Now that the Detroit Red Wings have passed the midway point of the 2018-19 season, a few stories have started to take shape in Hockeytown. First, Detroit’s youth is taking over: Dylan Larkin, who has seamlessly stepped into Henrik Zetterberg’s old role,has become the heart and soul of the Red Wings.
Apart from Larkin, All-Star Jimmy Howard has again been a rock in net. His skating looks fantastic and the veteran isn’t showing any signs of slowing down like he did last year. Poor performances aside, Jonathan Bernier has been a great addition and has kept Howard fresh to play his best hockey for the maturing organization.
But what’s to come in 2019? As the rebuild progresses, the Red Wings need to take steps forward so that they can return to contention soon. There are pieces in place to do so, but more work is required both on and off the ice.
Let’s take a look at the top storylines as Detroit moves into the back-nine of their season.
1. Red Wings’ Approach to the Trade Deadline
This year, the Red Wings have a number of trade chips available for contending teams to bid on. Howard, Gustav Nyquist, Nick Jensen, Thomas Vanek, and Trevor Daley should appeal to GMs looking to bolster their roster for a Stanley Cup run.
Once the calendar flips to February, expect Ken Holland to get aggressive on the trade front, as he usually does. Adding more prospects and picks to the pipeline will speed up Detroit’s rebuilding process and give them a few more lottery tickets that could turn into winners down the road.
There are also a few talented players out there if the Red Wings want to make a trade. A player like Dougie Hamilton would significantly improve Detroit’s blue line, but the cost may be too high with a tremendous number of suitors out there.
2. Filip Zadina’s Impending Arrival
At some point, the Red Wings are going to give Zadina a shot. It may come after the trade deadline, but Detroit’s 2018 first-round pick will be given the opportunity to show the organization that he can play in the NHL full-time.
This season, Zadina has put up solid numbers for the Grand Rapids Griffins (17 points in 27 games). His first foray into North American professional hockey has produced some highlight plays, but also a few defensive blunders, which are common for 19-year-olds. Zadina’s showing at the 2019 World Junior Championships was forgettable, as he only managed one assist in five games.
It would be smart for the Red Wings to give Zadina a taste of NHL action; they’ve done it before with highly touted prospects, including Evgeny Svechnikov, Joe Hicketts, and Filip Hronek. A sneak peek at the next level will give Zadina a boost of confidence and something to shoot for as he trains this summer.
3. Michael Rasmussen Playing Center?
Naturally a center, Rasmussen has played all of this season on the wing. He finished his last season of juniors as a winger as well. But when the Red Wings drafted Rasmussen ninth-overall in 2017, they envisioned him pairing well with Dylan Larkin down the middle.
Once the Red Wings start preparing for the 2019-20 season in the waning weeks of the present campaign, it wouldn’t hurt to slide Rasmussen back to the middle to see what he can do there. Best case scenario: He establishes himself as a tough player to line up against and manages to produce more at five-on-five. At worst, the Red Wings determine that he should play on the wing moving forward and structure their organization accordingly.
4. Evgeny Svechnikov’s Return
Many expected former first-round pick Evgeny Svechnikov to take a step forward and earn a full-time gig with the Red Wings this season. However, a preseason knee injury has sidelined the winger for the entirety of the campaign. Back skating again, Svechnikov is targeting a March return to action and could get in a few games with the Red Wings before their season ends.
He can still be assigned to Grand Rapids without having to clear waivers, so there’s a chance that he contributes to their playoff run this spring. Whether playing in Detroit or Grand Rapids, it would be fantastic for the organization to see Svechnikov pick up where he left off and build for a strong 2019-20 season. If the Red Wings want to compete sooner rather than later, they’ll need their Russian winger to assert himself as a middle-six offensive threat.
5. More Ice Time for Red Wings’ Young Defense
While injuries are never lucky, there is a silver lining this season: Detroit’s blue line prospects have been given an opportunity to play, and play often. Apart from Dennis Cholowski seizing a full-time role, injuries have opened doors for Hronek, Hicketts, and Libor Sulak to play important roles in a handful of NHL games. Hronek, in particular, has not missed a step transitioning from the AHL to the best hockey league in the world.
If Daley and Jensen are traded, there will be more ice time available for these prospects. And when you add in the likely retirement of Niklas Kronwall at season’s end, this ice time couldn’t have come at a better moment. Looking ahead to next season, there’s a good chance that Cholowski, Hronek, and Hicketts will play every night. What better way to prepare them for that role than to finish off this season by leading the Red Wings’ blue line.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.