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You read that correctly: the Detroit Red Wings have gotten a few things right. With this brutal season coming to a close, there are indeed a few positive takeaways.
In case you’ve been under a rock, the Red Wings have had their worst season since the 1989-90 campaign—the year they last missed the playoffs. Like the team from a generation ago, today’s Red Wings will likely be on the outside of the postseason when the regular season wraps up.
But enough of the bad news—there’s been plenty this season. Let’s focus on the positives: What the Red Wings have done right during the last year of calling Joe Louis Arena home.
Played the Kids
For what seems like decades, fans’ chief complaint of the Red Wings has been the lack of playing time for prospects. For years, veterans have been given the benefit of the doubt and, subsequently, more ice time. Meanwhile, their “over-ripen” prospect policy has reigned supreme.
This season has been different. Look at the defense, for example. Nick Jensen, Xavier Ouellet and Robbie Russo are everyday players. Ryan Sproul has also played a role, but sprained his knee and will miss the remainder of the season.
Up front, Andreas Athanasiou started the year with the team and Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi and Mitch Callahan all earned a call-up at different points. Clearly, the Red Wings have made it a priority to play the kids. And it would not be a surprise to see Evgeny Svechnikov, Joe Hicketts or Tomas Nosek suit up for a game before the season concludes.
Got a Look at Jared Coreau
When Jimmy Howard first went down with a groin injury in November, the Red Wings called up Jared Coreau to serve as Petr Mrazek’s backup. Coreau started one game – a 5-3 loss to Pittsburgh – before being sent back down.
The second time Howard got hurt, Detroit gave Coreau a real opportunity to showcase his skills. From then on, the young goaltender started 11 of the Red Wings’ next 17 games, including the Centennial Classic against Toronto. During that time, Coreau won five games and recorded two shutouts.
In case the Las Vegas Golden Knights select Howard in the expansion draft or the Red Wings deal their veteran netminder, they now know that Coreau can play at the NHL level. With their season going nowhere, it was the right move to give him a chance.
Accepted Their Fate as “Sellers”
For the first time during his tenure as Red Wings GM, Ken Holland was in a position to sell at the NHL Trade Deadline. Instead of standing pat and pushing for another playoff appearance, Holland dealt his rental players – Thomas Vanek, Steve Ott and Brendan Smith, plus pending restricted free agent Tomas Jurco – for a treasure trove of draft picks.
Though no 1st round picks came back to Detroit, this was the right move for a struggling team. Now, the Red Wings have 11 picks in the upcoming 2017 NHL Draft.
Played Mantha and Athanasiou in the Top-Six
Not only have Mantha and Athanasiou been in the lineup, they’ve also played significant roles in the Red Wings’ offense. Since his call-up, Mantha has found success when placed on Henrik Zetterberg’s line. And as The Hockey Writers’ Brandon Peleshok noted in a recent The Grind Line column, most of his 16:45 average TOI in February has been with the team’s captain on the ice as well.
With Mantha on the top line, Athanasiou has developed chemistry with Frans Nielsen and Vanek on the second line before the latter was dealt at the deadline. Coach Jeff Blashill has let his young forward with his speed loose on the league, and Athanasiou has not disappointed. Through 52 games, he’s lit the lamp 15 times and added seven assists.
However, it hasn’t been all rosy for the two young forwards: both have been scratched for not playing a two-way game on separate occasions. Nonetheless, the two have been a constant in the top-six for most of the season and figure to be there for years to come.