Detroit Red Wings: An Early Look at the 2013-14 Depth Chart
It's never too early to speculate about next season's excitement.
After a thrilling run in the playoffs and a prospect system filled with quality NHL talent, the time is now for the Red Wings to make some noise in the new Eastern Conference.
Alfredsson wants to win the prized trophy in hockey and figured that winning it with his friend Henrik Zetterberg and other fellow Swedes would be a bittersweet ending to a truly remarkable career.
The Red Wings also welcomed in Florida center Stephen Weiss. He has a proven track record of producing 45-60 points in a season and will fill the second-line center role.
While there may be some turnover from last year's roster, there will not be much else that changes. The Red Wings will still be led by Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall. They will have an elite goaltender in Jimmy Howard protecting the crease and stealing games.
Most importantly, the Red Wings will be getting valuable ice time from a youth movement consisting of Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Dan DeKeyser.
After a few years of doubt in Hockeytown, all seems to be well.
Here is my projected depth chart for the 2013-14 Detroit Red Wings.
1st Line: Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen
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Now that the second-line center role has been filled, it allows Zetterberg and Dastyuk to be paired together.
The dynamic duo for the Red Wings wreak havoc on the top lines in the NHL. Add in power forward Johan Franzen, and the top line for Detroit has an incredible amount of playmaking ability and goal-scoring punch.
Franzen scored 31 points in 48 games this past season. He showed more of an effort to be a facilitator on the ice and had fewer stretches of inconsistency. Being paired with Datsyuk and Zetterberg will further curtail those inconsistency issues.
Paired with the Mule will be two of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. They both produce at nearly a point-per-game level and have won several individual defensive awards.
Detroit's first line knows how to get the job done. Unlike last year, the scoring support behind these three will bolster an already lethal attack.
2nd Line: Gustav Nyquist, Stephen Weiss, Daniel Alfredsson
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The biggest offseason move came as a shock to Red Wing fans.
Longtime Senators captain and right winger Daniel Alfredsson walked away from the only team he ever knew in hopes to finally win his first Stanley Cup. The 40-year-old Swede had played 18 seasons in Ottawa and participated in a whopping 1,178 games with the squad. In those games, he amassed 1,108 points.
Alfredsson signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract (and incentives that could pay him $5.5 million) with the Detroit Red Wings on July 5.
On that day as well, Florida Panthers center and former Plymouth Whaler standout Stephen Weiss filled a much-needed second-line center role. He signed a deal that will have him in Detroit for the next five years.
Playing alongside the two veterans will be Gustav Nyquist. After spending most of this last season on the third line, Nyquist will take a larger scoring role on this year's team. He was nominated twice for the Hobey Baker Award when he played at the University of Maine.
He also was a top scorer with the Griffins and was a major contributor in their Calder Cup victory.
Nyquist will learn many things about the game from these proven veterans. The young Swede is a skilled playmaker who finishes well around the net. Being paired with a power forward at the center spot and a legendary winger will bring out the best in this line, which will look to erase Detroit's secondary scoring problems.
3rd Line: Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Tomas Tatar
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Detroit's third line will have a great deal of speed and also scoring ability.
This season's rendition of the third line will feature a healthy Darren Helm, whose speed is a game-changer, a tenacious young winger with a scoring touch in Tomas Tatar and a scrappy forward who drives the net in Justin Abdelkader.
As a checking line, there is a lot to like from this grouping. All three bring a desirable trait in their game that makes this line tough to compete against. The grouping is also good on both sides of the ice.
Abdelkader took a huge step forward in his development as a power forward this past season. He finished with 10 goals and three assists, with most of those coming in the last 20 games of the season. A huge reason for that success can be attributed toward playing with Datsyuk and Franzen.
Helm's health is still a huge question mark. He has just began skating at the team's development in Traverse City, Mich. and is slowly regaining his on-ice form, according to GM Ken Holland.
