The Detroit Red Wings wrapped up their final exhibition game with a 4-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, finishing the preseason with a record of 6-1-1. A number of the team’s core players participated in the World Cup of Hockey, but several Red Wings stood out in their absence.
Last week, the Red Wings’ writers at THW discussed the first half of the team’s exhibition schedule, which you can read here. This week, we offer our final thoughts on the Wings’ preseason, including whether or not certain players can continue their strong play into the regular season.
Brandon Peleshok: Gustav Nyquist
Heading into the 2016-17 season, Gustav Nyquist likely has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. In addition to his questionable omission from Sweden’s roster for the World Cup of Hockey, the 27-year-old winger had a forgettable campaign with the Red Wings last season. His offensive contributions dropped across the board in 2015-16, but his dip in goal-scoring (10 fewer than in the previous year) stood out the most.
The decline in Nyquist’s offensive production is likely due to a couple of contributing factors. His ice time dropped last season by over a minute, as he went from averaging 16:39 TOI/GP during the 2014-15 season, down to 15:10 last year. In addition, the Red Wings’ lackluster power play had large impact on his production. Although the Swedish sniper maintained his even-strength point totals, his power-play points dropped by half.
Nyquist put together a solid preseason, leading the Red Wings in scoring with six points through four games. Though he played with various linemates during the preseason, he displayed some chemistry with free-agent signing Thomas Vanek during Detroit’s last exhibition game. Vanek assisted on Nyquist’s goal, and the pair worked together to set up a Brendan Smith one-time blast near the end of the first period. Regardless of his linemates, “The Goose” appears poised to have a bounce-back season in 2016-17.
Jacob Messing: Thomas Vanek
Playing for Team Europe during the World Cup, Thomas Vanek looked better than his stats suggested he played; through six games, he registered just one assist. In just one preseason game with Detroit, Vanek doubled that production. His first assist was a slick backdoor pass to Gustav Nyquist.
Vanek, often criticized for taking games off and a lack of defensive play, is out to prove his doubters wrong and appears set to do it. At 32-years-old, Vanek’s best years are behind him, but I’m confident he can still contribute 20-plus goals and fall between 50-60 points.
That’s not bad production for $2.6 million and likely a third-line role. With a career shooting percentage of 14.4 and having never shot below 10 percent, they key to Vanek’s turnaround year is to simply shoot the puck.
His lack of defense can be picked up by stronger two-way linemates—coach Jeff Blashill has already said Vanek will play along Darren Helm. The other winger will likely be Riley Sheahan, who could be on the verge of a career-year himself.
The best-case scenario for the Red Wings would be Vanek playing his way back into a top-six, which he lost upon signing with Minnesota in 2014. The truth is that Vanek is just three seasons removed from scoring 27 goals and 68 points, which he did in 78 games.
Tony Wolak: Solid Look into the Future
Over the course of the preseason, the Detroit Red Wings have had the opportunity to view players of all skill levels—including their top prospects—in action against a variety of opponents. This gave Red Wings fans a glimpse into the future when the likes of Anthony Mantha, Evgeny Svechnikov, Tyler Bertuzzi and Joe Hicketts took their turns in the lineup. Their preseason play gave the Red Wings a sense of optimism for the future.
Future is the key word. While it’s no secret that Mantha, Svechnikov, Bertuzzi, Hicketts and others are supremely talented, they are still green. Once these players round out their respective games and surpass the AHL-level game speed, they’ll get the chance to play in the NHL.
This is why the Red Wings made the difficult decision to risk losing Martin Frk on waivers. Frk has a cannon of a shot, but is an average skater and isn’t as dependable as the likes of Thomas Vanek, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader in his own end.
Each of Detroit’s top prospects still have minor flaws to their games. Mantha hasn’t earned coach Blashill’s trust as a two-way NHL player, but has made tremendous strides this preseason. Bertuzzi could turn into a grinding, goal-scoring top-six player, but not until he learns to play at a faster pace in a tougher league. Svechnikov is still learning the defensive aspect of professional hockey, but has the speed to become highly dangerous.
Once these players get past their growing pains, they’ll play for the Red Wings in top-nine roles. But look out, it could be sooner rather than later.