Henrik Zetterberg, the captain of the Detroit Red Wings, has led his team in points for three consecutive NHL seasons. Now, as he approaches 37 years of age, and the Wings begin to rely more heavily on some of their talented young forwards, will the bearded-leader once again outproduce his younger colleagues?
What he did during the 2016-17 NHL season was impressive. Despite the Wings’ historic two-decades of success finally coming to an end this spring, Zetterberg’s performance was both age-defying and Herculean. Not only did he play in all 82 regular season games for a second straight season but his 68 points (17 goals, 51 assists) was his highest point total since 2011-12, when he also played all 82 games.
The only other player on Detroit’s roster who came close to matching “Hank’s” team-leading 68 points last season was fellow Swedish-winger, Gustav Nyquist, who totaled 48 points (12 goals, 36 assists). Tomas Tatar finished third with 46 points (25 goals, 21 assists). As the numbers show, there was a large gap in production between the Red Wings’ top two leading scorers last year.
As he prepares to play in his fifteenth NHL season after squashing some offseason rumors about early retirement, one has to wonder whether or not Detroit’s captain will again be the team’s top producer or will he be dethroned by one of his dynamic young teammates who are all roughly a dozen years younger?
Youth Must Find a Way
If Zetterberg is to be deposed as Detroit’s point leader in 2017-18, it will most likely be due to either a bounce-back or breakout year from one of the team’s youthful stars. Arguments can be made that either Dylan Larkin or Anthony Mantha will lead the Wings in scoring this year. Larkin, who suffered from a sophomore slump in 2016-17 (17 goals, 15 assists), will be looking to increase his productivity this season and has already shown promising chemistry with Mantha during the preseason.
Tatar and Nyquist are two other players who could dethrone Zetterberg. Though not as young as Mantha and Larkin, the two slightly seasoned European wingers have a legitimate shot at being the Red Wings’ leading scorer. Tatar, who signed a four-year contract extension and underwent much-needed shoulder surgery this offseason is looking forward to a healthy and fruitful 2017-18 campaign:
‘It was a tough summer, that’s for sure,’ said Tatar, who led the Red Wings with 25 goals. ‘It was long for everybody. For me personally, I’m glad I had that time to recover to get ready for the season. The first few months were tough. I feel really good now, no issues.’
Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of Detroit’s younger players leading the roster at the end of the season and honestly, it needs to happen. The 2017-18 campaign will be a big year for the Wings in regards to properly assessing their roster and their place in the league. If things go south for the team next year, the front office can no longer put off doing a proper and official rebuild.
If any player can help the Wings’ youngsters thrive this season, it’s Zetterberg. Aside from Pavel Datsyuk, no other Red Wings player has come close to matching Zetterberg’s assist numbers over the last three years. In 2016-17, he led the club with 51 assists, Nyquist was second closest with 36. His selfless handling of the puck should help his teammates have a resurgence in scoring.
The Captain Will Lead the Charge
Like any good chieftain, Zetterberg may end up being Detroit’s point leader for a fourth straight year, especially if he stays healthy and the Wings again struggle offensively.
The team finished 26th in the league last season, averaging 2.41 goals per contest. The team also finished 26th in total goals for with 198 scored. If the team’s offensive struggles carry over into 2017-18, it will make for a very long and brutal season of hockey; although it may need to happen in order to begin to rebuild the team back into a contender.
As I mentioned earlier, the only other player in Hockeytown who has come close to challenging Zetterberg in points over the last three seasons is Datsyuk, and, as we all know, “The Magic Man” chose not to finish his contract in Detroit. While the Red Wings may not have a player of Datsyuk’s caliber ready to take over, the team still possesses some promising young players that are capable of producing at an elite level. But if they are not able to, you can bet that Zetterberg will be there to once again to lead the way for the Red Wings.