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. This week Tony Wolak, Devin Little, Patrick Brown, and Kyle Knopp are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
On a team that has been known for its recent Swedish connection, the Detroit Red Wings have had numerous American-born players wear the winged wheel throughout the history of the organization. Players like Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller, and Brett Lebda all made their way to the Red Wings after successful collegiate careers.
While here at The Grind Line we did not have the pleasure of watching Minnesota native Reed Larson — the original American-born defenseman for the Wings — growing up, and because Brett Hull was technically Canadian-born, even though he had dual citizenship and played for Team USA, we decided to take a look at our favorite American-born players that we enjoyed watching while with Detroit.
Sound off in the comment section below if you agree with us or if you feel we should have included someone else.
Tony Wolak: Doug Brown
He may not have been the best American-born player to skate for the Red Wings, but Doug Brown was my favorite.
The Massachusetts-native fit right in with Sergei Fedorov and Slava Kozlov, and always came through in the clutch. It’s been a treat to see his son do the same as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights’ fourth line during their recent playoff runs.
Chris Chelios would be a close second for me. It’s astounding to think that he played more seasons in Detroit than he did in Chicago. (Go ahead, look it up. Crazy right?)
Devin Little: Danny DeKeyser
My selection here isn’t about accolades and I know he’s definitely not the sexiest name I could have come up with. What this comes down to is two things:
- DeKeyser is a Michigan-native on top of being an American. You’ve got to love a hometown kid that gets to wear the winged wheel
- DeKeyser graduated from Western Michigan University
My freshman year at WMU was DeKeyser’s final year with the Broncos before he signed with the Red Wings as an undrafted free agent. To this day, I still remember watching him play at Lawson Arena and marveling at his skating and how he looked like a pro playing against college kids. While he’s more known now for his contract and declining play, I still fondly remember him at his peak.
And yes, there is definitely a No. 65 jersey hanging in my closet.
Patrick Brown: Dylan Larkin
Tony — I like your style! I must say, Doug Brown has a gift when it comes to naming his children, but even so I’m going to go in a slightly different direction. My pick here is the 37th captain in team history, and the first-ever Michigan native to wear the “C” for the Red Wings — Dylan Larkin.
Larkin leads by example, and is always front and center to meet with the media, no matter the circumstance. He’s the type of person you want at the helm, holding himself and his teammates accountable, even when the easier thing to do would be to mail it in. And though his production has dropped over the past few seasons, it’s become clear that he’s worked closely with the coaching staff and front office to focus on playing a more complete game, regardless of how that impacts his own stats.
Sound familiar? It should.
Detroit remains in obvious rebuild mode, and is still far from contending for any sort of title. Even so, the progress is slowly starting to show itself, and it’s reassuring to know that the team has found the captain that will lead it into its next era of sustained success. On top of all that, he grew up just a stone’s throw away from the very building he now calls home.
Now that’s one heck of a story.
Kyle Knopp: Brian Rafalski
For me, it really came down between two guys — Rafalski and Chelios. As much as I enjoyed watching Mike Modano play while growing up, the fact that he only played one season — and 40 games at that — with the Wings was enough to dismiss him from this list. While Chelios was fun and exciting to watch, Rafalski was always more reliable in my mind, and as someone who likes to play his game under the radar, I admired Rafalski for how he went about his job day in and day out.
He might not have seemed flashy, but in his time with Detroit, Rafalski put up more points than Chelios in fewer seasons. In his four years with the Wings, Rafalski scored 35 goals and added 169 assists for 204 points — three fewer than the 207 points Hull posted while in Detroit. To compare that, Chelios amassed 21 goals and 131 assists for 152 points in 10 seasons with the Red Wings. Rafalski also added 14 points in 22 games during the Wings Stanley Cup run in 2007-08 — including a power play goal in the Cup-clinching Game 6 victory — and was instrumental in leading the team back to the Final the following season.
Rafalski also won two silver medals in three tries at the Olympic games for Team USA, which includes the 2010 games where he was the tournament-leading scorer for defensemen as a 36-year-old. Not bad for a guy with the world’s biggest windshield!
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Born and raised in Michigan, Kyle Knopp started playing hockey when he was 3 years old. Knopp has played, coached, or worked at every level of ice hockey — including three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings where he was part of the Stanley Cup Championship team in 2008. He covers the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers and is the editor of THW’s Morning Skate newsletter. You can follow him on Twitter @THW_Knopp.