When the Detroit Red Wings traded defenseman Nick Leddy to the St. Louis Blues at last season’s trade deadline, the package the Red Wings received was filled with intrigue. First, they received a second round pick in the 2023 draft, a draft that is being characterized by its overall depth. Second, they received veteran forward Oskar Sundqvist, a player that has seamlessly fit into the Red Wings’ lineup and, more importantly, their locker room. The last piece, however, was perhaps the most intriguing. The third piece Detroit received was defenseman Jake Walman, a 26-year-old defenseman who had played just 57 games with the Blues since he was drafted in the third round of the 2014 draft.
“Even going back to my time in Tampa, (I) kind of had my eye on him at one point,” Red Wings general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman said following the trade. “But I have a pretty good handle on what he is as a hockey player, and (as a) person as well.”
The rest of Hockeytown, however, likely did not have as good of a handle on who Walman was. Since then, Red Wings fans have gotten a good look at the soon-to-be 27-year-old. By all accounts, they have liked what they have seen.
Walman Brings Missing Elements to the Lineup
At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Walman may not be a giant on skates like some of the Red Wings’ prospects on the blue line, but his skillset has blended in well with the rest of the team in Detroit. From the very beginning of his tenure with the Red Wings, his mobility and offensive instincts were evident. He wasn’t afraid to carry the puck from end to end and try to make things happen in the offensive zone. Ironically, his skating ability was and still is reminiscent of a younger version of Leddy, the player he was traded for in St. Louis.
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Since the start of the 2022-23 season, Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde has put an emphasis on speed and skating as a part of the Red Wings’ overall team identity. Modeled after their captain, Dylan Larkin, the Red Wings want to attack their opponents by moving the puck up the ice quickly and creating plays before the opposition knows what hit them. Since rejoining the Red Wings, Walman has been a part of that identity, but he has also brought some things that the team maybe didn’t know they were missing.
While he doesn’t use it often, perhaps Walman’s biggest asset is his shot. When he winds up for a one-timer or a good old-fashioned slap shot, the puck leaves behind a trail of smoke as it flies towards the net. He has scored this way more than once over the course of his 43 games in a Red Wings uniform, and even when he’s not unleashing a slap shot, he is able to get the puck on net and sneak it past the goalie. To that point, he has four goals through 24 games this season, equaling his career total heading into this season.
While the offensive side of his game is what excites fans and media alike, he has shown steady growth on the defensive side of the game under coach Lalonde.
“Pleasant surprise and a huge credit to him. His play is really good right now. He’s winning battles, he’s skating, he’s closing gaps, he’s confident with the puck,” Lalonde said. “Even those underlying numbers the last 4-5 games, he’s our best D-man, has increased role, first matchups, got some power play time, a ton of penalty kill. Keep building him, hopefully he can sustain it.
With his play through the first 20-plus games of the season, Walman isn’t just elevating his own game, but he’s elevating the play of the players around him as well.
Walman Ignites Seider
Much has been made of second-year defenseman Moritz Seider’s slow start in the first half of the season. After being named the Rookie of the Year last season, the German defenseman has looked lost at times throughout this season, and his offensive and defensive play simply has not matched the level he was at last season. In response to his struggles, many people outside of the organization pointed their fingers at his blue line partner Ben Chiarot, who Yzerman signed as a free agent in the offseason with the intention of making him Seider’s partner for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps there was something to that notion. About a third of the way through this season, Lalonde switched up Detroit’s defensive pairings, moving Walman onto the first pairing alongside Seider. The results speak for themselves:
|Seider 5v5 Corsi-For% with Chiarot||43.22%|
|Seider 5v5 Corsi-For% with Walman||57.54%|
Corsi-For% is a measurement that determines what percentage of offensive opportunities a player or team gets when Player(s) X, Y & Z are on the ice. In this instance, the Red Wings have been heavily out-chanced with Seider and Chiarot on the ice, but they control most of the opportunities with Seider and Walman on the ice. By switching Seider’s defensive partner, Lalonde has suddenly made his top D-pairing look like a top pairing again.
To that point, Seider has one goal and five assists in his last five games. Meanwhile, Walman set a new career-high when he recorded 22:23 in ice-time on Jan. 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. No NHL coach has trusted Walman like Lalonde seems to, and that trust is resulting in the best hockey of Walman’s career.
“It’s fun to play with (Seider) on the ice, but off the ice he’s just as much of a character,” Walman said of playing with Seider. “It’s a good opportunity. I think it’s good that I can have the trust of the coaches and my teammates.”
Walman’s Contract Status
In the offseason, Yzerman re-signed Walman to a one-year deal that carries a $1.05 million cap hit. At the time, people kind of shrugged at it as most of the conversation centered around the newcomers in free agency as well as the potential for the team’s top prospect, Simon Edvinsson, to make the team out of training camp. If it meant Walman had to be assigned to the American Hockey League, so be it.
My how the tables have turned.
Suddenly, Yzerman faces an interesting decision as the March 3 trade deadline approaches. At almost 27 years old, Walman is still young enough to fit in with the overall age demographic of the Red Wings as they continue to push towards returning to the playoffs. Despite his strong play this season, he still just has 100 NHL games under his belt and 19 points to his name. Re-signing him wouldn’t break the team’s salary cap structure, and his game could continue to grow despite being in what is considered to be the prime of his career.
However, given Walman’s play this season and his affordable contract, it would not be surprising if teams came knocking on Yzerman’s door to see if a trade is a possibility. If a team puts a second round pick on the table, Yzerman would have to at least consider it. There is also the fact that the Red Wings’ prospect pool is overflowing with defensive prospects, especially left-handed ones. If the GM opts to extend Walman, that likely means waving goodbye to at least two of those prospects because Walman’s presence essentially blocks them out of an NHL opportunity. Chiarot still has three years left on his deal, Seider isn’t going anywhere, and Filip Hronek likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon as well. The likes of Edvinsson, Albert Johansson, William Wallinder and others will need an opportunity soon, whether it’s with the Red Wings or another team.
Regardless of what the future holds, Walman has seized the opportunity afforded to him by the trade last year. In just under a year, he has gone from being a bit of an afterthought in that deal to now being regarded as one of the best pieces on the Red Wings’ blue line. If he can continue to play at the level he is currently play at, there won’t be many people across the NHL that don’t know who he is.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.