There were and are a lot of reasons for Detroit Red Wings fans to be buzzing following the trade deadline. General manager Steve Yzerman increased his stash of draft picks, including another first round pick in this year’s draft, by trading winger Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals, and the roster will now feature some new faces in Richard Panik and Jakub Vrana. These are both things worth getting excited about, but the somewhat underrated thing to get excited about stems from the smaller moves Detroit’s GM made ahead of the deadline.
By trading Patrik Nemeth and Jon Merrill, both defensemen, the Red Wings completely opened up their third defensive pairing. While Christian Djoos will undoubtedly fill into one of those spots, there’s still one spot open that a couple different Red Wing prospects could fill. In fact, with head coach Jeff Blashill’s willingness to use 11 forwards and seven defensemen this season, we could see a lot of jockeying for that open spot heading into the future.
There is also the matter of players that were playing overseas now having the opportunity to return/head stateside now that their seasons have come to an end. With just a month left in the season, the Red Wings would be wise to give a look to anybody they’re unsure about ahead of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, as well as certain players that have yet to dip their toes into the NHL. With Detroit firmly outside of the playoff picture, now is the time to experiment and build towards the 2021-22 season.
(D) Dennis Cholowski
It feels like we’ve been talking about this guy as a “young player that just needs an opportunity” for ages now, doesn’t it? Despite that feeling of familiarity, Cholowski still has less than 100 games of NHL experience, and over half of it came during the 2018-19 season. As of this season, it seems he is firmly stuck in that gray area between the AHL and the NHL: too good for one league, but not quite consistent enough for the other. At 23-years-old, it still may be too soon to completely write off the Red Wings’ top pick of the 2016 draft, but the clock is ticking.
The Red Wings sent Cholowski down to the AHL this season with the directive to become a dominant player on the power play. To his credit, he did that, and he currently sits with 10 points through 13 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins. However, that success has not translated to the NHL this season, as he has zero through five games this season, though it should be noted he averages just over 13 minutes of ice time with Detroit this season. Even for an offensively gifted defenseman like him, it is very difficult to produce consistent offense with such little playing time.
With the expansion draft looming in the offseason, the reality of the situation is that there’s a good chance that the Red Wings leave Cholowski unprotected, free for the Kraken to bring him back to the west coast (he grew up in Langley, British Columbia.) That would certainly be an unceremonious end to his time in the Red Wings’ organization. The preference, of course, is that he shows well during the expanded opportunity he should see over the last month of the 2020-21 season, and he convinces Yzerman and the gang that he deserves a bigger opportunity with the Red Wings heading into next season.
(D) Gustav Lindstrom
For the second season in a row, Lindstrom seems set to get a good, long look from the Red Wings to close out the season. Last season, the Swedish defender played in 16 games with Detroit down the stretch before the season was abruptly cut short due to the pandemic. While he only produced a single point in that time, he was generally applauded for his simple, defense-first style of play. Considering he projects as a bottom-pair, stay-at-home defenseman, that’s exactly what you want to see out of the 22-year-old.
Given that both Nemeth and Merrill were in the lineup more for their defensive play than their offensive abilities, it seems natural that a player in that same mold should assume some of their playing time. While Cholowski’s offensive upside is and always has been intriguing, a team like the Red Wings that has found success this season playing defense-first, low-event hockey should be excited about potentially adding a cheap, young blueliner to the team that can do more in his own end than his opponent’s. There’s even a potential fit alongside Djoos, whose game is at its best when he has the ability to get creative in the offensive zone. He needs a stay-at-home guy like Lindstrom alongside him to even out the risks he might take in the offensive zone.
Even then, the Swedish defender has the ability to spring the attack, as evidenced last night. Watch how he feeds Vrana right out of the penalty box for his first goal as a Red Wing:
The 38th pick of the 2017 draft, Lindstrom is another player that could become Kraken bait this summer if the Red Wings elect not protect him. For my money, he could become the defenseman-equivalent of Tomas Nosek, whom the Vegas Golden Knights selected from the Red Wings during their expansion draft. While Nosek has almost exclusively played in the Golden Knights’ bottom six, he has been a solid, reliable player for them that doesn’t hurt their salary cap picture. Lindstrom could fill a very similar role for the Kraken, except from the blue line in this case. While most reports and opinions coming out of Detroit have been positive, it will be interesting to see if this player can nail down a role in Hockeytown.
(C) Joe Veleno
This one is far less likely than the first two, but there remains a chance that Red Wings fans will get their first real look at the 30th selection of the 2018 draft this season. After his season with the Malmö Redhawks came to an end earlier this week, Veleno has now crossed the Atlantic and is quarantining before he can officially join either the Red Wings or the Griffins.
Veleno produced 20 points through 46 games this season with a team that was…not great. While his point total certainly leaves something to be desired, his stat line does not fully reflect the kind of player he was in the SHL this season. In fact, he flashed a lot of tools that should have Red Wings fans very excited to see the 21-year-old center.
Veleno has seen his stock rise and fall sporadically since his draft season as scouts and pundits have grown to appreciate his abilities, but question just how much of his game will translate to the NHL. While I think he is undoubtedly going to be an NHL player, I think he likely tops out as a third line center at the NHL level – or a second line center if his wingers are really good. However, a lot of this is just guesswork as the native of Kirkland, Quebec has yet to play a single regular season game at the NHL level. That could change this season.
It makes the most sense to give Veleno top line minutes in Grand Rapids, essentially filling the void left by Michael Rasmussen. However, I can’t imagine many would argue with giving the young center three games or so to get a taste of what the NHL is like. The expectation for Veleno ahead of the 2021-22 season is that he will challenge for a roster spot in training camp. His chances of making a real push would likely increase if he could see where his game is at, and what he needs to work on in order to find success at the highest level of competition. The decision-makers for the Red Wings would also get a chance to gauge where he is at in his development and figure out the best plan for him going forward. Remember, Moritz Seider was going to get a look last season under similar circumstances before the pandemic ended the season (from “Will Red Wings call up first-rounder Moritz Seider? ‘There are factors in play'”, The Detroit News, 2/20/20).
A Few Other Players to Watch…
- (LW) Taro Hirose
- (W) Givani Smith
- (W) Lucas Raymond (slim chance here, but still.)
- (D) Albert Johansson
The Home Stretch
While these players may be the most exciting ones to keep an eye on, there are certainly other players on the Red Wings’ roster that will be making their case to stick around heading into next season. Rasmussen is well on his way to locking down a roster spot next season. Evgeny Svechnikov still seems on the fringe despite skating alongside Dylan Larkin and Filip Zadina. Mathias Bromé could be on his way back to the SHL depending on how things go in this final month.
It’s decision time in Detroit and we should expect some spirited hockey down the stretch because of it. While the 2021-22 season probably seems like it’s forever away, it likely feels just around the corner for a Red Wings team that should be eager to build on some of the successes they’ve had this season. That begins with a push from their younger players, and they should receive an opportunity to provide that push in the final month of this season.
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