Red Wings Rebuild: Grading the Young Guns

While the Detroit Red Wings finished with the fourth-worst record in the NHL, the organization did take a huge step forward in their rebuild during the 2018-19 season.

Detroit’s young core was tasked with stepping into a leadership role with Henrik Zetterberg no longer able to play and several veterans nearing the end of their contracts. They did not disappoint.

To kick off the 2019 Red Wings Summer Rebuild Series, we’ll dole out grades to Detroit’s 24-and-under players who are expected to help the team return to contention. Be sure to stick around, as we’ll cover a number of Red Wings topics throughout the offseason:

  • 2018-19 Red Wings Prospect Report
  • 2019 NHL Draft Preview
  • 2019 Free Agency Preview
  • Summer 2019 Prospect Rankings
  • 2019-20 Red Wings Season Preview

And now, let’s see how Detroit’s young players fared this season.

Note: Only those who played 10 or more games received a grade.

Related: The Grind Line: 6 Red Wings Draft Options at No. 6

Andreas Athanasiou – A-

76 GP – 30 G – 24 A – 54 PTS

Detroit Red Wings center Andreas Athanasiou.
Andreas Athanasiou finally broke out as a consistent threat for the Red Wings. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The jury is still out on Andreas Athanasiou being Detroit’s second-line center long-term, but “AA” certainly took a step forward with increased ice time. He and Dylan Larkin scored 30 goals apiece, giving the Red Wings their youngest 30-goal duo since Keith Primeau and Slava Kozlov during the 1993-94 campaign. It appears that Athanasiou finally has earned Jeff Blashill’s trust, which will go a long way as the Red Wings emerge from their rebuild.

Tyler Bertuzzi – B+

73 GP – 21 G – 26 A – 47 PTS

Not the most skilled forward, Tyler Bertuzzi is the straw that stirs the drink on Detroit’s top line. “Little Bert” gelled with Larkin throughout the season en route to career-high offensive numbers and should be a fixture in the top-six for years to come.

Madison Bowey – C

17 GP – 1 G – 3 A – 4 PTS

Coming over to Detroit in the Nick Jensen deal, Madison Bowey got a fresh start after a less-than-stellar stint in Washington. The former second-round pick was given more responsibility in Hockeytown and did not look out of place. He’ll need to keep improving over the summer, though – the Red Wings will have a logjam on defense and it’s not guaranteed that Bowey starts in their top-three pairings.

Dennis Cholowski – C-

52 GP – 7 G – 9 A – 16 PTS

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Dennis Cholowski
Dennis Cholowski got off to a blistering start with the Red Wings before falling back to Earth. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Fans were disappointed when Dennis Cholowski was assigned to the AHL, but it was overdue. Cholowski struggled at five-on-five in both ends – he had only six even-strength points and was on the ice for 37 goals against in 52 games. There’s still plenty of time for Cholowski to develop, though.

Jacob de la Rose – C

60 GP – 3 G – 6 A – 9 PTS

While 12 points in 60 games isn’t much to write home about, Jacob de la Rose could prove to be a valuable addition for the Red Wings. He played a heavy, energy game on Detroit’s fourth line and sparked some offensive chances. He’s a bottom-six player, but a versatile one nonetheless for Blashill.

Christoffer Ehn – C

60 GP – 3 G – 6 A – 9 PTS

Christoffer Ehn of the Detroit Red Wings
Christoffer Ehn provided steady play on Detroit’s fourth line. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Like de la Rose, Christoffer Ehn added energy to Detroit’s bottom-six. Considering this was his first taste of North American hockey, Ehn adapted well and did not look out of place. The Red Wings will need him to improve in the circles, though – 47.4 percent isn’t going to cut it for a checking line center.

Martin Frk – D

30 GP – 1 G – 5 A – 6 PTS

A single goal is just not enough for a one-trick pony. Martin Frk is likely done in Detroit, unless he signs an AHL deal with the Grand Rapids Griffins and continues to refine his game.

