Following the Detroit Red Wings’ 4-3 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks, the team has officially passed the quarter mark of the NHL season. As expected, the team is sitting near the bottom of the standings with a 7-12-3 record.
While the Red Wings have experienced long stretches of dismal play, there have also been several bright spots through the first 21 games. In essence, they are unpredictable, and that can be expected from a squad that has a remarkably young leadership core.
Related: Are the Red Wings Progressing?
Nevertheless, with the first quarter of the season in the books, it is time to unveil the first batch of individual report cards. This article will be updated regularly throughout the season, with the next update coming at the halfway point.
Without further ado, the class is now in session. It is time to give some grades!
Forwards – Young Stars Leading the Way
Anthony Mantha: A+ (22GP, 11G, 10A)
Mantha tore out of the gate to start the 2019-20 season with five goals and two assists in his first two games. While his production has returned to a more realistic level, there is no doubt that he has been the Red Wings’ top player on offense.
Mantha leads the team in goals, points, shots (80), individual Corsi For per 60 minutes (iCF/60 – 18.77), takeaways (13), and almost all other major statistical categories. Pundits were calling for him to break out before the season started, and their predictions have come true. He just saw a five-game point streak come to an end, but he still has an outside shot at scoring 40 goals.
Tyler Bertuzzi: A+ (22GP, 8G, 12A)
Bertuzzi impressed a lot of people with his 47-point effort in the 2018-19 season, and so far this campaign, he is surpassing all expectations. With a recent two-goal performance against the Los Angeles Kings, he is now on pace for 74 points.
When the Red Wings drafted Bertuzzi 58th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, it was unclear whether or not he would be able to develop into an offensive threat. He has put that notion to rest, as he is one of the team’s most complete players on a nightly basis.
Dylan Larkin: A (22GP, 6G, 10A)
Larkin is the unquestioned leader of the team. The 23-year-old already deserves to be the captain, and he will likely receive that honor at the start of next season.
He sits third among Red Wings in scoring, ranks fourth among NHL forwards in ice time per game (21:18), and continues to have a sizable impact at both ends of the ice. The only reason Larkin fails to get an A+ is due to a dismal five-game pointless drought near the end of Oct. that Mantha and Bertuzzi managed to avoid.
Robby Fabbri: A (5GP, 2G, 4A)
Recency bias be damned, as Fabbri has added a spark to the Red Wings’ lineup. Two goals, including the game-winner in his first game? Check. Game-winning assists in his next two games? Check. A two-point performance against the Sharks? Check.
For little cost, general manager Steve Yzerman managed to acquire a player with legitimate upside. The fact that Fabbri has already had a direct impact on the team’s success is just icing on the cake. We will see how long the honeymoon phase lasts but, for now, it is fun to watch.
Luke Glendening: B- (11GP, 2G, 1A)
While the players listed above are vital to the Red Wings’ offensive production, Glendening is an integral part of everything else. He wins faceoffs, kills penalties, and forechecks with reckless abandon.
The 30-year-old suffered a hand injury on Oct. 23, and coincidentally, the Red Wings struggled defensively in his absence. He returned to the lineup against the Sharks and provided ample energy to the roster.
Andreas Athanasiou: C+ (20GP, 5G, 6A)
Athanasiou has started to look more like himself after a brutal start to the year. His two-goal outing against the Sharks helped boost his grade a touch higher.
Alas, he scored three points in his first 11 games, and it took him 15 games before he scored a goal. Coming off of a 30-goal season last year, that is not good enough production from the 25-year-old.
While plus-minus can be a flawed stat, Athanasiou’s league-worst minus-21 does not paint a pretty picture. A lack of offense plus serious defensive liabilities does not equal a strong first quarter of the season for the quick-footed forward.
Thankfully, he has five goals and three assists over his past nine games, which means we can expect a better grade for Athanasiou at the halfway point.
Valterri Filppula: C (22GP, 2G, 7A)
You probably could have penciled in this grade when Filppula rejoined the Red Wings as a free agent this summer. Even though he was coming off of a 17-goal season with the Islanders, the 35-year-old was nothing more than a veteran stopgap to utilize while younger players develop in the minors.
He is reluctant to shoot the puck, which tends to draw the ire of many Red Wings fans. Likewise, his minus-13 rating is unsightly. On a positive note, Filppula had his best game of the season on Nov. 12 against the Anaheim Ducks and is starting to find some chemistry alongside Fabbri and Athanasiou.
Darren Helm: C- (22GP, 4G, 1A)
Helm was on pace to receive a flattering grade after a hot start to the season, but the veteran forward has been held pointless in his past 10 games.
He still possesses above-average speed and has produced surprisingly effective possession numbers (13.78 iCF/60), but he often fails to push the needle one way or the other. Helm is a perfectly average NHL player, and the grade reflects that.
Taro Hirose: D+ (18GP, 1G, 5A)
Hirose was a wildcard heading into the 2019-20 season after his impressive 10-game audition at the end of last year. Unfortunately, his second stint of NHL action has not been as kind to the 23-year-old. Due to his struggles, Hirose has been a healthy scratch for four of the past five games.
