After eight preseason games, the only thing standing between the Detroit Red Wings and the regular season is time and opening night festivities. Training camp was as upbeat and competitive as we’ve seen in recent memory, and that led to the roster taking shape differently from how most of us expected it would prior to training camp.
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The Red Wings have a good problem on their hands. Many players made great NHL cases for themselves, earning glowing praise from the team’s new coaching staff in the process. There were players sent to the American Hockey League (AHL) that have proven that they could make a difference at the NHL level. Unfortunately, teams can only carry up to 21 skaters (forwards and defensemen) on the roster, and these decisions are often not as black and white as picking the 21 best players. There are roster spots to fill, and there are roles to fill; like Team USA coach Herb Brooks once said:
The process of trimming the roster down to the 23 players that will hear their names called at Little Caesars Arena on Oct. 14 is almost over. Let’s take a look at the roster battles among the forwards, defensemen and goaltenders before taking a look at who those 23 players will be.
Red Wings Roster Battles: Forwards
Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman basically added an entire forward line in the offseason by signing center Andrew Copp along with wingers Dominik Kubalik and David Perron. Combine that with the fact that only two forwards from last season’s group (Mitchell Stephens and Sam Gagner) moved on in the offseason, and it was obvious from the beginning that roster spots were going to be harder to come by this time around – and that’s without accounting for the steps taken forward by some of the organization’s returning players and prospects.
Related: 5 Red Wings Roster Spots up for Grabs at Training Camp
Forward Michael Rasmussen seems to be continuing his upward trajectory after making a ton of progress towards the end of last season. Head coach Derek Lalonde seems to favor Rasmussen down the middle as the Red Wings’ top pick in the 2017 draft has spent time centering literally every line over the course of the preseason. The player referred to as “Moose” has shown some chemistry playing alongside skill guys like Kubalik and Filip Zadina, and he’s also shown well while playing on a checking role alongside Adam Erne and another surprising forward. In the early going, Rasmussen seems like a player that might fill all sorts of roles for the Red Wings this season
On that line with Rasmussen and Erne is perhaps the most surprising forward to emerge from the preseason: Elmer Söderblom. A sixth-round pick in the 2019 draft, Söderblom is a “mountain” that may be the most easy player to recognize whenever he’s on the ice. At 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, he is exceptionally hard to contain in the offensive zone, especially when you factor in his ability to do this kind of stuff:
In perhaps the most shocking development to come out of the Red Wings’ training camp and preseason, Söderblom put forth a Lucas Raymond-esque effort, essentially making it nearly impossible for Yzerman and Lalonde to send him down to the AHL. He showed that he is just as capable of succeeding in an offensive role as he is capable of succeeding in a checking role. It’s that versatility that may have sealed a roster spot for the towering Swede. One thing’s for sure: there aren’t many teams that can match the sheer size of a line with both Söderblom and Rasmussen on it….
With the additions made in free agency as well as Söderblom’s ascent, other forwards found themselves in precarious positions. Givani Smith was placed on waivers after it was made clear that his contributions to the lineup are limited to his willingness to drop the gloves (a trait that isn’t exactly prevalent elsewhere in the lineup, I might add.) Erne showed well for himself in the preseason, but his place in the lineup is far from locked down, especially when looking beyond the 2022-23 season. But perhaps the most shocking example of a player with a tenuous grip on a roster spot is Pius Suter, who recently was skating with the extras during practice.
Oh, and have I mentioned Jonatan Berggren didn’t look out of place throughout the preseason as well? For the first time in what seems like a very long time, the Red Wings have more NHL forwards than they can carry.
Red Wings Roster Battles: Defense
As wild as the competition for roster spots was for the forwards, the defensive roster battles essentially come down to the third pairing and who starts on opening night. Robert Hägg missed the entire preseason after taking a puck to the face during the Red vs. White scrimmage, but it sounds like he’s good to go now. His absence allowed the Red Wings to get a ton of looks at their top pick in the 2021 draft, Simon Edvinsson, and those looks produced mixed results.
