There are several question marks regarding the Detroit Red Wings’ roster heading into the 2016-17 season. Of course, the central focus is the status of Pavel Datsyuk, but Ken Holland also has to make decisions on forwards Darren Helm and Drew Miller. He will also have to determine whether Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha will start the season in Detroit.
The Red Wings are likely to retain all of their restricted free agents, leaving little space on the roster. There is a good chance that Holland will explore the market in an attempt to fill the remaining spots, but he also has the option of utilizing some under-the-radar players already within the organization. This week’s edition of The Grind Line examines some possible dark-horse candidates who have an outside chance at cracking the 2016-17 roster.
Tony Wolak: Tomas Nosek
As of now, the Red Wings have a lot of work to do to round out their roster. If the team decides to part ways with Helm and Miller, they will lose two forwards who play regularly on the penalty kill. Given their current roster composition, they are lacking size and energy up front—two traits Tomas Nosek could bring to the table next season.
After signing as an undrafted free agent out of the Czech Republic’s top league, Nosek has spent the past two seasons in Grand Rapids with the Griffins. He also had a brief six-game stint with the Red Wings last year. While he produced less in his second season with the Griffins, Nosek certainly matured. Playing alongside Daniel Cleary has its pluses and minuses. Nosek grew a lot as a player with the veteran Cleary by his side, but also had fewer opportunities in the offensive zone.
Ken Holland said he wants the team to get bigger, and 6-2, 210lb Nosek certainly helps in that regard. He would be a perfect fit on the fourth line with Luke Glendening and likely Tomas Jurco. The two-way Nosek can provide energy at even strength and kill penalties when the Wings are short a player. Additionally, Nosek can play both center and wing, given Jeff Blashill lineup flexibility.
While roster decisions are dependent on Datsyuk’s decision, Nosek has an early advantage to make the Red Wings next season given his size, flexibility, and ability to kill penalties effectively.
Geoffrey Chiles: Nick Jensen
Taken in the fifth round of the 2009 NHL Draft, Detroit used a pick on a Minnesota-native Nick Jensen, something we haven’t seen for a very long time. As of now, there is one final spot on the Wings’ third defense pairing. With Ken Holland intimating Kyle Quincey won’t return to the Wings, there remains a chance for Jensen to crack the lineup. Though not as highly touted as Xaiver Ouellet or Ryan Sproul, Jensen possesses the right combination of being responsible with the puck and using his skating to aid the transition game-not to mention, a coveted right-hand D. He flies up the ice and looks as natural a skater as you’ll see. Those two factors could put him on the right side of the roster come October.
The AHL brought different challenges. Wings’ management praised his compete level, with Jiri Fischer noting that “(Jensen) works as hard as anybody.” In only his second minor league season in 2014-2015, he ranked second among Grand Rapids defensemen, collecting 27 points in 75 regular season games. Those totals can’t make up for height and weight. Jensen stands at only 6 feet tall, and weighs 200 pounds. His lack of size poses a serious threat to his chances of defending NHL forwards.
However, Jensen may be able to overcome those deficiencies with his skating. Instincts and vision on the ice are also a plus; in 2015, the Rogers, MN native led the AHL in plus/minus at a whopping 30. With defensemen like Ouellet and Sproul likely to make the big club before him, he has his positives, but Jensen is a longshot to wear the Winged Wheel in 2016.
Brandon Peleshok: Martin Frk
Drafted in the 2nd round (49th overall) in 2012, the Red Wings selected Martin Frk due to his booming shot and ability to find the back of the net. Upon turning pro in 2013-14, he spent the next two seasons bouncing between the ECHL and AHL, while struggling to crack the Griffins lineup. The 2015-16 season represented a complete turnaround for the 22-year-old winger, though. Frk finished the year with 27 goals (2nd on the team) and 44 points (5th on the team), while finally cementing his spot in Grand Rapids.
One season of generating offense may not convince Holland to give Frk a serious look next fall. Arguably, the majority of players on the Red Wings’ current roster are best suited for offensive roles. Management could look to add another adept penalty killer into the mix, especially if the team parts ways with Helm and Miller.
At the same time, the Red Wings struggled offensively this season, especially on the power play. While it is highly unlikely that the Czech-winger will find himself as a regular in the lineup, his goal-scoring ability could land him a spot as an extra forward. In addition to his offensive skills, Frk’s waiver-eligible status might help his cause, as another team could pick him off the waiver wire. While most teams focus on their own players at the beginning of the season, a player who notched 27 goals in the AHL might be enticing to one of the other 29 general managers in the league. If Frk can manage to put together an impressive showing during training camp, he has an outside chance at starting the 2016-17 season in Detroit.
Jacob Messing: Robbie Russo
Originally drafted 95th overall by the New York Islanders in 2011, Robbie Russo finished his collegiate career at Notre Dame before signing with the team that drafted him, leaving him open to free agency in similar fashion as Justin Schultz and Danny DeKeyser in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Multiple teams immediately pursued Russo’s services after a breakout senior year in which he posted 15 goals and 41 points through 40 games.
Russo eventually chose the Red Wings last August, signing a two-year entry-level contract, He joined Detroit’s AHL affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins ahead of the 2015-16 season. The 23-year-old is a rare, right-handed shooting defenseman in Detroit’s organization.
Russo finished his rookie season with five goals and 39 points in 65 games and an AHL-leading plus-40 rating. He added another goal and four assists in nine playoff games. Russo finished third among all AHL defenseman in scoring and was selected for the All-Rookie team and the Second All-Star team.
— GrandRapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) April 14, 2016
He’s possibly the biggest long-shot on this list due to the expiring waiver-exemptions of three other Griffins defensemen: Xavier Ouellet and righties Nick Jensen and Ryan Sproul.