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 Patrick Brown are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team sounds off on which player is due for a breakout performance in the 2020-21 season. Last year Detroit was anchored by its top three forwards — Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Tyler Bertuzzi. Those three, along with Robby Fabbri and the now-departed Andreas Athanasiou, were the only players to notch double figures in goals scored. (For the sake of comparison, the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning had 10 players with 10 or more goals).
Detroit allowed the most goals in the league, while scoring the fewest. So, who is poised to step up this season and help bring the team out of the league’s basement? Let’s dive in:
Devin Little: Anthony Mantha
I know it’s a little weird to pick a player that already has 260 games of NHL experience as a “breakout” candidate, but bear with me. To this date, Mantha has not scored more than 48 points in a season — solid totals for a depth scorer, but he is no depth scorer. In terms of fancy stats, Mantha is the most impactful forward on the Red Wings’ roster in terms of generating offense.
Last season, he had 38 points through 43 games — a 72-point pace through a full 82-game season. Had he not succumbed to so many injuries over the last two seasons, he might be more of a household name throughout the NHL and not just in the Red Wings’ neck of the woods. This fact also probably lost him some money on his new deal, which provides tremendous value for the team.
It is my belief that Mantha will experience the most productive and healthy (knock on wood) season of his career in 2020-21. His breakout campaign will lead him to the All-Star Game (if the NHL has one) and will provide his team with a source of offense that it sorely missed last season. A 30-goal, 60-to-70 point scoring rate is within reach for the dynamic power forward.
Ian McNaughton: Danny DeKeyser
I touched on this last week, but I’m anticipating a bounce-back season for Red Wings defenseman Danny Dekeyser. The 30-year-old played in just eight games in 2019-20 as he missed most of the season with back surgery. He’s coming into 2020-21 hoping to get back into his 2014-15 form when he had 34 points and 6.0 point shares.
DeKeyser should be looking at top-four pairing minutes, barring another injury or a horrible regression. The Red Wings aren’t a contender by any means, so bringing him back (while possibly having him play out the rest of his two-year deal) is far from the worst situation. Put DeKeyser with one of Detroit’s younger d-men (Filip Hronek or Troy Stretcher) and I’d say you have a solid mix of shutdown defense and offensive playmaking.
DeKeyser also brings leadership that will help the momentum of the team. Being a Detroit native and a Western Michigan alum (like my buddy Devin Little), while also playing his entire career with the Red Wings, he’s going to make wearing the red and white more enjoyable compared to last season. Call me a DeKeyser stan, I’m all aboard the hype train.
Patrick Brown: Robby Fabbri
Left winger Robby Fabbri already had a bit of a comeback story last season, recording 31 points on 14 goals and 17 assists. Of course, his minus-29 plus/minus and 45.7 Corsi for percentage left a lot to be desired for the former first-round draft pick. However, the 2020-21 season will offer him even more opportunities fresh on the heels of a two-year contract extension.
Fabbri has yet to eclipse 20 goals in a single season, and went through much of last season without much scoring help. He has been projected to rotate between the second and third lines next season, and with the offseason additions from general managerr Steve Yzerman, Fabbri could find himself paired with any combination of Bobby Ryan, Vladislav Namestnikov, Valtteri Filppula, Filip Zadina, Bertuzzi, or even Larkin throughout the season.
He is going to see plenty of ice time — Yzerman doesn’t shell out nearly $3 million per season to have someone sit on the bench and watch — and the offensive prowess of his linemates will allow him to light the lamp 20 times for the first time in his career. Given that his assist output has almost always matched (or exceeded) his goals scored, it’s not outrageous to think Fabbri may eclipse 40 points this season.
More from The Grind Line
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Which Red Wing is most likely to break out?