After the seven-game preliminary round, let’s check in on the seven Detroit Red Wings representatives at the 2018 IIHF World Championship.
Those seven reps include six players over four teams, as well as Team USA head coach Jeff Blashill. With roster uncertainties underlining the Red Wings for the foreseeable future, the team should be pleased with its tournament reps thus far.
Blashill led Team USA to a 4-2-0-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record through preliminary play as the Americans are set to take on the Czech Republic on Thursday, May 17 to start the single-elimination, quarterfinal round.
The strong record under Blashill should help ease disgruntled Red Wings fans calling for his job. He has been a proven winner at every level he has coached and is showing that with real talent, he can still translate that success to the NHL.
Joining Blashill on Team USA is Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin and defenseman Nick Jensen. Larkin stood out with Team USA at the 2017 Worlds, where he posted 10 points (two goals and eight assists) as the team’s second leading scorer. He showed the ability to be a legitimate NHL center, as well, winning 62.3 percent of his 146 faceoffs. It translated to a breakout year with Detroit in 2017-18, as the 21-year-old is just beginning to scratch the surface.
Related – Dylan Larkin: A Tale of Four Seasons
Through seven preliminary games, Larkin posted three goals and eight points, good enough for fourth on the team for the alternate captain.
Jensen didn’t earn an NHL job until the age of 26, but has been an underappreciated piece of the Red Wings’ blue line the past two seasons. He’s continuing to show that with Team USA this spring. He has a goal and four points so far in the tournament, which is second only to Charlie McAvoy on USA’s back end.
Team Czech Republic
Two Red Wings prospect defensemen have played large roles with the Czech Republic in Filip Hronek and Libor Sulak.
Hronek, 20, was selected 53rd overall by Detroit in 2016 and just finished an impressive rookie year with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Grand Rapids Griffins. He recorded 38 points (11 G, 28 A) with the team, which was second among rookie defensemen.
Hronek is the third-youngest player on the Czech team and while he has just one goal and assist in seven games, he’s been a steady presence on the backend for the 3-3-0-1 team.
Mike Babcock interview with Czech media (Blesk) at World Championships: “I was impressed by one Czech player, Filip Hronek. He played AHL all year, but he can play NHL right now” #HronekTime #EHSHockey #OctagonHockey https://t.co/1IGGPSLyuH
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) May 15, 2018
Sulak, 24, was signed as a free agent in the summer of 2017, inking a two-year contract after a couple of productive years in the Czech Republic. He scored two assists in as many games with the Griffins this year, joining the team after his season in the Finnish Elite League ended.
He’s a big, mobile defenseman and young enough to carve out an NHL path. He has a goal and two assists through his first seven games of the tournament. The pair will both push for blue-line spots with the Red Wings next season, but so will Joe Hicketts, Dennis Cholowski, Vili Saarijarvi and possibly Detroit’s top pick this June.
Frans Nielsen hasn’t quite fit in like the Red Wings front office had hoped after signing a six-year, $31.5 million contract in 2016. His two-way game was supposed to help offset the loss of Pavel Datsyuk. While he never held the same scoring ceiling as Datsyuk, his offense dropped off from his time with the New York Islanders.
In his second season in Detroit, Nielsen was shuffled down the depth chart and became somewhat of a spare part for Blashill. He had been a potent power-play forward but was passed over for 10 other players virtually all season long, even as the Red Wings’ power play continued to be a downfall.
It’s nice to see him kind of rediscover his game with host Denmark. The 34-year-old leads his team with six points (three goals and three assists) through seven games. Considering Denmark, 3-1-0-3, has scored just 13 total goals this tournament, Nielsen’s ability to carry so much of the offense is an encouraging sign for Detroit.
It should also serve as reassurance for Nielsen, who will be expected to provide more offense for Detroit next season, even if his ice time should decrease for a third straight year.
Gustav Nyquist eclipsed the 20-goal plateau for the third time in his five-year career in 2017-18, but it was also the first time in three seasons. Even with fluctuating goal totals, Nyquist has been a regular 40-point scorer as bouts of inconsistency and a lackluster Detroit power play have held him back from adding more offense for the Red Wings.
Entering the final year of his contract, the 28-year-old will see his name continually pop up in trade rumors as Detroit isn’t likely to fare much better than 2017-18. His $4.75-million cap hit may not be equal to his offensive output, but general manager Ken Holland can sell him as a reclamation project given his combination of speed, evasiveness and offensive creativity. Holland may also be willing to retain salary for one season.
He’s proven to be solid depth for a 6-1 Team Sweden that leads all teams after pool play. Nyquist has three goals and four points in seven games as his bounce back in the goals department has carried over from the NHL’s regular season.
Nielsen is the only Red Wings rep whose team did not earn a spot in the quarterfinal round. The rest will battle it out for a spot in the semifinals on Thursday, May 17.