With the Traverse City Prospect Tournament in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead to Detroit Red Wings NHL training camp. Plenty of NHL players, AHL regulars, and young prospects will be in attendance on Thursday, Sept. 22, when training camp opens in Traverse City, Michigan, all fighting for one thing: a spot on the Red Wings’ NHL roster.
Training camp offers a team’s coaching staff the chance to see how their players have improved or stayed in shape over the offseason, but it also gives them a chance to form new opinions on players. Plenty of new opinions will be formed this year as the Red Wings’ first-year head coach Derek Lalonde leads the team and begins to determine the lineup that he will bring into the NHL’s regular season.
Only three spots on the Red Wings depth chart are relatively certain at this point. Dylan Larkin will be the team’s top-line center, with Lucas Raymond on one of his wings, and Moritz Seider will anchor the team’s top defensive pairing on the right side. That leaves 17 spots in the lineup that need to be filled. Let’s go over five of the most intriguing roster battles to watch at training camp this week.
First line Wing Alongside Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond
Most Likely: Tyler Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrana
Dark Horse: David Perron
Now, you may think that Tyler Bertuzzi has this spot locked up after his recent breakout season saw him hit 30 goals and 60 points for the first time in his career, and you’d probably be right. However, Detroit’s forward group has taken a serious step forward with the additions of David Perron and Andrew Copp in free agency and will hopefully get another boost from Jakub Vrana, who hopes to play his first healthy season with the Red Wings.
If Vrana were to play most of his minutes on the top line with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond, he would be an incredibly safe bet to hit 30 goals, in my opinion. Vrana would excel in that role, which would free Bertuzzi up to give the Red Wings their best second line in years with some combination of Perron, Copp, and Bertuzzi. The ability to spread the team’s top forward talent across two effective lines is a blessing the coaching staff hasn’t had for years.
Speaking of Perron, he is another player who has an outside chance at earning top-line minutes this season with a good enough showing at training camp. He plays a sturdy defensive game, which would insulate both Raymond and Larkin, and the team would surely hope that his good habits on both ends of the ice would rub off on his linemates. Perron is also a great playmaker, and his linemates on the top line would reap the benefits of his experience and poise.
Left Side of the First Defense Pair
Most Likely: Ben Chiarot
Dark Horse: Olli Määttä
It’s rather common to have two players signed in free agency fighting for the same spot in the lineup, but it’s less common for that to be a spot on the team’s first defensive pairing. With Seider locked in as Detroit’s top defender for the foreseeable future, all the team needs is a reasonably good player to pair with him, allowing him to focus on what he is great at.
Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman seems to believe that Ben Chiarot will be the right person to pair with Seider, signing him to a four-year deal in free agency worth $4.75 million each season. Not only does this tie him for the fourth-highest salary on the team, but it also makes him Detroit’s highest-paid defender, period.
Chiarot is known as a physically imposing player who bumps and bruises opposing players whenever he’s on the ice. He’s had solid defensive results in the past when paired with Shea Weber on the Montreal Canadiens but struggled a bit last season when Weber was out with injury, and he played most of his minutes with either Jeff Petry or David Savard. Though a full-on comparison would be a bit premature, Seider is certainly closer to Weber than Petry in terms of talent.
With that said, the next left-handed defender that the Red Wings added in free agency will also have a chance to prove that he should be the one playing next to last year’s Calder Trophy winner. Olli Määttä plays a safe, stay-at-home game that could prove perfect in a complementary role to Seider, allowing the youngster to roam around the ice freely and assert himself a bit more on offense.
There’s one more player on the roster that technically has a chance to earn this spot, but it would be an incredible surprise to see it come to fruition. Simon Edvinsson will most likely be battling for a spot on the left side of the third d-pairing, but I want to mention the possibility of him earning a spot next to Seider on the off-chance we’re living in the coolest timeline, and that comes true.
Most Likely: Michael Rasmussen
Dark Horse: Pius Suter
For most of this season, this spot will be locked up by Andrew Copp, who signed as a free agent with the expectation that he would be the second-line center until a prospect, likely Marco Kasper, was ready to take over the reins. In a press conference on Wednesday, Yzerman revealed that Copp had undergone an abdominal surgery over the offseason and will join the team about a week or so into the regular season.
