The Detroit Red Wings season begins on Thursday, Oct. 14, against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. With the 23-man roster finalized and only time separating everyone from Detroit hockey, what can everyone expect from the lineup, and which goalie could be (or should be) starting?
Red Wings’ Forward Lines
It’s a line with skill, speed, hockey IQ, and grit. Everything you want as a coach is present here. The captain Dylan Larkin looks to fix a down season in 2020-21 alongside a player he has played with for a few seasons now in Tyler Bertuzzi. He goes hard to the net and refuses to let pucks out of the corners without a fight. There’s a new kid on the block as well. Rookie Lucas Raymond is looking to make a statement this season. He won a spot out of his first-ever training camp and will be a serious threat on the wing.
The chemistry here is brewing, and they may become a threat known league-wide before too long. This line will be one reason out of many to tune into Red Wings games this season. They embody the core parts of a rebuilding franchise. The more veteran players get minutes with the rookie and ultimately mentor him through what can sometimes be a roller coaster of emotions. They’re going to be an exciting trio to watch, and the development of Raymond will be a focal point for a team looking to bolster its offense.
This combination will provide stability and strength on offense and will be one of the more underrated second lines in the league. The newest acquisition, Pius Suter, will prove valuable in his ability to move the puck and play a solid two-way game, while Robby Fabbri and Filip Zadina lead the charge offensively. With the latter, improvements in his ability to control the pace of play and be more assertive on the puck are what the coaching staff and fans need to see to be satisfied. Fabbri has proven to be a consistent contributor on offense, and he continued it during the preseason games. We’re all fortunate that Red Wings management believed in him enough to trade for him because he is becoming a key piece to the team.
The third line interests me a ton. Vladislav Namestnikov has had an up and down career to this point. With 206 points in 478 games and a 44-point season with the Lightning in 2017-18, he has proven that he can be a capable scorer. However, as his minutes have decreased, so has his production. With 17 points in 53 games in 2020-21 and heading into a contract season, he’s going to need to turn it up a notch to keep his roster spot secure. Michael Rasmussen has also not developed as well as most people suspected at this point. He certainly could break out this season, but 30 points in 109 games just won’t cut it. Last but not least is one of my favorite players on the entire roster, Adam Erne.
In my debut episode on The Grind Line show, I talked about him, but I find he’s a Yanni Gourde-type player. He’s excellent on both ends of the ice, and the biggest thing that stands out to me is his skating and ability to win puck battles. In combination, he’s one of the best forecheckers in the NHL. He’s an electric presence, and the players on the third line with him can follow his example. He shows that working hard will get you rewards in goals, assists, and points. I think he could score 15-20, which would be huge for a team looking for depth scoring. Be on the lookout for a breakout season from one of my personal favorites.
The last line involves some controversy. Bobby Ryan was released from his professional tryout by the Red Wings, which means that Carter Rowney took one of the last roster spots over him. Raymond made the roster, which means there wasn’t room for both of them. Rowney’s performance will be a big talking point to start the season, considering what was sacrificed for him.
Mitchell Stephens is another player that I enjoy watching because of his hard work and dedication to winning puck battles and forechecking hard. He’s another player that the Red Wings picked up from the Lightning, and he will be looking to solidify the last line down the middle.
Sam Gagner is a defensive guru. He’s a player who could have been in contention for the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward. He is a steady depth presence that younger guys can rely on to save them if they make a mistake. He’s strong on defense in both his own zone and through the neutral zone when defending an attack. His hockey IQ is high, and he reads plays really well. The final bragging point is his stick position. There is hardly ever a time where it’s wrong or bad. This line could be very underrated if they manage to gel together. Using speed, intelligence, and sheer will can pay its dividends.
