Who Are the Red Wings’ Future Leaders?

In Detroit, the countdown to September is not just for the beginning of training camp. After emerging as a top-tier player throughout the NHL, Detroit Red Wings fans expect an announcement naming Dylan Larkin as the team’s next captain. Throughout social media, the hashtag #givelarksthec has trended among Red Wings fans.

Dylan Larkin #71, Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

What rarely gets mentioned, however, is the status of the other two leadership positions on the team. Last season, Niklas Kronwall and Justin Abdelkader held a permanent alternate captain’s ‘A’ on their jerseys. Meanwhile, Larkin and Frans Nielsen alternated the third ‘A’ depending on injuries and whether the team was home or away.

With the status of Kronwall’s future is still in the air, it’s possible that considerations as to who will don the ‘A’ next are underway. The Red Wings have no shortage of candidates, though some are more exciting than others.

Frans Nielsen

The likeliest candidate to become a full-time alternate once a spot opens up is Nielsen. Although not the sexiest name, it makes sense to supplement the team’s (presumptive) young captain with veteran alternates. With three years still on his contract, he represents a stop-gap solution while other guys grow into the role.

Frans Nielsen Red Wings
Frans Nielsen, Detroit Red Wings, December 20, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This also assumes that Nielsen is around for the entirety of his contract. The 35-year-old isn’t getting any younger, but the team around him is. He’s as respected a player as there is in the league, but for how much longer? Either way, as long as Nielsen occupies a spot on the Red Wings roster, he’ll likely have a letter on his jersey.

Danny DeKeyser

Once Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson make their exits, DeKeyser will become the longest-tenured member of the Red Wings’ defense. The 29-year-old’s contract draws the ire of fans, but he’s currently one of the better options on the blue line. Oh yeah, and he’s another one of those Michigan boys on the roster.

Though this isn’t a requirement, a lot of teams like to have leadership representation on both the offense and the defense. Considering the expected turnover of the defense in coming years, DeKeyser will likely serve as a stabilizing constant. At his best, his play emanates the kind of play the Red Wings want from their defenders: strong skating and sparking the transition.

Tyler Bertuzzi

Former Red Wings general manager Ken Holland paid Bertuzzi a heavy compliment when he called the young winger a “hockey player.” By that, he meant that Bertuzzi had every element a hockey player can have. He’s got some sandpaper in his game, he works his tail off and, given the opportunity, he can flash some serious skill.

Tyler Bertuzzi
Detroit Red Wings left wing Tyler Bertuzzi (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY)

Though the former second-round pick isn’t likely to ascend to the level of the premier power forwards in the league, he could fit the mold of what another former Red Wing alternate captain was. That player was Kris Draper. Draper was the center of the infamous “Grind Line” and his strong two-way game earned him the Selke Trophy in 2004. He was a heart and soul kind of guy on the ice who managed to chip in on the offense here and there.

Bertuzzi has the potential to top Draper’s offensive output, but the intricacies in his game mirror that of Draper’s. Draper was hard to play against, and there’s no doubt that Bertuzzi is already gaining a similar reputation. Perhaps it’s fitting that Draper was instrumental in the Red Wings’ choice to select Bertuzzi so early in the 2013 Draft.

Future Leader in the 2020 Draft?

With the likelihood of another lottery pick headed the team’s way, perhaps 2020 is the year that the Red Wings draft inside the top five. If there was ever a year to get such a pick, 2020 is the year. The top of the 2020 Draft is considered to be one of the deepest pools of talent in a while.

It’s not uncommon for a team who drafts a player of this magnitude to fall in love with them hard and fast. Sidney Crosby had an ‘A’ on his jersey in just his second season. Steve Yzerman became the Red Wings’ captain before his fourth season in the league.

This would surely signal the beginning of a new era for the Red Wings. With Larkin at the center, flanked by a potential superstar alternate captain, the Red Wings will no longer look like the Red Wings of the past decade.