We are now a week into training camp as the Detroit Red Wings prepare themselves for a shortened 2020-21 season. With the promise of a clean slate, both the players and coaches seem eager to put their best foot forward to begin this season – and who can blame them? If you don’t know the story of the Red Wings’ 2019-20 season by now, there are dozens of articles out there that can tell you all about it.
With a new season comes new faces and new challenges. With the Red Wings’ first game of the season coming up on January 14, time is ticking as they work to iron out any wrinkles that may prohibit them from getting off to a good start. While expectations aren’t exactly high in “Hockeytown”, everyone from fans to general manager Steve Yzerman wants to see this team make progress towards becoming a playoff contender.
All of that begins at training camp. Here’s what I’ve noticed through the first week.
Head coach Jeff Blashill is wise to keep the MLB line of Dylan Larkin between Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha together. That being said, it’s hardly a shock to see those three skating on a line together once again.
During the camp’s first of three “Red and White” scrimmages, Mantha displayed a patience with the puck that led to two assists during the match. While you would of course like to see the big man rip a few shots of his own, it is just as promising that the power-forward is able to create for his line-mates. It’s that proficiency in the offensive zone that makes him the Red Wings’ top offensive weapon heading into the season.
As of right now, Detroit’s second line consists of Robby Fabbri between Filip Zadina and Bobby Ryan. During the offseason, both Yzerman and Blashill hinted at the possibility of utilizing Fabbri as a center this season (he primarily played on the wing last season, and throughout his four NHL seasons.) However, he wasn’t a popular pick to fill the second-line center position right out of the gate. As our own Tony Wolak mentioned in this week’s News & Rumors, playing at center will likely expose the defensive shortcomings in his game. He hasn’t really stood out in the role as of yet.
The third line of Valtteri Filppula between Vladislav Namestnikov and Sam Gagner has shown some promise (Gagner, in particular, has looked good on his feet and seems to be the designated shooter on the line.) This line looks like it could sustain an effective cycle in the offensive zone, but it lacks a real finisher that can make good on that offensive pressure. Personally, I’d like to see Namestnikov and Fabbri trade places in the middle-six.
On defense, it appears that the only duo Blashill is set on is Danny DeKeyser with Filip Hronek. Considering these players represent the Red Wings’ top-two defenders, this isn’t exactly a controversial decision. What does make this interesting is that the former hasn’t played in a competitive hockey game in almost a year and a half. To that point, Blashill said that he will be looking to monitor the load that DeKeyser carries, especially in the early part of the season.
To his credit, DeKeyser has looked good so far. He finished off a play during the three-on-three overtime period at the end of the Red and White game, and he has looked comfortable on the ice throughout training camp. He does seem to be missing a step, which could be attributed to lack of playing time, or even his ascending age (he turns 31 years old in March.) There’s no doubt that the Red Wings’ lineup is better with their longest-tenured defenseman in tow, so it will be crucial for him to get up to game-speed as quickly as possible.
It’s hard to truly get a read on how this team and its players look based solely off of training camp. After all, it’s impossible to emulate the challenge a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning will pose just through drills and scrimmages. But even so, there have been a few players that just seem like they’re either on a different level than their peers, or they’re just fired up and ready to go. Here are some of those players:
Bobby Ryan: The newcomer seems like a guy whose batteries are fully-charged. He’s enthusiastic on and off the ice, an attitude that will definitely be welcome in a locker room that was mostly miserable last season. That enthusiasm is palpable in interviews, and his energy is allowing him to shine on the ice.
It’ll be interesting to see how a guy like Zadina fares with Ryan on his opposite wing. Both can make plays, and both can finish them; I’d expect the former second-overall pick to take Zadina under his wing and help guide the young winger through his first full season in the NHL. If we can expect more plays like the one in the video above, that second-line could be a lot of fun.
Mathias Bromé: After joining the Red Wings as free agent out of Sweden, Bromé has quickly shown a nose for the net during his first official week with his new team. He possesses a shot that, if utilized properly, could provide the kind of depth scoring that Detroit severely lacked last season. However, Blashill seems to be penciling him in as a potential fourth-line player.
When I mentioned “optimization” during our most-recent “Grind Line” column, this is what I meant. The Red Wings’ fourth-line currently consists of Luke Glendening and Adam Erne; both are defensive, grinder-type of players that haven’t proven to be consistent sources of offense. Throwing Bromé alongside these two will not allow the Swedish winger to capitalize on his offensive ability – he’ll be stuck in his own zone too much. Hopefully, we’ll see Blashill try him out on a higher line – preferably the third.
Michael Rasmussen/Givani Smith/Taro Hirose: During the Red & White game, this line consistently created offensive pressure whenever they were on the ice. They displayed a level of chemistry that, right now, might only be rivaled by that of the MLB line. This is a promising development given that all three of these players are pushing for spots on the roster or taxi squad.
Smith’s compete level is sky-high so far, and you can tell that he has his eyes set on one of those open spots. Given his ability to play the net-front on the power-play as well as a fourth-line role, he probably has the inside track on a taxi squad spot. This season represents a very real opportunity for him to present himself as a legitimate grinder at the NHL-level.
As for Rasmussen, his situation got a lot more interesting with the AHL announcing that they have come to an agreement on a plan for their own 2020-21 season. Before that, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would take one of the taxi squad spots, given that he would have nowhere else to play in North America. Ideally, you’d still like to see the Red Wings’ top pick in the 2017 draft stick with the Wings in some fashion, but more top-line minutes with the Grand Rapids Griffins could be on the way.
Hirose sticks out as a player that thrives on playing with players that are more skilled than himself. He was dynamite during his 10-game stint with the Red Wings at the end of the 2018-19 season where he just fed Andreas Athanasiou the puck. With Rasmussen and Smith, he is once again doing a good job of moving the puck around, and having a big man with skill like Rasmussen is certainly helping his cause. At 24 years old, this is a player who could use time on the taxi squad as means to cement where he is as a professional hockey player.
Imagine where Evgeny Svechnikov would be if he were injury-free since being drafted 19th overall in 2015. This poor kid can’t catch a break as he left the Red and White game with an apparent upper-body injury, and has since been deemed “unfit to play”.
It’s been well-documented how important of a season this is for “Geno”. He is no-longer waiver-exempt, which means he either makes the Red Wings out of training camp or they risk losing him on waivers when they send him down to the taxi squad or Grand Rapids. You’d like to see Svechnikov attack this camp at full-health with his mind set on making the roster. We will have to wait to hear more details before condemning his latest comeback attempt.
One More Week!
With just under a week to go before the Red Wings kick-off their 2020-21 season against the Carolina Hurricanes, we’re going to really start to see who is making an honest push at seizing an opportunity with this team. As previously mentioned, the AHL is on their way to starting up their own season, so a lot of the players currently playing in Detroit will inevitably find their way west to Grand Rapids. It’s going to be very interesting to see which players Yzerman and Blashill opt to keep and which ones they send to the AHL.
Nothing in training camp is ever set in stone. This is a time for experimentation and evaluation, so nobody should take what they see as gospel. However, it’s clear to see that the Red Wings have some hungry players in camp. On top of that, the players that began their seasons overseas have a jump in their stride and seem eager to start the season.
It seems that an emphasis has been placed on keeping what worked from last season and re-thinking everything else. Given their reputation around the league following last season’s debacle, that’s not a bad place to start.