The Grind Line: Red Wings Early Season Changes

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, Patrick Brown and Kyle Knopp are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

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With the help of a promising start to their season, the Detroit Red Wings now hold a record of 6-5-2 as the first full month of the season enters its final days. The Red Wings have seen things work very well during this stretch, but there have also been things that require a little bit of fine-tuning. 

This week, our panel stepped behind the bench and did their best Jeff Blashill impression by answering the question: would you make any adjustments to the team right now, and if so, what is one change you would make?

Devin Little: Veleno Season is Upon Us

If I’m being honest, there isn’t a whole lot I would change about the Red Wings through the first tenth or so of the season. The top six is producing, the top line is one of the best in the NHL right now, the defense is about as good as you could expect given the personnel they have available, and both goaltenders have had their games where they were directly responsible for the Red Wings getting points in the standings. Anything I would change is essentially based on personal preference.

That being said, it’s time for this team to bring center Joe Veleno up and see what they have with him.

Joe Veleno Grand Rapids Griffins
Joe Veleno, Grand Rapids Griffins (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

With three goals in five games with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League this season, Veleno has already proven that he’s worthy of an extended look in the NHL – and that’s not even mentioning his NHL season debut against the Toronto Maple Leafs where he was arguably the Red Wings’ top forward. A player with this kind of skill needs to nurture that talent at the highest level:

Veleno doesn’t need to be thrown to the wolves right away – Blashill could throw him on the wing somewhere in the middle six, or Veleno could hold down the third line center role for a bit, shifting Michael Rasmussen down the fourth line center position. Bringing Veleno up gives this team more skill to play with, but it also gives them lineup options as they continue to try to find the ideal lineup for the players they have.

As for who gets sent down to make way for Veleno: send veteran Carter Rowney down. The risk of losing him on waivers is minimal, and he’s a solid veteran to have stashed away in the minors in the event at the NHL team experiences a bunch of injuries.

Patrick Brown: Shoot. The. Puck.

Look, I could sit here and harp on the Red Wings’ abysmal special teams performance, but that’s well documented. One of the more baffling statistics to me lately is the shot disparity that’s been present in so many of Detroit’s early-season games, especially considering the skilled players that the team has.

Related: Red Wings Daily Download – Recap, Stats, Injuries & News

The Wings actually outshot Buffalo in their come-from-behind win on Saturday, but prior to that, Detroit had been outshot in its previous three games: 22 against the Boston Bruins (37-15), 19 against the Montreal Canadiens (41-22), and seven against the Toronto Maple Leafs (38-31). If I’m Blashill, I’m asking players like Filip Zadina, Rasmussen, and Pius Suter to elect to shoot the puck more often, as opposed to trying to cheat a pass through an area with a lot of traffic in it. Even standout Moritz Seider has been guilty of forcing passes at times, though his team-leading nine assists certainly give him the benefit of the doubt in that category.

Filip Zadina Detroit Red Wings
Filip Zadina needs to shoot more (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s great to be unselfish with the puck, but the team also needs to generate chances and shoot through any lanes that are available. The alternative can be frustrating to watch, especially considering Detroit’s lack of offense in previous seasons. I’ll spare you the Michael Scott Wayne Gretzky quote, and simply remind you that if you’re not shooting, well, you’re not scoring.

Kyle Knopp: Switch Up the Defense

In the past week the Wings were outscored 13-10. While that might not seem like a big discrepancy, when you break it down by the four games that were played—3-0 and 5-1 losses, followed by 4-3 and 5-2 victories—the hot and cold nature of the Wings’ offensive and defensive productions need to be sorted out moving forward. As Pat already mentioned above, the team is not going to get far by getting outshot on a nightly basis. Not every day will they run into a depleted Vegas Golden Knights team that was playing its backup in net. 

However, if I were Blashill, I would focus my attention on the other side of the puck. Too often in the past week did the Wings look out of place in their own zone, mostly when Nick Leddy and Filip Hronek or Gustav Lindstrom and Marc Staal were out there together. Not to mention Detroit is running Danny DeKeyser, who is years removed from being a top-two defenseman, is on its top pairing with Seider. To me, with the way the team has been performing as a group, moving Leddy up to the top pairing, and running Hronek with either Troy Stecher or allowing recently acquired Jordan Oesterle an opportunity to play if you really want a left handed shot in that position. Rounding out the top-six could be any combination of the available Oesterle/Stecher, DeKeyser, Lindstrom, or Staal—if you must. 

Moritz Seider Detroit Red Wings
Moritz Seider, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Allow some of the younger guys to get more game experience right now while the team is riding the hot and cold streaks upfront. It’s not going to matter losing 4-1 instead of 5-1, or winning 5-2 instead of 5-3, if it means allowing more development from the rest of the defensive group. With the bottom-four running around in their own zone looking lost as it is, giving more minutes to some of the other guys can’t be much worse of an option!

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