.

Once in the lineup, Athanasiou will prove his worth (again) on the fourth line and may push Darren Helm out of the third line center role. And if anyone in the top-nine gets injured, Blashill can easily throw Athanasiou into the lineup at either center or wing.

Related Red Wings – The Grind Line: Red Wings Early Preseason Takeaways

What are your thoughts on the tentative Detroit Red Wings lines? Comment below with your take.