Pending a late-season surge, the Detroit Red Wings will once again find themselves without a 30-goal scorer.
It will be the organization’s ninth consecutive season without having a single player hit the mark, the longest such streak in the NHL. In 2008-09, Marian Hossa led the team with 40 goals, followed by Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg whom scored 34, 32 and 31, respectively.
The former three are gone and while 37-year-old Zetterberg could reach fourth all-time for franchise goal scoring, his production has understandably decreased with age.
The bulk of the league has at least one reliable finisher as 16 teams currently have a 30-goal scorer (or two). Twenty-six teams have a player sitting with at least 25 goals. Anthony Mantha leads Detroit with 23, which says more for Detroit’s downfall than missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons does.
General manager Ken Holland is in the midst of a rebuild, which starts with 23-year-old Mantha and 21-year-old Dylan Larkin, who have shown the potential to be the leaders of a new core. With the recent dedication toward youth, one of them could blossom into the go-to goal-scorer Hockeytown has been missing.
Larkin, the 15th overall pick in 2014, used his incredible speed and accurate shot to score 23 goals in 80 games as a rookie in 2015-16. A serious sophomore slump tempered expectations of the Michigan native. He recorded just 17 goals in 80 games in his second season, where predictability led to less shots and fewer goals.
This season, Larkin has been the most consistent player in Detroit, leading the team with 50 points through 71 games. But it has been as the role of a playmaker with just nine goals. He’s still putting up shots at a high level, but his shooting percent sits at 4.7%, a significant drop from the 10% he averaged over his first two seasons. A bounce back in shooting percentage could help him flirt with 30 goals in 2018-19.
Mantha recorded consecutive 50-goal seasons for Val-d’Or in the Quebec Major Junior Hockley League (QMJHL) scoring 136 goals in 157 games, which includes playoffs. Detroit selected him 20th overall in 2013, but a lack of consistent effort led to mediocre success in parts of three seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL).
But he leads the field to be Detroit’s next player to score 30. He has been the Red Wings’ best goal-scorer since joining the team part way through 2016-17 and has 40 goals through 127 games, where bouts of inconsistency have hindered his stretches of dominance.
Standing at 6-foot-5, Mantha is developing into a power-forward, using his frame to gain leverage in the offensive zone to control play and maintain positive possession numbers. He has been utilized primarily alongside Larkin, where the two have built chemistry as a goal-scorer and playmaker, which should help Mantha become the Red Wings’ next 30-goal guy.
Aside from Larkin and Mantha, there are some intriguing prospects in the system that could vie for a full-time spot next season and make some noise.
The first is Evgeny Svechnikov, who was drafted 19th overall in 2015. The Russian boasts an enviable shot, which is fueled by quick feet, smooth hands and a 6-foot-3 build. He scored 20 goals as an AHL rookie last season and has recently found his game after a neck injury delayed his start to the season.
He is currently up with the Red Wings, where he’s been given low ice time and bottom-six linemates. But the audition could go a long way for a roster spot next year, the ability to carve out a top-six role and potential to score some goals.
Another dark horse candidate is Michael Rasmussen, the ninth overall pick in 2017, who scored four goals in six preseason games with Detroit last September and October. The 6-foot-6 center hardly looked out of place among NHL players, but was sent back to the Western Hockey League (WHL) to continue his development. He will push to make the roster in 2018-19 and pending another strong preseason, could be used to accelerate Detroit’s rebuild.
Then there is the projected top-10 pick—at the very least. Detroit faces favorable lottery odds as they sit 27th in the NHL with a current nine-game losing streak. Andrei Svechnikov—Evgeny’s younger brother—and Filip Zadina lead the draft’s forward ranks. The two elite scorers are likely to land NHL jobs in 2018-19 where they could be a pair of rookies to score 30 goals, be it with Detroit or not.
The dark days of Detroit appear to have a sunny forecast where young roster players and some high-end prospects could help them find the go-to goal-scorers contenders roll out every night.