Joe Hicketts – C-

11 GP – 0 G – 0 A – 0 PTS

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Joe Hicketts
Can Joe Hicketts stick with the Red Wings next season? (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Paul Sancya)

In a small sample size, Joe Hicketts did not produce much offense or control possession for the Red Wings. He’ll need to rebound with a strong offseason and training camp to make the team in the fall. Hicketts is no longer waivers-exempt and could be scooped up by another team if Detroit tries to stash him in Grand Rapids once again.

Taro Hirose – B

10 GP – 1 G – 6 A – 7 PTS

A fantastic story at the end of the season, Taro Hirose’s emergence on Detroit’s second line was completely unexpected. Above all else, he adds to the organization’s young depth and further proved that playing 24-and-under players in prominent roles can be a successful strategy for the Red Wings.

Filip Hronek – B

46 GP – 5 G – 18 A – 23 PTS

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Filip Hronek
Filip Hronek is ready for full-time NHL duties. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

There’s a lot to like about Filip Hronek’s game. Feisty, creative, and willing to shoot the puck, Hronek impressed playing top-pair minutes down the stretch. He definitely has the tools to play in a top-four, all-situations role – but do the Red Wings have enough room (and ice time) for him on their crowded blue line?

Ryan Kuffner – C-

10 GP – 0 G – 0 A – 0 PTS

No points in 10 games for the college hockey signee, but Ryan Kuffner did gain some fantastic experience that will motivate him throughout the summer and likely in Grand Rapids next season.

Dylan Larkin – A+

76 GP – 32 G – 41 A – 73 PTS

Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings
Is there any doubt about Dylan Larkin being a No. 1 NHL center? (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Before the season began, the storyline surrounding Larkin was about him stepping into Zetterberg’s shoes, with the long-time captain no longer able to play. Not only did Larkin succeed, he passed with flying colors and set career highs for just about every statistical category. Detroit’s next captain became a true first-line center and was one of the few bright spots this season.

Anthony Mantha – B

67 GP – 25 G – 21 A – 46 PTS

Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha
Anthony Mantha scores on Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Toward the end of the season, Blashill challenged Anthony Mantha with a few improvements to round out his game. Mantha responded immediately with 15 points in eight games.

If he can keep his game in an elevated state, Mantha will be force for the Red Wings. But can he apply that same mindset throughout an entire season? Or will Mantha remain a roller coaster player like Johan Franzen was under Mike Babcock?

Michael Rasmussen – D+

62 GP – 8 G – 10 A – 18 PTS

Detroit Red Wings forward Michael Rasmussen
Where should Michael Rasmussen start the 2019-20 season? (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Coming into the season, expectations might have been a little high for Michael Rasmussen, who finished the campaign with only 11 even-strength points. Some are already speculating that he may start the 2019-20 season with Grand Rapids to refine his five-on-five play, which wouldn’t be the worst thing for his development. On the bright side, Rasmussen proved useful as a net-front presence on the power play and could be a mainstay in Tomas Holmstrom’s old office for years to come.

Libor Sulak – Inc.

6 GP – 0 G – 0 A – 0 PTS

Injuries to Detroit’s blue line afforded Libor Sulak a cameo early on. The young defenseman looked a little lost at times, but skated well and showed signs that he can play in the NHL full-time in the near future.

Dominic Turgeon – Inc.

4 GP – 0 G – 0 A – 0 PTS

In limited minutes, Dominic Turgeon earned some special teams play, but otherwise did not have much of an impact in Detroit. Nonetheless, it was an impressive feat for Turgeon to work his way back to the NHL after a serious blood clot condition suffered last spring.

Filip Zadina – Inc.

9 GP – 1 G – 2 A – 3 PTS

Detroit Red Wings forward Filip Zadina
How long until Filip Zadina is a full-time NHLer? (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

There were certainly flashes of brilliance during Filip Zadina’s brief stay in Hockeytown. Detroit’s top prospect still needs some seasoning, though – his possession numbers were pretty terrible, but that’s to be expected with a first-year pro. A little more time in Grand Rapids will help Zadina’s development, just like it did for Mantha and Athanasiou in prior years.

How would you grade the Detroit Red Wings? Share your thoughts below.