Throw in an eager Tatar, who has been called up in two separate stints with the club over the last five yeras, and the Wings definitely increased their athleticism. This trio will be crucial to the Red Wings' success this season.
4th Line: Drew Miller, Joakim Andersson, Patrick Eaves
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The Red Wings may have found their full-time fourth-line center while they wait for Riley Sheahan to iron out a few minor details.
Joakim Andersson was called up last season as injuries mounted. He never relinquished his spot that he was given, as he played his way onto the playoff roster and proved that he is ready for the NHL. He won faceoffs, wore the opposition down and even chipped in some on the scoresheet.
Andersson anchored the third line that was instrumental to the Wings' success during the postseason.
Grouped with him will be two skilled wingers who bring a lot of speed and also a lot of heart and determination.
Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves have become important pieces on the Wings' penalty-killing unit. They also have the ability to chip in 10-15 goals on the fourth line, a rare commodity that is lost in today's NHL.
Now that Eaves is healthy and Miller was re-signed to stay in Detroit, they can keep willing their way to victory every night. And having Andersson to center that line will allow the trio to bring a lot of high-octane hockey to the ice.
Reserves: Cory Emmerton and Jordin Tootoo
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The Red Wings have a luxury to use these two players in a situational setting.
Cory Emmerton has his upsides, such as winning faceoffs and being an above-average skater. But his hands and his lack of playmaking ability hinder him significantly. Especially with a team that has many talented prospects ready to take his spot.
The forward logjam does not help out his case, as well.
Luckily for Emmerton, he brings a lot of energy and looked very good in spurts last year on the fourth line that usually featured Miller and Eaves.
He also played a few games with Tootoo as his right wing.
Speaking of Tootoo, this tough-as-nails agitator is someone the Wings desperately need as they transition to the Eastern Conference style of play. While he has highlight reel hits, he does not chip in offensively.
Another problem with Tootoo (as is the case with any fighters) is that he can succumb to taking dumb penalties. While that is not always the case, Tootoo quickly fell out of favor in the playoffs against Anaheim and Chicago.
I highly doubt that Tootoo will lose his spot on the roster, but having a one-dimensional agitator on an NHL roster nowadays can be a problem to certain teams.
And Then There Is Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson...
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With the signings of Alfredsson and Weiss, it likely means the end for the oft-injured Bertuzzi and Samuelsson.
GM Ken Holland had two compliance buyouts that he could have used before free agency began this summer.
He used one on defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and the thinking was that Bertuzzi or the injured Samuelsson would be the next to go.
Yet the team could not find a way to get rid of them and now have an interesting choice to make.
For Samuelsson, he first needs to get healthy. That is what prevented him from getting bought out by the Red Wings. He only played a total of nine games this past season (regular season and postseason) and barely contributed.
He has one more year left on his deal that is paying him $3 million.
Bertuzzi dealt with lingering back issues that held him to seven games in the regular season and six in postseason play. At age 39, he won't be back for another contract when he becomes a free agent next July.
But from what we have seen from Bert in the past few years, it is evident he still has immense skill. He also stands up for his teammates and still dazzles fans with his slick moves.
What happens to these two veterans will be an important point for the future of this hockey team.
1st Defensive Pairing: Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson
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In a group of young defensemen with a lot of promise, Kronwall and Ericsson serve as the veteran presence that keep these young pups from running wild.
Together, the tandem complement each other very well. Kronwall is a two-way defenseman who heads the power play and has a strong shot. His defense is also a strong suit. Just ask the unfortunate few that have been "Kronwalled" in their career.
He also stepped up into a larger leadership role after Nicklas Lidstrom's departure and has since focused more on being more responsible and less flashy.
Jonathan Ericsson is a guy who is also a very responsible player. Where Kronwall has more offensive capabilities, "Big E" is a big defenseman who uses his smarts and his size to shut down the opposition's best players.
Ericsson has become a premier lockdown defender in the NHL.