Red Wings’ Defense
One of the newest alternate captains, Danny Dekeyser, and his partner, Filip Hronek, will be put to the test. Dekeyser is a big body and an excellent physical presence that puts himself on a pedestal with solid defensive play. He is going to allow Hronek some freedom to roam around and create space to score points. Speaking of scoring points, it’s not often that a defenseman leads the team in that box score category, but sure enough, that’s what Hronek did in the 2020-21 season with 26 points in 56 games. Oddly enough, he only scored two goals despite accomplishing that feat. Of course, 26 points is not a lot, and it tells you all you need to know about how bad the Red Wings offense was. However, as the offense improves, he should follow.
This pair is the one you tune in to watch if you’re a fan of the team or just a fan of hockey in general. Nick Leddy was traded from the Islanders to help bolster the left-handed defense department. He’s also someone that has tons of experience both in the regular season and in the playoffs, and what he can provide to a young roster outside of his play is valuable.
As for the guy to his right, he’s the main event. As much as most of us love what Raymond has done, Moritz Seider is the big star, literally and figuratively. He was drafted in 2019 at sixth overall, and most people were shocked because, while he was still considered a first-round talent, he wasn’t expected to go that high in the draft. The gasp in the crowd was as loud as they come, and even the young German’s face was shocked.
It turns out Steve Yzerman was right about the pick. The towering young stallion has been destroying the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), and he proved himself worthy of a roster spot for the 2021-22 season. He has been in talks for the Calder Trophy before the season began, and it’s not unwarranted. He’s everything you want in a defenseman–big, physical, gifted in both ends of the ice, and excellent hockey IQ. He’s going to be the talk of the season, no matter his production.
Marc Staal and Troy Stetcher may not seem like much at first glance, but they’re just as crucial to the team as the first and second pairs. There’s no shut down defense pair without these guys, and the physical threat certainly isn’t as high. They’re players that head coach Jeff Blashill can rely on to get the job done in the defensive zone during crunch time if it’s needed. If not, they are both strong leaders. Staal is another new alternate captain who works hard in the corners and makes sure that no one goes to the front of the net untouched if they can prevent it. There are some missteps along the way like any defense pairing, and it’s going to be intriguing to see how they play together this season. The defense has been an issue, so any liability needs to be looked at and fixed. They can’t afford to be a liability.
Red Wings Goaltending Tandem
It’s hard to separate Alex Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss into a starter and a backup merely because both of them are starters. Yzerman has improved the goaltending tandem with the addition of the young 2020-21 Calder Trophy finalist over the offseason, and they enforce the idea that the old should mentor the young on a rebuilding team. We see it in the forward and defense areas of the team, so management and coaching should apply the same philosophy at arguably the most important (and inarguably the hardest) position in hockey.
Nedeljkovic is a highly talented goalie who also benefited from having a great defense in front of him with the Carolina Hurricanes. He must show he wasn’t just the beneficiary of that defense, and his performance wasn’t a fluke. It was a shortened season, so he didn’t get as much playing time. It’s why this upcoming season is vital in his development. The narrative surrounding him is his lack of experience, so if he can show that the amount of experience doesn’t determine how good a goaltender he is, the Red Wings should be satisfied.
As for Greiss, he’s aging. He’s still a great goaltender with tons of invaluable experience, but he’s aging. On a team like the Red Wings, who are going through a rebuild with a youthful goalie trying to prove his doubters wrong, it wouldn’t surprise many to see him take a step back in games played. As for his numbers, I still expect solid production, but if he can take a role reduction while still playing well, I think that would be optimal for the Red Wings’ success. Either way, the tandem is still one of the best in the league, and the hope is that it will only get better just like Detroit this season.
Jeff is a consistent source for Red Wings content at The Hockey Writers. He was formerly a member of the Predators writing team, and he enjoys watching all sorts of hockey, from juniors to the pros. Jeff enjoys playing for his high school and local teams in Nashville as well. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here or check out his contributions on his Substack, Last Word on Hockey, On the Forecheck, Broad Street Hockey, Hockey Wilderness, and Puck Empire. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck or the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions, you can message his Twitter, @jjmid04.