Red Wings’ general manager Ken Holland will have to make a few decisions regarding the roster in the next couple of weeks. Tomas Jurco should return sometime during the second week of November, and while Niklas Kronwall has continued to practice with the team, the timetable for his return remains unclear. The Red Wings are tight with respect to the salary cap, with just $571,806 in cap space due to LTIR relief according to CapFriendly. While the team could retroactively place Thomas Vanek on LTIR, it is possible that his injury is not serious enough to merit it.
At the start of the season, the roster decisions appeared fairly cut and dry. It was likely that Andreas Athanasiou would return to the AHL once Jurco was healthy enough to return, and that Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul would sit once Kronwall returned to the lineup. However, the play of Athanasiou and Sproul, in particular, may cause Holland and company to get a little more creative with the Wings’ roster.
Outside of Dylan Larkin (whose roster spot is obviously safe), Athanasiou is the only player on the team exempt from waivers. Once Jurco returns, the speedy forward is the most likely candidate for Holland to move off the roster, as the team can send him to Grand Rapids without the risk of losing an asset.
However, Athanasiou has played well through eight games, registering three points. Considering his lower ice time (12:06 TOI/GP), he has made good use of his minutes. Perhaps more importantly, Athanasiou has looked better on the other side of the puck, as well. He has won more puck battles, beat out potential icing calls against the Wings and done solid work on the forecheck.
Whether he has done enough to stick on the roster remains unclear. Although, head coach Jeff Blashill used Athanasiou on both the power play and penalty kill during Sunday night’s 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers. It could be a sign that he has earned some more trust from Wings management, or that they want more information before they make their decision on what to do with the 22-year-old forward.
The fact that Holland and company were willing to carry eight defensemen instead of 14 forwards probably had to do with a couple of things: Kronwall’s injury certainly came into play, but the team’s lack of depth on the blueline had to play a role as well. Either way, they were willing to expose several forwards on waivers – losing both Martin Frk and Teemu Pulkkinen in the process – in order to keep both Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul on the team.
Heading into the 2016-17 season, it was almost a forgone conclusion that Ouellet had his spot on the roster locked up, even if it was just as the Wings’ seventh defenseman. Ten games into the season and not only has Sproul earned himself a spot on the roster, it is also likely that he has surpassed Ouellet on the depth chart. Certainly, he has gained Blashill’s trust, who sees quite a bit of potential in the 6-foot-4 blueliner.
#RedWings Blashill on Sproul: If he competes that hard, plays with that type aggressiveness defensively, he’s going to be real good player.
— Ansar Khan (@AnsarKhanMLive) October 23, 2016
Each defenseman was able to play five out of the first 10 games of the season, but Sproul appeared to have the more obvious impact of the two. Though he only generated one more point than Ouellet, Blashill liked another right-hand shot on the team’s power play. Each young defender offers something a little different to the Red Wings, but it appears as though Sproul has the edge for now.
Keep an Eye on Anthony Mantha
Considering the Wings’ current roster and cap complications, it is unlikely that we will see Anthony Mantha in the near future. However, if the right set of circumstances arises, the 23-year-old sniper is likely at the top of the list for a potential call-up. Blashill is keeping tabs on the situation, and wants to see Mantha dominate play at the AHL level.
Mantha has scored seven goals in as many games for the Grand Rapids Griffins, and if they decide to call him up to the main roster, he could provide a nice offensive boost. Again, it remains unlikely for now, but keep an eye on his progress in the AHL as the season rolls on.