This left me wondering who the new coaching staff will decide to slot in at the 2C spot for the first few games. The easy answer is Pius Suter, who played a ton of time in that position last year, to rather underwhelming results.
I would bet on Michael Rasmussen snagging the position for the first few games of the 2022-23 season following his hot finish last spring. He seemed to figure out his game a bit over the last 10 games or so, and if he was able to channel that into his offseason training and mindset, we could be in for a great breakout of sorts from the man many fans call “Moose.” If he looks good enough to play on the second line early this year, that will be a great sign for his development moving forward, even when he is inevitably bumped back down to the third line when Copp is healthy.
Left Side of the Third Defense Pair
Most Likely: Simon Edvinsson, Jordan Oesterle, Robert Hägg
Dark Horse: Albert Johansson, Donovan Sebrango
This is probably the training camp battle with the biggest chance to surprise fans. Many people presume that Edvinsson is a lock for the role. After all, he is a recent high draft pick who excelled in a great professional league last season. There is no denying that Edvinsson has much higher potential than players like Jordan Oesterle or Robert Hägg, so why wouldn’t he be in the NHL to start the year?
Edvinsson’s ceiling is higher, and he’s arguably the better player right now, but what’s best for the team is for Edvinsson to flourish, not tread water. He’ll certainly get some NHL games in when the inevitable injuries occur, but it might be best if he plays top-four minutes for the Grand Rapids Griffins rather than struggling through very sheltered minutes in Detroit.
There are many adjustments that players need to make when they transition from the wider ice surface across Europe to the narrow rinks of North America, and a regular role in the American Hockey League (AHL) would give Edvinsson the chance to acclimate with less pressure resting on his shoulders.
Oesterle and Hägg represent legitimate competition for the role simply because they are seasoned pros who will make much fewer mistakes than Edvinsson in training camp. Oesterle is the most likely second option in my mind, but these aren’t the only players who could find themselves on the Red Wings’ blue line when the regular season starts.
Prospects Albert Johansson and Donovan Sebrango will most likely spend much of the upcoming season in the AHL. But both have the pedigree and profile that suggests they are one shockingly good training camp performance away from earning a roster spot.
1A in the Goaltending Tandem
Most Likely: Ville Husso
Only Slightly Less Likely: Alex Nedeljkovic
The Red Wings appear to be going for a true goaltending tandem next season, where both goalies share the starter’s net relatively equally. If one goalie has a run of excellent form, I would still expect the coaching staff to share the responsibilities, though if I had to predict who would finish the season with the most starts, it would be Ville Husso.
The 2021-22 St. Louis Blues were a team buoyed by some excellent breakout performances by young players Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou, but their team defense left much to be desired. Luckily for them, Husso was excellent in his first full NHL season, drawing much attention away from the team’s deficiencies.
Alex Nedeljkovic’s 2021-22 year was a tale of two seasons. He started the year on a roll, looking much like the goaltender the team had acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes last offseason. The team was off to a bright start, and his play was certainly a big factor there. However, once the team took something of a nosedive, Ned’s play unfortunately followed. His disappointing statistics at the end of the season don’t tell the full story, and a full season behind a defensively improved roster should help him bounce back and maintain his confidence.
Both goalies have a legitimate chance to play around 40 games, so it’s up to them to earn the 1A spot rather than being given the 1B title. The easiest way to tell who the coaches think will give them the best chance to win is by seeing who starts for the Red Wings on opening night.
Detroit will open their season against the Canadiens on Friday, Oct. 14, and will get right back at it the next night when they play the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. Neither team is particularly imposing at this juncture, so the starting goalie on opening night is likely the goalie who has earned the most trust from the coaches.
Training Camp Begins Today
Detroit’s training camp will begin this morning and will continue daily until Monday, Sept. 26. Training camp participants will be divided into Team Red and Team White and will compete in a scrimmage match on Sunday, Sept. 25.
All of this leads up to the team’s first preseason match on Tuesday, Sept. 27, where the Red Wings will be up against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Do you think Edvinsson will make the NHL right out of training camp? Who do you think will fill in as the second-line center until Copp is healthy? Which Red Wings goalie will finish the season with more starts?