On one hand, Edvinsson flashed his sky-high potential at times. He identified good times to pinch in the offensive zone, and he showed his ability to move the puck with confidence from the blue line. Once he establishes himself in the NHL, he’s going to become a real point-producer for the Red Wings. However, he also showed that he is not immune to the learning curve that most 19-year-old European skaters face when they come over to North America. The speed of the NHL game looked to be too much for him at times, leading him to make risky decisions with the puck that echo concerns that some had during his draft season.
Related: Red Wings’ Söderblom May Beat Edvinsson to the NHL
With Jake Walman slated to return from injury in November, as well as Hägg and Jordan Oesterle already being in place, it ultimately made the most sense for the Red Wings’ top prospect to confront that North American learning curve in the AHL. While he will begin the season with the Griffins, it should surprise no one if he finds his way back up with the Red Wings before long.
Really, the outlook of this position hinged entirely on Edvinsson’s NHL fate. Moritz Seider, Ben Chiarot, Filip Hronek, Olli Määttä and Lindström were all locked in on the blue line. It came down to who stayed and who went between Edvinsson, Hägg and Oesterle, and now we know what course of action Detroit took. Now the Red Wings’ defense is set, at least until Walman returns next month.
No Red Wings Roster Battles in Goal
Alex Nedeljkovic and Ville Husso were always going to be the tandem in goal for the Red Wings, at least for this season. That has not changed, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some interesting developments lower on the depth chart. Perhaps the biggest development pertains to the team’s top goalie prospect, Sebastian Cossa:
After winning a Western Hockey League title last season with the Edmonton Oil Kings, Cossa is officially going pro this season. The 15th pick of the 2021 draft showed some serious growth in his game in, admittedly, limited action during the preseason. Following the Traverse City Prospect Tournament, he told reporters that he spent most of his summer in Detroit working with NHL coaches and practicing with NHL players. While there are still areas of his game that need refinement, that work in the offseason seems to have paid off, and now he completes what is likely to be a three-headed monster in goal for Grand Rapids along with Juho Olkinuora and Victor Brattström.
It will be quite interesting to see how the depth chart shakes out, especially in the event that the Red Wings need to call up a goaltender for one reason or another.
Red Wings’ 2022-23 Roster
While there are still some injury and waiver things to work out, the Red Wings’ opening night roster is mostly set. There are some variables such as the health of Sundqvist, but here’s what the opening night lineup is looking like:
|Tyler Bertuzzi||Dylan Larkin||Lucas Raymond|
|Jakub Vrana||Andrew Copp||David Perron|
|Dominik Kubalik||Joe Veleno||Filip Zadina|
|Adam Erne||Michael Rasmussen||Elmer Söderblom|
|Ben Chiarot||Moritz Seider|
|Olli Määttä||Filip Hronek|
|Robert Hägg||Gustav Lindström|
|Alex Nedeljkovic||Ville Husso|
Suter, Sundqvist and Oesterle are the extras. If Sundqvist is good to go, he may slide into Erne’s spot alongside Rasmussen and Söderblom. As has already been mentioned, Walman is expected to return to the lineup sometime in November. Robby Fabbri and Mark Pysyk are expected the rejoin the team sometime in the new year. Needless to say, just because the opening night roster is set does not mean that the roster will not continue to be shuffled around over the coming weeks. This means that while Söderblom is still a Red Wing today, his place with the team is far from etched in stone.
Regardless of who plays where and with whom, this lineup is by far the deepest group the Red Wings have had during Yzerman’s tenure as GM. That is only accentuated by the sheer amount of talent set to begin the season in the AHL. Even in the event of injuries, Detroit should be able to ice a highly competitive roster on a nightly basis; there will be opportunities for players like Berggren and Edvinsson to come up throughout the season, and the team down in Grand Rapids should be playoff-bound this season, providing further opportunities for Detroit’s best young players to develop their game. If you’re looking for a status report on the “Yzerplan”, go ahead and take a look at the Red Wings’ depth chart for this season.
The final pieces of the puzzle are being put into place, and now the hard part begins – it’s time to wait out the final few days of the preseason as excitement continues to build for Friday’s home openers in both Detroit and Grand Rapids.