The Detroit Red Wings did exactly what they needed to do. They addressed their winger situation by letting Anthony Mantha go and getting a haul in return. Jakub Vrana could easily be better than Mantha, and some would argue that he already is. They also got Richard Panik, a rental depth forward on a relatively cheap contract, that left after the season. They also got two draft picks; one turned into Wyatt Johnston, and the other is in the upcoming 2022 draft.
I wrote an article about why the team needs a better player to center the first line than Dylan Larkin, and most of the reactions I received agreed with that sentiment. However, a fair amount of people thought he was good enough and just needed better wingers surrounding him. This may very well be the case, so who are some options for the Red Wings to pursue?
We’re starting strong with the Calgary Flames star forward Johnny Gaudreau. The 28-year-old forward has been in trade rumors now for around three seasons, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to be stopping any time soon, considering his contract will be ending after 2021-22. He has been the lifeblood of a Flames team that has been somewhat middling since their Pacific Division championship in 2018-19. Although he did have a fairly down 2019-20, scoring only 58 points in 70 games and not even reaching the 20 goal mark, he bounced back and was at almost a point per game. In a normal 82-game schedule, he was on pace to shatter his totals from the season before with 71 points.
The good thing about Gaudreau is his shooting percentage recovered. When he had his otherworldly 99 point season, he was shooting at 14.69%. He then fell to 8.6% and shot back up to a ridiculous 17%. He is the same player we saw in 2018-19, just two years older.
So what could he bring to the Red Wings? Well, the obvious one is scoring, and that’s exactly what the team needs. The team leader in points last season was Filip Hronek with 26. That’s not good enough for a team looking to move out of the rebuilding phase slowly. It was a weird year, but we had to draw a line in the sand at some point. Any time that you can nab a player for a lower price than what he’s worth (most likely the case here if the Flames believe he will walk in free agency), you should do it. He’s in the prime of his career and can really help Larkin and Vrana out on the first line. He can provide a scoring touch that the Red Wings currently don’t have.
Speaking of players who are in the prime of their careers, on a team trending the wrong way, that is an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season, Filip Forsberg is another option. He’s pretty much in the same boat as Gaudreau, except he doesn’t have a 99-point season under his belt, or really anything close to it. However, what Forsberg lacks in crazy scoring output, he makes up for in two-way play and excellent creativity. Countless clips surface around the internet simply because he bobbles the puck on his stick or flips it over a defender and into open space. Like this one:
Or this one, where he became the second person ever to score a lacrosse goal and the third in NHL history:
The one problem with Forsberg has been his scoring, and it’s not entirely his fault. A mix of coaching systems and injuries have put a lid on his point totals, but he could become an even bigger threat on a team with a good offensive system and linemates who are strong scorers. The Predators are notoriously good at preventing strong scorers from actually scoring points simply because of the coaches they hire.
Forsberg is a three-time 60-point scorer, and was almost a point per game in 2017-18. He even hit that plateau in the 2020-21 season, but he got hurt and fell off from there. There’s still a lot of untapped potential, even at the age of 27, and with Larkin and Vrana, I think he could get there. I see a lot of prime Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen in combination with him. Those two were part of one of the best lines in Predators’ history with Forsberg, and they were a big reason why they went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. If the Red Wings could get a line with that level of ability and synergy, they would be in a great position.
Tomas Hertl’s future with the San Jose Sharks is unclear, and that means everyone in Motown should be excited. If you’re looking for a skilled winger that’s been held back by his team, he’s your guy. The Czech winger has never been a truly elite scorer outside of the 2019-19 season, where he hit 74 points in 77 games. He scored 35 goals, and made his name known around the entire league. He shot at almost 20 percent during that season, so expecting him to recreate those numbers in the aggregate is probably a bit unrealistic. However, in 2020-21 he shot an even 17 percent, so it’s certainly possible he gets up to that level again.
Hertl is the same age as Forsberg at 27-years-old, and they both have a history of scoring on bad teams. The one big difference between both of them is the analytics favor Hertl. Just by looking at Evolving-Hockey, he’s an excellent driver of expected goals for (xGF), and his defense is some of the best for a forward with his offensive caliber.
Not only is he a great driver of xGF, but he also has excellent tangible results. He contributes to goals scored in a multitude of ways that the box score can’t show. He’s not incredible at creating rush offense, but it would be a good bet that he produces something off of it when he does. A player like him paired with Vrana could be a deadly duo in the NHL. Both of them are relatively fast players that can create strong offense but also play above-average defense. He’s very reliable, and at this point in the rebuild, that’s what the Red Wings need.
Continuing the trend I started in the previous article about upgrades for the Red Wings that I mentioned earlier, here’s one player that I think they could draft to aid their woes. It also doesn’t require as much tanking as it does for Shane Wright. Miroshnichenko is a solid scorer and has proven that fact at multiple levels in the Russian leagues and international tournaments. The 6-foot-1 winger scored 15 points in 20 Minor Hockey League (MHL) games in Russia, and at the U18 World Junior Championships, he scored over a point per game with eight points in seven games. The most interesting thing about the eight points was that six of them were goals.
He really made his name in 2019-20 at the U16 International Tournament. He scored a ridiculous 27 points in 15 games, including 17 goals in that total. It’s safe to say that he has an eye for the net, even though he may not be as prolific of a scorer as Wright or even someone like Matthew Savoie. He clearly can still contribute to the offense in a multitude of ways.
Not only will Miroshnichenko’s goal-scoring be a huge help to the overall makeup of the Red Wings, but his ability to work off the rush and create lanes for his teammates goes almost underrated. His skating is still one of his strong suits, even if that isn’t what you think about at first. On the first line with Vrana and Larkin, he could bring the much-needed scoring prowess. He would need some time to develop as most prospects do, but the league better watch out if he can hit his ceiling as a player. He will be a menace no matter where he goes, but it would be great if the Red Wings had a chance to grab him in the draft.
There are plenty of options for Steve Yzerman and the front office to choose from. It boils down to which players fit their mold for the future the best. Whether that’s strong two-ways or prolific goal scorers, they need to move quickly before time runs out.
Jeff is a consistent source for Red Wings and Wild content at The Hockey Writers. He was formerly a member of the Predators writing team, and he enjoys watching all sorts of hockey, from juniors to the pros. Jeff enjoys playing for his high school and local teams in Nashville as well. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here or check out his contributions on his Substack, Last Word on Hockey, On the Forecheck, and Puck Empire. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck or the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions, you can message his Twitter, @jjmid04.