Playing around an ever-changing young core on defense for the Red Wings, Kronwall and Ericsson bring the know-how and experience that the group sorely needs.
2nd Pairing: Dan DeKeyser and Brendan Smith
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There is still a lot that Dan DeKeyser and Brendan Smith must do to earn the trust from the Red Wings contingent.
But from what has been seen, this pairing could be together for several years.
Dan DeKeyser is a young defenseman with a lot of promise. The Red Wings signed the former Western Michigan pivot after their 2012-13 season ended. He is a promising young defenseman because of his great skating ability and his involvement on both sides of the ice.
He will be a restricted free agent next season but projects to be in the Red Wings' top-four group for several years. His offensive ability will only grow as time moves on. It will be exciting to see him play in a full season.
Brendan Smith would be the perfect counterpart to DeKeyser, as he has rising offensive ability. He still makes plenty of gaffes on the ice, usually leading to turnovers, but he will see less of this with a defensive partner who can get back and protect him if he jumps into the rush.
Smith recently signed a two-year deal that allowed him to avoid arbitration.
3rd Pairing: Jakub Kindl and Kyle Quincey
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This pairing could be one of the most underrated among the NHL heading into 2012-13.
Jakub Kindl has proven that he can be a part of Detroit's defensive core going forward. He was thrust in a full-time role after the Wings dealt with injuries this past season. In 41 games, Kindl had four goals and nine assists and, most importantly, looked like he took major strides in his two-way game.
In the postseason, he was outstanding even though he had just five points in 14 games. Usually the best defensemen do not have to make themselves known all the time, and that is what Kindl did during the playoffs. He was able to make smart choices on the ice and lead all defensemen with a plus-15.
Paired with Kindl will be a pending free agent that is playing for a spot on the roster in Kyle Quincey.
GM Ken Holland reacquired him from Colorado in a three-team trade in February of 2012. He played well down the stretch that year but fell out of favor at the start of the lockout-shortened campaign.
Quincey settled down on the defensive side of the puck but still was inactive on the stat sheet. Detroit has several defensive options that could push this veteran defenseman out of the lineup. That would be, of course, if Quincey falls off the map.
He is an unrestricted free agent following next season and will likely not be brought back unless he proves that he can be a great compliment to Jakub Kindl.
Starting Goalie: Jimmy Howard
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Without the strong play of Jimmy Howard, the Red Wings would not have made the playoffs last season.
They also would have not have made it as deep into the postseason had it been for Howard's dominant performances.
In short, Jimmy Howard was the team's MVP for the 2012-13 season. He had to deal with defensive issues in front of him and also a team that lacked goalscoring. He also carried the load for a team that was without backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson throughout much of the season.
He finished his impressive season with a 21-13-7 record, a .923 save percentage and a 2.13 GAA, numbers that put Howard in the discussion to possibly win a Vezina Trophy. That didn't happen, but he is on track to surely win one in the future.
Just before he took the team on a harrowing playoff run, Howard and GM Ken Holland were able to agree on a deal that would keep him in Detroit for the next six years.
For once, it seems like the Red Wings will have a goaltender that can keep them in games. And someone they can also build the team around.
Backup Goaltender: Jonas Gustavsson
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The 2012-13 season was a huge disappointment for a guy who was looking for a new start.
After he signed a two-year deal with Detroit, Gustavsson battled injuries to begin the season. Then, the Monster looked out of sync in several starts and some appearances where Howard was chased from the game. In all, Gustavsson only played in six games during the shortened campaign.
Next season should be much better for the Monster.
He should be healthy to start out the year. With this being his final year under contract, he is playing to still hold a spot in the NHL. The Red Wings have a few options waiting in the wings at goaltender, most notably Petr Mrazek.
Gustavsson proved during his time in Toronto that he can steal games and make key saves when he is called upon. While he won't be playing every other game, he will need to be sharp in the 25-30 games that he will get during the 2013-14 season.
The Monster is back and ready to make noise next season.