In a recent article on TheAthleticNHL, Jeff Blashill told Max Bultman that, “with [Hirose’s] size and speed, if he’s not . . . productive, he’s probably not bringing tons of other elements to the game.” (from ‘How should the Red Wings handle Taro Hirose right now?, TheAthleticNHL, 11/15/19)
While Blashill’s comments may come across as harsh, they are not wrong. Hirose needs to be productive offensively to stay in the lineup as he is not suited for a checking-line role.
Early returns suggest that the press box lit a fire under him, as he scored his first goal of the season in his return to the lineup against the Sharks. Hopefully, this gives Hirose some confidence to help his grade rise for the next batch of report cards.
Justin Abdelkader: D (16GP, 0G, 3A)
Before getting injured, Abdelkader was having himself an Abdelkader-esque season. He has provided limited offense, proficient physicality (29 hits), and a haunting realization that his $4.25 million contract does not end until after the 2022-23 season.
I hope that he sends Pavel Datsyuk a Christmas card every year because Datsyuk is the main reason he got his contract in the first place. That point aside, Abdelkader deserves a ton of praise for being a charitable pillar in the Michigan community every single year.
Christoffer Ehn: D- (14GP, 0G, 0A)
Ehn does not flat-out fail because he is not expected to provide any offense. His average ice time per game (11:53) is lower than any other Red Wings’ forward with more than five games played this season.
Ehn is expected to kill penalties and not make mistakes in the defensive zone. Now, he will ply his trade down with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the American Hockey League (AHL) after being assigned to the team on Nov. 16.
Frans Nielsen: F (18GP, 0G, 0A)
Oh Lord. Nielsen’s first year with the Red Wings back in the 2016-17 season was adequate. A quarter of the way through the 2019-20 season, we have reached rock bottom.
Not only has Nielsen been held pointless through 18 games, but he has been a detriment to the team in all areas. Thankfully, Nielsen has a small contra- OH MY GOD HE MAKES $5.25 MILLION FOR TWO MORE YEARS.
If letter grades went to Z, that’s what Nielsen would get.
Adam Erne: F (17GP, 0G, 0A)
When Erne was acquired by the Red Wings back in August, it was a well-received transaction. Yzerman had, once again, traded for a player that possessed upside, and sacrificed next to nothing in return.
Fast forward to now, and the minimal-risk gamble has not paid off. Erne looks invisible on most nights, and while he is playing in a bottom-six role, a zero-point performance is not acceptable.
Givani Smith: Incomplete (5GP, 0G, 0A)
Smith has given the Red Wings some added truculence during his time in the NHL, albeit in a fourth-line role. The team recalled Smith from the minors on Nov. 16, so he will likely get another opportunity to showcase himself.
Related: Red Wings Prospects are Heating Up
The 2016 second-rounder has produced seven points in 10 games at the AHL level this season.
Brendan Perlini: Incomplete (9GP, 0G, 1A)
While the early returns have been far less extravagant than Fabbri, it is too early to determine what the Red Wings have in Perlini. For the majority of the season, he has played alongside Nielsen and Erne, which is the equivalent of an offensive black hole.
The 23-year-old has not received a chance to play alongside some of the team’s more skilled players. Until then, the jury is still out on the former first-round pick.
Evgeny Svechnikov: Incomplete (4GP, 0G, 0A)
With the Red Wings’ acquisitions of Erne, Perlini, and Fabbri, Svechnikov was the odd man out. The former first-round pick is playing key minutes for the Griffins in the AHL and has produced seven points in nine games.
Defensemen – Still the Red Wings’ Weak Spot
Filip Hronek: A- (20GP, 4G, 6A)
One of the main positives for the Red Wings so far this season has been the performance of Hronek. Unfortunately, he missed the team’s last two games after suffering a lower-body injury against the Ducks.
Nevertheless, Hronek’s production as a 22-year-old rearguard has been impressive. As stated in another Bultman article on TheAthleticNHL, Hronek has managed to rival P.K. Subban’s early NHL numbers (from Putting Filip Hronek’s impressive early-career production into context, TheAthleticNHL, 12/11/19).
Hronek is leading the team in ice time per game (22:33), and he has been asked to do more because of all of the injuries on the team’s blue line. There have been games where he has made far too many defensives mistakes as his 24 giveaways are the most on the team. Nevertheless, he is an integral part of the Red Wings’ core moving forward.
Dennis Cholowski: B (19GP, 2G, 4A)
The 2019-20 season has been an inconsistent one for Cholowski. He has had some long stretches of quality play offset by a few weeks of mediocrity. He has also been a healthy scratch on a couple of occasions. Alas, the 21-year-old has shown signs of why the Red Wings took him in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Cholowski can get himself into trouble by taking too much time clearing the defensive zone, but he makes an excellent first pass. He’s an above-average puck distributor, and his four power-play points lead all Red Wings defensemen.
