The Grind Line: New Red Wings Free Agent Fire Power

What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. Rachel Anderson and Tony Wolak are the muckers who makeup THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

The Detroit Red Wings have been capitalizing on the college hockey season coming to an end. Like other teams, they’ve been shopping college free agents, beginning with Ryan Kuffner from Princeton University and Taro Hirose out of Michigan State University.

Though they have a stockpiled draft picks in the upcoming draft, the Red Wings are making the most of the position they find themselves in. Officially being out of playoff contention, Detroit has the ability now to throw anyone into the lineup and have little to nothing to lose. They will continue to play and fight, however, now they can add new guys to the lineup with very little risk.

Bringing on Hirose and Kuffner may be a surprise to those who don’t follow college hockey. In the eyes of The Grind Line, however, it was a smart move considering their collegiate resumes.

Rachel Anderson: Adding Smart & Tenacious Fire Power

Hirose is not only among the best players to have hit the ice for Michigan State, but also the Big 10 circuit. He established himself as a playmaker and scorer his freshman season and continued the trend until now. He won the Outstanding Rookie Award his freshman season and was awarded the Outstanding Offensive Player Award during his sophomore campaign with the Big 10 university.

Joining the Red Wings on a hot-streak by finishing his junior year with 50 points in 36 games, he will add a fiery tenacity to the discouraged bench. Hirose is a skilled skater and accurate shooter. He has an aggressive edge, as well, which could give a boost to the lackluster attack style Detroit currently possesses. He’ll be a talented thorn-in-the-side against their opponents.

Kuffner, on the other hand, will add an entirely different type of skill than what Hirose brings to the table. A patient skater and proven fighter – not with fists but work ethic – Kuffner will contribute poise and ice-smarts. He’s worked his way into the NHL without the luxury of an OHL or NHL draft like so many, and has fought for every inch of ice.

He conducts himself well on and off the ice but his on-ice ability to think ahead will be his biggest asset. Kuffner tries to be the most competitive skater on the ice at all times – and that is a relief for the Red Wings organization. The team as a whole has been lacking a strong competitive effort and Kuffner, though just one man, could help inspire the team as a whole.

Tony Wolak: Sneaky But Good Additions

Bringing in Hirose and Kuffner were solid depth adds for the Red Wings. Neither projects to be an impact player, but they could still develop into valuable contributors in time.

The signings also show that the Red Wings are still committed to looking for diamonds in the rough – late-bloomers signed out of college hockey or European leagues. With all NHL teams now possessing global scouting teams and various stats on all prospects, the Red Wings had to find a way to innovate and build off of their previous strength of finding gems in the late rounds of the draft. Signing undrafted free agents in their early-20s is just that.

Luke Glendening, Michigan University
Detroit Red Wings right wing Luke Glendening was selected as a free agent out of Michigan University (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

They’ve had some success in the past – Danny DeKeyser, Damien Brunner, Luke Glendening and Libor Sulak come to mind. There have also been disappointments along the way, such as Dan Renouf and Matej Machovsky.

Not all undrafted free agents work out, but it’s up to Jiri Fischer—Detroit’s director of player evaluation—to find under-the-radar players with potential and bring them to Hockeytown to round out their game. For Hirose and Kuffner, their high hockey IQ—the unquantifiable trait of knowing where to be and what to do in any given situation—was certainly appealing.

Related: Red Wings Rebuild: What’s Next?

It’s too soon to know if Detroit’s two new additions can become full-time NHLers or what their roles might be within the organization. But the Red Wings can now invest in Hirose and Kuffner to see if they’ll pay dividends down the road.

And if you’re skeptical of this approach, this is also how the Tampa Bay Lightning found (and developed) Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde – two legitimate top-six forwards.