1. Pavel Datsyuk
It may be impossible not to watch Pavel Datsyuk work his magic on the ice. Coming off a disappointing year due to injury troubles, Datsyuk had an impressive preseason and seemed to pick up right where he left off during the postseason. You can’t help but watch in amazement at the things the Red Wing forward, often touted as one of the top 5 players in the game, can do with the puck. He’s poised to have a big season, and the team could really use it. Barring injury, expect Datsyuk to have one of the best season’s of his career.
2. Nicklas Lidstrom
In what could be his last season, Nicklas Lidstrom will have his work cut out for him. He’s captaining a Red Wings team that is rebuilding its defense after several key retirements, meaning this may be his last chance to instill his hockey wisdom on the team’s younger players. #5 is also coming off of a stellar season which won him his 7th Norris Trophy and will look to make history by securing his 8th. Lidstrom is perhaps the best defensemen in the game today. Keep your eyes peeled accordingly.
3. Darren Helm
If you see a streaking flash of red headed off on a breakaway this season, chances are it’s Darren Helm. The speedster has been around the team for a few years now and has shown noticeable improvement to his game from season to season. This year he’ll be asked to take on a larger role with the team, and if training camp was any indication, he’s more than ready. Helm is also a great asset on the PK because of his dogged determination and smart decisions with the puck. He’ll be getting plenty of ice team in 2011-2012, and he’s almost guaranteed to put up more points than in previous years.
4. Justin Abdelkader
Abdelkader is perhaps a slower and grittier version of Helm, and the two will likely spend a lot of time on the ice together. Justin is quickly becoming a better player with, and more importantly without, the puck. He’s a hard hitter and tough competitor who will likely log plenty of penalty minutes, but is fully capable of offsetting those by the calls he draws. Abdelkader is one of the only Red Wings willing to drop the gloves, which makes him particularly fun to watch for the fans. He’s ready to have a great season, and the Wings are certainly hoping he does.
5. Jimmy Howard
Howard could be the key to whether Detroit continues its league dominance or not. After having a difficult time last season, he’s looking to bounce back and reaffirm his position as the team’s #1 backstop. With a changing defense in front of him, it will be more important than ever for Howard to steal a few goals from opponents while the team makes adjustments. During the preseason Howard looked shaky and uncomfortable at times, leading many to believe he isn’t capable of being the go to netminder. He needs to establish himself as the rock the team can stand and rely upon. Can he do it? We’ll have to see.
6. Jiri Hudler
Hudler had a forgettable year after returning from the KHL and will need to prove himself in this league once more if he expects to receive a contract offer at the end of the season. For a more in-depth look at the make or break season facing Jiri Hudler, click here.
7. Johan Franzen
After an excellent start to 2010-2011, The Mule had a lackluster second half which drew him plenty of criticism. The Red Wings need Franzen to be a more consistent point producer. He’s clearly capable of a 40 goal season, but has yet to produce one. The team is counting on him to reach those heights this year. It’s as simple as that.
8. Ian White
After playing for 3 different teams last year, Ian White will undoubtedly be trying to make a good impression with his newest team in hopes of avoiding being traded once again. White will likely spend most of his time playing next to Nicklas Lidstrom as he tries to replace fellow puck-moving defensemen Brian Rafalski. While playing with a talent like Lidstrom will offer him some room for mistakes, he’ll have to be on his best game to stay in the top defensive pairing. In addition to top minutes even-strength, it’s likely that White will get a good deal of time on the #1 powerplay unit as well. Look for his point production to increase as he settles in and feeds off of Lidstrom’s brilliant play. He’s entering the season with high expectations, and living up to them will be crucial.
9. Jakub Kindl
Though Jakub spent plenty of time with the ‘Wings last season (albeit being switched in and out of the line up with the late Ruslan Salei for a good deal of that time), he entered training camp needing to earn his position with the team. Whether or not he did that likely doesn’t matter, as his two biggest competitors, Mike Commodore & Brenden Smith, wont be able to start the season with an injury and a suspension respectively. The young blueliner will need to give his best effort to retain his position on the roster, and he’s been given the perfect opportunity to make himself invaluable. If he’s capable of doing so or not remains to be seen.
10. Valtteri Filppula
The Red Wings have been waiting for the center to breakout for the last 2 seasons. Both times they’ve been met with less than they hoped for. Valtteri’s problem? An unwillingness to shoot the puck. With hands and skating abilities reminiscent of an early Pavel Datsyuk, he’ll need to learn when the right time to pull the trigger is in order to reach the next level of his game. Mike Babcock and the coaching staff have the utmost confidence in his abilities, but have yet to be rewarded for their faith. Filppula put forth a respectable preseason, spending some time on the wing, and looks prepared to finally come out of his shell. The Red Wings are counting on a big season from the 27 year old, and if he fails to produce, it could have dire consequences for the team’s offense.