The Detroit Red Wings are just about to hit the quarter mark of the 2013-14 season, and since they’re sporting a 9-5-5 record, “overachieving” isn’t a word most would apply to the team as a whole.
In fact, the Red Wings’ humdrum start is due in large part to collective underachievement—be that their hot-and-cold power play, ineffectual secondary offensive production or lackluster puck management.
Additionally, there’s no shortage of individual players to single out as performing at some level below what was hoped for to start the season.
Stephen Weiss (currently sidelined with a groin injury) has displayed ample effort to recover his offensive game on Detroit’s second line but has yet to have that effort payoff on the scoresheet. Veteran Dan Cleary was recently a healthy scratch due to a poorer-than-expected start, and Kyle Quincey is quickly becoming the bane of many a Red Wings fans’ existence as he continues to find new ways to turn the puck over.
Still, despite all the relative gloom around the Red Wings of late, there are a few players that have been notably pleasant surprises this season.
Take Todd Bertuzzi...actually, please don't
Bertuzzi was a buyout target over the summer as his 38 years, $2 million contract and injury-riddled 2012-13 campaign looked to combine into nothing but dead weight on a team flush with young, hungry forwards.
Young and hungry isn’t all too bad a description for Bertuzzi’s play this season.
Granted, even a beer-league player would look halfway decent playing alongside Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. However, Bertuzzi has looked sharp, dangerous and fleet of foot this season all on his own, and he continues to make Detroit’s first line a triple threat shift after shift.
Not too bad for a guy who came to Detroit four seasons ago as a washed-up has-been looking for a few regular shifts on the Red Wings’ bottom six.
Joakim Andersson is anchoring the bottom six
Speaking of bottom six, while the recently returned Darren Helm continues to recover from a 19-month layoff, center Joakim Andersson has displayed incredible poise and tenacity on Detroit’s third line.
While hardly a superb skater, Andersson has proved to be an effective forechecker at five-on-five and one of the Wings’ more reliable penalty-killers, helping that unit rise to seventh best in the NHL. Andersson has also displayed some offensive upside, posting three goals and three assists, which could have him on pace for roughly 25 points to end the season—a respectable total for a bottom-six center.
However, where Andersson has truly shined is in the faceoff circle, winning 54.5 percent of his draws overall and 73.6 percent at even strength, making him the team leader in both categories.
In just his second full season in Detroit, Andersson is establishing himself as one of coach Mike Babcock’s most reliable options down the middle and, at 6’3” and 215 pounds, one of his more physically imposing assets.
Danny DeKeyser was supposed to be good, but this good...?
As surprising as both Bertuzzi and Andersson have been so far, no player has overachieved more than Danny DeKeyser.
Now, this is saying something inasmuch as the expectations for DeKeyser were already high coming into the season; high as they might have been, DeKeyser has surpassed them.
Aside from displaying superb hockey sense and skating ability, DeKeyser plays with a maturity and focus that allows him to completely control his area of the ice.
Though DeKeyser was tapped to partner with Niklas Kronwall on the top pairing due to Jonathan Ericsson being sidelined with a shoulder injury, it stands to reason that it will remain his to lose even after Ericsson returns.
At this point, it would seem a futile exercise to try and deny that DeKeyser is Detroit’s most important defenseman after his veteran partner Kronwall.
As such, DeKeyser is not only performing as expected but decidedly higher than expectations.
While the list of underperforming Red Wings continues to grow uncomfortably long, Bertuzzi, Andersson and DeKeyser are doing more than their fair share to right Detroit’s ship.