The Grind Line: Red Wings’ Keys to Present & Future Consistency

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 Red Wings are fluctuating as the season progresses, between showing signs of life and regression. There is no denying they have the essential pieces to create momentum, but are having a hard time consistently finding it. Holding a lead has been difficult and the word “development” is quickly becoming an excuse.

Blashill Bylsma Red Wings bench
Coaches Blashill and Bylsma, Detroit Red Wings – Dec. 18, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Finding the keys to success is easier said than done. Getting healthy is always a major factor but what, beyond that, is missing from the Red Wings’ current formula? After yet another similar loss this weekend, this time to the Vancouver Canucks, The Grind Line decided to take a look at what components Detroit needs to hone in on to find consistency now, and for the future.

Rachel Anderson: Employ a Bolder Development Model

The growing elite talent that the NHL harbors in skaters like rookies Andrei Svechnikov and Jesperi Kotkaniemi demands a higher level of skill that Detroit isn’t matching right now though they have it waiting in wings. Rookie talent isn’t being entrusted with ice time consistently enough. If the Red Wings were to adopt a more rigorous and bold model, the youth would force much-needed momentum for the aging team.

Detroit has the habit of sitting on prospects too long or not giving them enough ice time to develop. As a whole,  they’re not utilizing the rookies early enough, and as a result they’re wasting precious seasons in the AHL or warming the bench in Detroit. Though some need the gradual shift from juniors to pros (like Filip Zadina), many would be better suited if pulled sooner.

Dylan Larkin is a fine example of using elite talent quickly. Drafted in 2014, he only skated in one season at the NCAA level, never skated in a game for the Grand Rapids Griffins and was immediately brought to Detroit in 2015-16 when he tallied 45 points his rookie season. Though the Red Wings have followed a similar pattern with Dennis Cholowski and Michael Rasmussen this season, it’s still not enough to spark a revival throughout their weathered lines.

Evgeny Svechnikov
Evgeny Svechnikov (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Conversely, an example of the developmental model stalling can be found in Evgeny Svechnikov. In his rookie season in the AHL, he tallied 51 points in 74 games and went on to notch 12 points in the postseason championship run with Grand Rapids. Detroit gave him a brief look (two games), but sent him back to Grand Rapids for further work. It is my belief that if Detroit had taken advantage of the momentum from his successful season and brought him up in the second year of his entry-level contract, his current situation would have been monumentally different – as would Detroit’s.

If the Red Wings consistently take the rookies they have and combine them with the talent in-waiting they have in Grand Rapids, a steady flow of success would find its way via youthful vigor. The young skaters are ready to lead the charge, they just need the opportunity to be fully trusted with the responsibility.

Tony Wolak: Speed & Tenacity

There’s a viral image that’s often shared on LinkedIn. While the background image differs depending on the person sharing it, the text reads something like the following:

Things that require zero talent:
1. Being on time
2. Work ethic
3. Energy
(And so on…)

The Red Wings should print out a 10-foot-wide poster of this motivational checklist to put up in their locker room. While there are some supremely talented players on the team, the 100 percent follow-through isn’t always there. But giving it all in regard to speed and tenacity within the game plan would certainly establish some consistency.

Far too often, the Red Wings take shifts off or commit mental mistakes that lead to quality chances against. Keeping opponents on their toes—like the Vegas Golden Knights did in their run to the Stanley Cup Final last season (and the Pittsburgh Penguins the two seasons before)—can make up for Detroit’s lack of talent. Just look at Dylan Larkin’s shifts – his possession numbers have been outstanding as of late.

Red Wings center Dylan Larkin
Red Wings center Dylan Larkin (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

The swarming mentality is difficult to generate offense against if all five players are engaged in the strategy. More often than not, teams are forced to dump the puck in rather than carry it into the zone. And though the Red Wings need to improve at transitioning the puck out of their defensive zone, having everyone keyed into the game plan can help.

Related – Red Wings Rumors: January Trade Deadline Rumblings

So until the Red Wings reload their roster with talent from top to bottom, speed and effort should be the name of the game. They have the players to fit the system – Larkin, Cholowski, Andreas Athanasiou, Darren Helm, Luke Glendening, and Mike Green all have great foot speed and energy.