On Sunday afternoon, the Detroit Red Wings announced another round of preseason roster cuts, assigning 14 more players to their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins. Most of the names on this list weren’t surprising with prospects like Donovan Sebrango and Jared McIsaac being sent to the minors to continue their development.
However, there was one player on the cuts list that caused more surprise than all others and that was Simon Edvinsson, the sixth overall pick in the 2021 Draft. After showing exceptionally well in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) last year as an 18-year-old, many Red Wings fans expected him to follow in the footsteps of Lucas Raymond who played one year of professional hockey in Sweden before cracking the NHL lineup.
The Red Wings also have a clear weakness on the left side of the defense, one that general manager Steve Yzerman took seriously in this summer’s free agency where he added two left-handed defenders. There was still a clear battle for the roster spot on the left side of the third defense pairing and Edvinsson was considered the favourite to fill said position.
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So why was he cut from the team and what does this tell us about the development staff’s plans for Edvinsson over the next 12 months? Let’s take a look at how he performed in Red Wings training camp and in the NHL preseason, as well as the opportunities offered to him in both the NHL and AHL this year.
Edvinsson’s Training Camp and Preseason Play
Edvinsson’s potential was on display through much of his preseason practices and games. His rare combination of skill, skating, and size give him a clear path to being an incredibly valuable top-four defenseman who excels in nearly all facets of the game.
Perhaps the only thing clearer than Edvinsson’s potential was the fact that he could not yet consistently play to that potential against preseason competition. That lack of consistency seems to be the main reason that the Red Wings’ development staff decided it would be best for him to begin the year in Grand Rapids.
Edvinsson was often paired with right-side defender Gustav Lindstrom who is likely to fill out the club’s right side on the third pair. He was given every chance to succeed and show what he could do in an NHL environment. I believe that he was better this preseason than the player who beat him out for his NHL spot, Jordan Oesterle.
Now, Oesterle is someone who can be trusted as a depth defender, but Edvinsson’s skill and skating make him a clearly better player at the moment, despite his inconsistency. Edvinsson wasn’t assigned to the AHL because he was the fourth or fifth-best left defenseman on the Red Wings. He was sent to Grand Rapids because the team believes that it is what’s best for his development long-term.
Edvinsson’s NHL Opportunity
If he were to have been a member of the opening night lineup, Edvinsson likely would’ve hovered around the eight-to-10-minute mark each game, which makes large-scale changes and growth more difficult. With Moritz Seider anchoring the top power play unit and Filip Hronek specializing in a similar role on the second unit, Edvinsson likely wouldn’t play any special teams minutes.
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If Edvinsson shows improved consistency and comfort in the narrower North American ice rinks, he could very well be called up mid-season if injuries necessitate it. Unless he absolutely blows AHL competition out of the water in the first months of the season, I expect he’ll stay with the Griffins through the end of their campaign and playoff run. If he’s playing well enough though, there’s always a chance he could be called up for his nine-game NHL tryout at the end of the season which would afford him some extra experience while not burning a year of his entry-level contract (ELC).
When he inevitably makes the NHL team next season, Edvinsson will be one of only two left-handed defenders under NHL contract with Ben Chiarot being the other one. This will offer him a significant amount of NHL minutes if he proves he’s ready to take on that responsibility throughout this season and the lead-up to next season.
Edvinsson’s AHL Opportunity
The left side of the defense is crowded in Grand Rapids at the moment, but Edvinsson shouldn’t worry about that. Prospects like Albert Johansson, Sebrango, and McIsaac are all left-handed but none of them have quite the ceiling that Edvinsson possesses. He is likely to earn plenty of minutes at five-on-five as well as on both of the special teams units.
Another perk to joining a loaded Griffins team this year is playing on a winning team which likely wouldn’t be the case if he were to play in Detroit all year. Playing on a successful team and building confidence by contributing to said success in a meaningful way could be huge for Edvinsson this year.
Playing the majority of the season in the AHL would also make it easier for the Red Wings to agree to send Edvinsson to the World Junior Championship in Halifax/Moncton this December. He made it clear this summer how much he values the chance to play for Team Sweden when he didn’t skip the tournament like many other top prospects did, so I would expect him to jump at the chance to represent his country once again.
Edvinsson will get the chance to be a leader on the ice in Grand Rapids that he really wouldn’t have in Detroit.
Rushing Edvinsson to the NHL is Unnecessary
The Red Wings would likely be a little bit better this year if they had Edvinsson on their roster from day 1, but they’re playing the long game and have chosen development over a quick boost. They want to have the best possible version of him when the team is truly competitive, which won’t be for another few years.
The decision to have Edvinsson adjust to North American hockey through success in the AHL rather than failures in the NHL makes a ton of sense to me, especially when it comes to such a bold player who thrives off his confidence.
Essentially, the Red Wings have decided that the best course of action for Edvinsson’s future is to let him thrive in a large role instead of just watching him tread water in under 10 minutes a night at the NHL level. I, for one, think this was the right choice.