The Detroit Red Wings' top four forwards are very consistent, but in order for the team to have success this year, it will be this next level of forward who will need to step up. There will be plenty of opportunity as Daniel Cleary, Damien Brunner and Valtteri Filppula are no longer on the team.
Here are the players who will be vying for these spots.
Johan Franzen is perhaps the most frustrating player in the Red Wing’s organization. At the end of the season, his stats looked good, but there were many stretches of games where he was nearly invisible. His per-year cap hit of $3.9 million is very manageable, but the fact that he is signed through the end of the 2020 often riles fans up.
He has led the team in goals in two of the last three seasons. He has also gone at least three games without scoring a point eight times in the last two seasons. In 2011-12, the last full season, he scored 30 goals and 27 assists in 82 games (regular season and playoffs). The downside is that he was also held to zero points in 41 games.
It seems to be feast or famine with Franzen, as he had 13 multi-point games to go along with those 41 shutouts. In the shortened 2012-13 season, he played in 55 games (regular season and playoffs) and was held off of the scoresheet 27 times.
The end stats are there, but the team needs to know that Franzen will contribute more often than not.
It seems like Darren Helm has been a regular on any “player that is going to step up" list in the past couple of seasons. So far it has not happened. He lost last season to a back injury and with the talent waiting in the wings behind him, this may be his last season to prove that he can reach his potential.
Helm is one of the fastest skaters in the league and has a great knack for stealing the puck and forcing bad passes. This has made him very useful on the penalty-killing unit, and his absence last season was very noticeable.
He had a career-best 12 goals during the 2010-11 season. He is good at getting shots on net; however, he needs to improve on being able finish his shots.
Going into last season, Justin Abdelkader would have been a shock to be on such a list. Prior to last season, he had a career-best eight goals over a full season. To the surprise of everyone, he scored 10 times in only 48 games last season.
This was after a very cold start to the season. He did not score a goal until the 24th game of the season, and that was an empty net goal. With some line adjustments, he found himself playing next to Datsyuk, and his stat line exploded as he scored nine goals in the final 20 games of the season.
While many credit playing next to Datsyuk for his scoring outburst, he has shown flashes earlier in his career. In college and in the minors he was not only a consistent goal scorer but also did well with assists.
During his first two full seasons with the team, he was not playing in a scoring role. With the team struggling last season, he was called upon to do more, and he responded well. In college and the minors he averaged .36 goals and .76 points per game. Those numbers dropped to .09 and .26 respectively during those first two seasons with the Wings.
While his goals jumped last season, his assists total took a big hit, as he only had three. This season he will need to show if last season was a fluke or something that he will be able to build on. Based on the pace that he finished last season with, he could score 36 goals over a full season.
That seems a bit optimistic, even for the most ardent of supporters, but if he manages to get into the 20-25 goal range and more than 50 points, then he will definitely became a major contributor and part of the top six forwards on the team.
Tomas Tatar will finally get a real shot at the team this season. He has been a regular scorer in the minors and has shown flashes while playing with the team. In 18 games with the Red Wings last season, he had four goals and seven points.
Meanwhile, in the past three seasons in the minors he has scored at least 23 goals each season. This season he had 49 points despite playing in only 61 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins. Those stats are impressive enough, but he got even better once the playoffs rolled around. In 24 playoff games, he had 16 goals and 21 points while leading his team to the Calder Cup Championship.
At 5’10”, he is a little undersized but so far has been able to play through that. He needs to show that he can do that at the NHL level. With Cleary, Brunner and Filppula gone, he has the best chance at filling their spots.
Gustav Nyquist had a solid season in 2012-13. He played 22 regular season games with the Red Wings and had three goals and six points. In the playoffs, he added two more goals and five points while teaming up with Damien Brunner and Joakim Andersson to form the team’s most efficient line.
He also played 58 regular season games with the Griffins, where he scored 23 goals and had 60 points. He went on to help them in the playoffs with seven points over 10 games.
If given the playing time, he should be able to produce and be a solid contributor for the team. He has the talent to be a top-six player as well. It remains to be seen if he can take that step this season.
Joakim Andersson, like Nyquist, earned more playing time as the season progressed.
He will likely not become a major scoring threat but has a chance to become one of the better all-around players on the team. He was one of the leaders in faceoffs during the playoffs. He plays solid defense and really helps solidify the center position on the third line.
He helped Nyquist and Brunner to be very productive during the playoffs. He is the type of player that may not jump out on the score sheet, but whose importance may be immeasurable to team.
I imagine that some people will wonder why Todd Bertuzzi or Mikael Samuelsson are not on the list. At this point in their careers the bigger question surrounding them will be how many games they will be able to play, versus how ineffective they will be when on the ice?
Both have gone downward in the twilight of their careers and to be honest, should be moved to free up roster and cap space for other players. Would you rather have one of these guys or Brunner back? Of course, it is not as easy as just being able to get rid of a player.
Still, there is a chance that general manager Ken Holland will still make moves to this roster. There are rumors that Jordin Tootoo is being shopped around. At this point it would appear that such a move would be to free roster space and that the team would likely not receive NHL-level talent in return. The Wings are right up against the cap and also have too many players under contract. So some move will need to happen.
Still, with a deep talent pool in the minors plus the addition of Daniel Alfredsson, it would not be surprising for Holland to package some players together in order to bring in a higher scoring player.
The season promises to be an interesting one for the Red Wings. With the surprising playoff success last season and the free agents moves made so far, they will hopefully be able to build on that.
The bet here is that Tatar, Abdelkader and Franzen will battle for the top six spots during the season, but someone not currently on the roster will fill one of those roles by the end of the season.