You can’t fault Red Wings fans for feeling impatient.
For 25 years, they watched their team make the playoffs, earning four Stanley Cups in the process. For the last three years, their team has struggled to stay afloat in the midst of one of the most competitive divisions in the NHL. Withthe prospect tournament championship and preseason showcases providing fans with a glimpse of the future, it can be easy for people to get swept up in the hype. Last year, fans saw a ferocious burst of energy from players like Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athansiou, who both achieved career highs in points and goals. It seems success is just around the corner for the Red Wings.
Having said that, it’s important to keep expectations tampered.
The Red Wings are not a playoff team. Their top line is their only consistent threat. Their defense desperately needs an overhaul. Jimmy Howard, while a perfectly capable starting goalie, is 35 years old and inching closer to retirement. While it’s exciting to see the future slowly come together, focusing on the present should be the top priority of every Red Wings fan. The time for playoff hype will come soon, but it won’t be this year.
With that in mind, what does success look like in the 2019-20 season? In short? High-powered prospects, breakout candidates, and the chance for another top draft pick.
Plenty of New Faces
This year will feature plenty of chances for rookies, up-and-comers, and highly touted prospects to make names for themselves. Players like Joe Veleno, Filip Zadina, and Dennis Cholowski will all have an opportunity to make the roster before the season ends. At the very least, these prospects, along with a slew of others, will receive nine-game call-ups to gauge their talent. If any excel in their debut, they’ll likely remain on the roster for the foreseeable future.
It wouldn’t be a shock to see a wide variety of players get a chance to earn their spot on the Red Wings’ roster this season. Whether it’s surefire stars like Veleno or potential surprises like newcomer Oliwer Kaski, the Red Wings will likely play host to different prospects as general manager Steve Yzerman monitors the state of the team. In an ideal world, at least three rookies seize spots on the team for the remainder of the season. It’s likely that, at the very least, two prospects — a forward and a defenseman — will earn their spot on the roster.
Having said that, questions still linger in the air for the Red Wings. Can any of the prospects make the roster out of the preseason? And — more importantly — do they have what it takes to remain a mainstay in the NHL?
Last year, Athanasiou and Larkin were the first Red Wings in 10 years to break the 30-goal plateau. Athansiou earned career highs in both goals and assists, centering the team’s second line, using his speed to generate some highlight reel-worthy goals. In the 2017-18 season, Tyler Bertuzzi showcased his versatility as a player. The potential for a player like Anthony Mantha to break out seems to be an inevitability at this point. He’s an intelligent, fast forward that had a successful season cut short by injuries. Mantha’s output last year suggests a great opportunity for a breakout this season.
Mantha showed an impressive amount of skill at this year’s IIHF Worlds tournament, scoring a shocking 14 points in just 9 games on Canada’s top line. He’s got the tools needed to become a force for the Red Wings: all he needs now is a breakout season to cement his role within the team. He’s smart, quick, and deadly with the puck when he puts the effort in. Having said that, it remains to be seen whether he can keep this momentum up through an entire 82-game season. Will we see more of the same Mantha, or will he turn over a new leaf by blowing his expectations out of the water?
A High Draft Pick
If the Red Wings end the season with a less-than-stellar record, the chance for a high draft pick is nigh. A few months ago, they selected German defenseman Moritz Seider with the sixth-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. This year’s roster has seen very little change, while rosters like the Lightning and the Bruins have only gotten stronger. Facing up against these tough competitors will no doubt further improve the Red Wings’ chances at a higher pick. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume they have a chance to score a top-five pick in the 2020 Entry Draft.
This upcoming draft features some of the most talented prospects to date. Generational left wing Alexis Lafreniere, 6-foot-4 center Quinton Byfield, and a slew of other prospects make up the top talent in the upcoming draft. If the best case scenario were to occur, the Red Wings would put a strong, competitive season forward, featuring breakout candidates and new rookies, finishing off with a top-five pick in the draft.
Bad luck in the lottery draft has ruined the Red Wings’ chances at a higher pick in the last few years. Will we finally see an elite, generational talent call Detroit home in 2020, or will the draft odds push the Red Wings further down the draft?