The Grind Line: Projecting the Red Wings’ Opening Night Lineup

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, Devin Little, Ian McNaughton, and Tony Wolak are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

Now that the Red Wings are mostly done with their offseason moves, we can turn our focus to the 2020-21 season. Steve Yzerman brought in a handful of quality players to ice a more competitive team. How they slot into the lineup remains to be seen.

In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team predicts Detroit’s opening night lineup. Ian promised some spicy takes – be sure to share yours in the comment section below.

Related: Red Wings’ Most Important Offseason Move

Tony Wolak: Secondary Scoring!

If Yzerman is done making move for the Red Wings, here is how I think their opening night roster will be penciled in:

Anthony Mantha Dylan Larkin Tyler Bertuzzi
Filip Zadina Vladislav Namestnikov Bobby Ryan
Robby Fabbri Valtteri Filppula Sam Gagner
Darren Helm Luke Glendening Evgeny Svechnikov
Dmytro Timashov Frans Nielsen  
Patrik Nemeth Filip Hronek Jonathan Bernier
Danny DeKeyser Troy Stecher Thomas Greiss
Jon Merrill Marc Staal  
  Alex Biega  

Again, this is the projected opening night lineup. Things will change as the season progresses.

Starting with the forwards, the Red Wings suddenly have legitimate secondary scoring in their middle-six. Vladislav Namestnikov, Robby Fabbri, and Valtteri Filppula are interchangeable in their three lineup spots – any of the three could conceivably be asked to center the second line. We’ll keep Namestnikov there for now because of his offensive prowess and experience skating with Bobby Ryan, who signed with Detroit to have a top-six role, rather than “slotting in on someone’s third line.”

Robby Fabbri of the Detroit Red Wings
Can Robby Fabbri produce consistently in a middle-six role? (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

On defense, expect the Red Wings to ease Danny DeKeyser back in. By the time the 2020-21 season begins, it will have been well over a year since his last NHL game. At some point, DeKeyser and Filip Hronek will be Detroit’s top pair, just not on opening night. He’ll work to regain his 2018-19 form in front of Jonathan Bernier, who will surely start the first game of the season after serving as the Red Wings’ MVP last year.

Unless Frans Nielsen lights up training camp, the veteran forward could be a healthy scratch more often than not this season. The Red Wings need to find ice time for Evgeny Svechnikov and Dmytro Timashov, and Nielsen could be on the outside looking in.

Related: Red Wings News & Rumors: Prospects, DeKeyser & More

Devin Little: Interchangeable Pieces

I don’t think Yzerman is done just yet…

Anthony Mantha Dylan Larkin Tyler Bertuzzi
Vladislav Namestnikov Tyler Johnson Bobby Ryan
Robby Fabbri Valtteri Filppula Filip Zadina
Darren Helm Luke Glendening Sam Gagner
Dmytro Timashov   Adam Erne
Danny DeKeyser Filip Hronek Jonathan Bernier
Patrik Nemeth Troy Stecher Thomas Greiss
Jon Merrill Marc Staal  
  Alex Biega  

In this bold prediction, I have the following moves coming to fruition:

  • Frans Nielsen is bought out 
  • Evgeny Svechnikov traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning as part of a deal that sends Tyler Johnson (with salary retained) and a 2021 first round pick to the Red Wings

What you have with this group is a lot of players that can move around the lineup depending on injuries, hot streaks, cold streaks, etc. I can see Zadina and Ryan easily swapping spots in the lineup. I can also see Nemeth and DeKeyser switching. There’s also some legitimate center depth, with a one-two punch of Dylan Larkin and Johnson that is pretty solid considering last year’s lineup. 

Filip Zadina of the Detroit Red Wings
Filip Zadina needs to be a full-time NHLer. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For a team that struggled mightily to produce any sort of offense throughout the season, this lineup is a sight for sore eyes. With so many interchangeable pieces up and down the lineup, head coach Jeff Blashill should have no shortage of combinations he can try in order to spark his team. 

As exciting as this lineup would be, the real excitement should be reserved for the players that are in the lineup at the end of the 2020-21 season. That’s when bodies will have been moved out for future assets, and guys like Moritz Seider and Michael Rasmussen should have prominent roles in the Red Wings’ lineup (pandemic allowing, of course.) Needless to say, the lineup will be fluid from the onset of the season – as it should be.  

Related: Red Wings Revamp Roster, Address Key Concerns

Ian McNaughton: Improved Middle-Six

My projected opening night lineup has some surprises in it, though the first line should be set in stone with Larkin down the middle and Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi flanking him. 

Anthony Mantha Dylan Larkin Tyler Bertuzzi
Robby Fabbri Vladislav Namestnikov Bobby Ryan
Filip Zadina Valtteri Filppula Sam Gagner
Darren Helm Michael Rasmussen Adam Erne
Frans Nielsen Luke Glendening  
Patrik Nemeth Filip Hronek Jonathan Bernier
Jon Merrill Troy Stecher Thomas Greiss
Danny DeKeyser Marc Staal  
  Alex Biega  

The Red Wings middle-six looks much improved compared to last season, even if Filppula can’t overcome his struggles. Slotting in Rasmussen and Adam Erne might seem like wishful thinking but don’t worry, the hot takes only get better from here. 

I truly believe, at some point, we’ll see both Seider and Lucas Raymond suit up in a Red Wings uniform this season. Raymond has been splendid early with Frolunda HC, scoring five points in 11 games in the top level of Swedish hockey since being drafted fourth overall by the Red Wings. Seider has seen less action in the SHL—only four games so far—but he’s scored four points in that time and with his AHL experience, I have no doubt we’ll see the German blueliner in the NHL at some point in 2020. 

Lucas Raymond of the Detroit Red Wings
Lucas Raymond skating with the Frolunda Indians (Photo: Tommy Holl TT)

Detroit’s defense looks competent, which is more than we could say at any point last year, and should feature those six players for most of the season. Alex Biega will get every opportunity to be a starter on this team but he’d fit better as the seventh defenseman. Depending on how big roster sizes will be heading into the 2020-2021 season, there’s a good chance we could see Dennis Cholowski, Albert Johansson, Gustav Lindstrom, and Jared McIssac at some point too. 

Share your opening night lineup for the Red Wings below!