Ending the year on a high note, the Detroit Red Wings are scheduled to open training camp on New Year’s Eve.
This marks the first organized team activity since Mar. 10, when Detroit dropped a 5-2 game to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Heading into training camp, there’s certainly buzz around Hockeytown. And with that, a handful of noteworthy stories to watch. Let’s dive in.
Motor City Rust
As I mentioned above, the Red Wings haven’t had a meaningful skate in nine months. Surely, there’s going to be some rust when they take the ice.
But how long until we start to see some chemistry? Ideally, the Red Wings start clicking and enter the regular season ready to go. That’s unlikely though, especially when there are no preseason games.
Fortunately, other teams will be in the same boat. Some haven’t skated since late-September; others since March like the Red Wings.
It’s going to be a sloppy first few weeks for the NHL. The hope is that the Red Wings are slightly less sloppy than the other teams.
Hronek & Zadina’s “Preseason”
Two players who have had the benefit of playing competitive games recently are Filip Zadina and Filip Hronek. The two Filips skated in the Czech Extraliga until earlier this month – Hronek produced 23 points (10 goals) in 22 games, while Zadina tallied eight goals and 14 points in 17 contests.
Given their activity overseas, Hronek and Zadina could come to training camp in “midseason form” and dominate early on. The two figure to be prominent members of Detroit’s lineup and special teams, so having them firing on all cylinders would certainly be a benefit for the Red Wings.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Zadina firmly entrench himself as a member of the Red Wings’ top-six during training camp. The future is now for Detroit’s rising star.
Red Wings’ Middle-Six Centers
We all know Dylan Larkin is Detroit’s first-line center. Luke Glendening will most likely fill the role on the fourth line. But what about the second- and third-line centers?
At one point, there was talk of Robby Fabbri getting a shot at center. Detroit signed Vladislav Namestnikov presumably to play down the middle. There’s also last season’s middle-six centers—Valtteri Filppula and Frans Nielsen—plus Sam Gagner, who can play all three forward positions. And don’t forget about Michael Rasmussen, who has been scoring at a point-per-game pace in Austria.
All six forwards will likely play center at some point this season. But who starts out there? My guess is Namestnikov and Filppula get the nod initially.
This will be an interesting subplot to monitor as training camp progresses. With the influx of talent, Jeff Blashill will have plenty of options to consider as he constructs his lineup.
A back injury and subsequent surgery limited Danny DeKeyser to just eight games last season. A full year later, it remains to be seen if he’s ready to go for the 2020-21 season.
“I’m feeling a lot better, which is good,” DeKeyser told Josh Berenter of DetroitRedWings.com in October. “It took me a little bit to kind of feel better again but I’ve finally gotten over that hump, I think. Definitely doing a lot better and I’m looking forward to skating, hopefully soon, when we get back on the ice.”
If DeKeyser comes to camp with a clean bill of health, expect him to slide into a top-four role on the blue line, though the Red Wings may need to shelter him a bit as he re-acclimates to NHL action.
Once the veteran rearguard is back to 100 percent, he’ll provide much-needed defensive depth for the Red Wings. DeKeyser, along with Hronek, Troy Stecher, Patrik Nemeth, and Jon Merrill will give Detroit a much stronger blue line compared to last season.
In a recent Q&A with The Athletic, Blashill shared how he’s been preparing for the upcoming season during the pandemic:
“This has given us obviously an extraordinary amount of time to prepare, maybe to go through discovery, to talk to different people and find ways to keep getting better as a coach, as a staff, as a hockey team,” Blashill said. (from ‘Jeff Blashill Q&A: Where the Red Wings can improve, and impact of new arrivals’ – The Athletic – 11/13/20)
“Now, I also think there’s other areas that we’re continuing to try to improve and get better,” Blashill added, “and so it’s watching a lot of different video — it might be systems, it might be analytics research, it might be watching our players … over in Europe, just to kind of be as informed as possible and as ready as possible.”
Clearly, Detroit’s coach has been soaking up as much as possible during his time off. The question is, though, how much can he implement during the Red Wings’ two-week training camp?
Usually, teams have preseason games to practice new systems and strategies. That won’t be the case this year.
Perhaps Blashill will phase in strategy throughout the year. Or maybe he’ll keep it simple and rely on team effort to overcome structural deficiencies.
We’ll find out soon enough.
Related: Red Wings’ Next Playoff Team
The goal for the Red Wings is to be a more competitive team this year. Their improved depth will go a long way in accomplishing that. Health and how quickly they’re able to shake off the rust are variables worth monitoring, though.
Regardless, we’re days away from action in Hockeytown. And that’s something we haven’t been able to say in a long time.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.