He can take a lot of confidence from his game against the Ducks on Nov. 12. He was fantastic throughout that contest and scored the game-winning goal in overtime. It is still a learning process for Cholowski, but signs of progress are evident. Look for him to get more involved offensively in the next quarter of the season.
Patrik Nemeth: C (19GP, 1G, 3A)
Nemeth is another member of the Red Wings’ blue line that has recently fallen victim to injury. The 27-year-old has never scored more than 15 points in an NHL season, so his lack of offensive production is not a surprise.
He leads the Red Wings in shorthanded time on ice per game (3:39), and he has been surprisingly stout defensively when looking at advanced statistics. He has the top even-strength Corsi For/60 (1.06) among Red Wings defensemen and leads the team with an impressive -0.191 expected goals against/60 rating (xGA/60).
Nemeth is simply an average NHL defenseman that is a short-term solution while some of the organization’s defensive prospects develop.
Danny DeKeyser: C (8GP, 0G, 4A)
DeKeyser has not played since Oct. 22 due to a lower-body injury. He is a critical part of the Red Wings’ blue line, as he can eat up heavy minutes and steady Hronek’s game.
He is likely nearing a return, which will add some stability to the backend. While DeKeyser never lived up to the hype he received as a college free agent, he is a serviceable shutdown defenseman.
Mike Green: C- (18GP, 1G, 3A)
It appears as though Green’s prolific career is going to end with a whimper. The 34-year-old defenseman does not have the speed to keep up with today’s NHL. After a multitude of injuries last season, that issue has only heightened.
The unfortunate part of Green’s situation is that he could still be useful on another team in a more limited role, but the Red Wings are relying on him to play an average of 21:46 per game. That is not a beneficial situation for either side.
He is a vital leader in the locker room for a team that has a few young defensemen learning the ropes. Perhaps an offensive hot streak will boost his grade at the halfway point.
Madison Bowey: C- (17GP, 1G, 5A)
Bowey was acquired last season as a part of the Nick Jensen trade. He had some pedigree as a prospect, but he has had mixed results at the NHL level.
He offers tepid defensive play and a physical element, but on most teams around the league, he would likely struggle to crack the lineup. On the Red Wings, he plays over 17 minutes a night.
To his credit, with defensive injuries mounting, Bowey has produced a point in four of his past five games.
Trevor Daley: F (11GP, 0G, 0A)
Like many Red Wings defensemen, Daley has missed a considerable amount of time with injuries this season. The 36-year-old has had a decorated 16-year career in the NHL, but his productivity has come to a halt.
He is a free agent at the culmination of the season, and it would not be a surprise to see him retire.
Alex Biega: Incomplete (8GP, 0G, 0A)
With a plague of injuries surrounding the team, the Red Wings acquired Biega as an extra body. The 31-year-old has looked like a competent third-pairing player, but nothing more.
Joe Hicketts: Incomplete (5GP, 0G, 2A)
Another year, another couple of stints with the Red Wings for Hicketts. The 23-year-old is a valuable insurance policy to have, but when the team is healthy, he keeps getting buried on the depth chart.
He has nine points in 11 games with the Griffins in the AHL and plays with a surprising edge considering his modest stature. He was noticeable in a positive way in the Red Wings’ most recent game against the Sharks.
Jonathan Ericsson: Incomplete (2GP, 0G, 0A)
The towering Ericsson played in the Red Wings’ past two games, but he has spent the majority of the season in the AHL. He is a valuable mentor to have with the Griffins as he can groom the team’s younger players.
Thankfully, his bloated $4.25-million contract comes off of the books at the end of the season.
Dylan McIlrath: Incomplete (6GP, 0G, 0A)
McIlrath’s best asset is his physicality. He has 16 hits in six games and adds some serious toughness to the lineup.
Goaltenders – Jonathan Bernier is Taking the Reigns
Jonathan Bernier: C (5-4-2, .892 SV%, 3.17 GAA)
After a dismal stretch of play to end October, Bernier has rebounded quite well. He is 3-0-1 in his past four starts and has seemingly wrestled away the starting job from Jimmy Howard.
The Red Wings have iced some shoddy defensive units this season, which has hurt both goalies’ numbers, but Bernier is starting to find a groove. Nevertheless, his awful streak of starts severely impacted his grade.
Jimmy Howard: F (2-8-1, .884 SV%, 3.86 GAA)
It has been a horrendous start to the year for Howard, and the Red Wings can not afford to have such pitiful goaltending. He has won just once since the first game of the season and has allowed four goals or more on six different occasions.
He made some pivotal saves in his most recent start against the Sharks, but he also allowed a pair of questionable goals.
When the Red Wings struggled over the past two seasons, Howard was rarely the reason why. Now, the 35-year-old looks lost in the net, which does not bode well for his free-agency endeavors after the campaign.
The Report Card Wrap Up
So, what grades do you think are too generous? Too harsh? Who do you expect to improve over the next quarter of the season?
If you have any thoughts on any of these questions, feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter @MondoHarrison.
The next batch of report cards will come out following the Red Wings’ 41st game of the season on Dec. 31.