The Detroit Red Wings have struggled of late, but their leaders are sure to turn things around.
There are compelling forces throughout sports that provide the necessary intangibles to succeed. The ability to have a positive impact on teammates, both on and off the playing surface, is an invaluable asset.
The Detroit Red Wings have had their share of influential personalities throughout their storied history—from Gordie Howe’s innate scoring ability to Steve Yzerman’s complete overhaul. Some players transcend the game to inspire others to either raise their intensity, fall in line or reevaluate their approaches altogether.
The Red Wings aren’t much different. Perhaps some of their efforts do fly under the radar. Not every player on this list is considered a leader, but their work certainly is not ignored.
Without further ado, here are the Detroit Red Wings’ five most influential players so far in 2013-14.
Zetterberg and Datsyuk are extremely valuable leaders and examples in Detroit.
I know this technically makes six players, but these two Detroit teammates are practically identical as far as leadership is concerned.
While Henrik Zetterberg speaks far better English than Pavel Datsyuk, they are both tremendous examples in the locker room. Their professionalism is unmatched and they are model authorities for younger players.
Both show their leadership on the ice and on the scoresheet. Their combined 21 goals account for 36 percent of the Red Wings' scoring this season. That was why they anchored separate lines for the second time this season on Thursday night.
As long as these two are wearing the red and white, Detroit's players will have an impeccable example to follow.
Darren Helm's return was much anticipated for fans and teammates alike.
Darren Helm’s influence draws from his persistence and work ethic.
After dealing with a slew of injuries over the past few seasons, Helm finally returned to Detroit’s lineup on Nov. 2. The speedy center scored in his return and has three goals and five points in nine games.
His return has provided a much-needed spark and stability on the penalty kill. With Stephen Weiss battling a groin injury, Helm has stepped in and performed admirably in centering the second line. He’s a fan favorite who not only excites spectators, but also his teammates and coaches as well.
Head coach Mike Babcock told the Associated Press that, " 'Helmer' gives a huge dimension of talent that we can take advantage of if he is healthy. He can be dominant.”
Helm is an important cog to the Winged Wheel, and an excellent guide on the ice.
Niklas Kronwall has developed into a great player and team leader.
As Detroit’s oldest defenseman at age 32, Niklas Kronwall is the leader of the youngest group of defensemen that Detroit has had in a long time.
The average age of Detroit’s defensive corps is just over 25 years old, not counting Kronwall. Four of those players are 26 or younger and are still developing into NHL-level talent. Having the luxury of learning under Nicklas Lidstrom, Kronwall has developed into one of the NHL’s top defensemen.
He spent much of his time learning from one of the game’s best in Lidstrom and has mentored a very young blue-line squad. He is becoming more assertive at both ends of the ice and has emerged as an important voice in the locker room.
Henrik Zetterberg confirmed Kronwall's impact to Ansar Khan of MLive.com:
He’s almost like Nick (Lidstrom), a perfect human being. He’s always doing the right things on and off the ice. He says the right things in the locker room, and I think with him and Clears (Daniel Cleary) and Pav (Datsyuk) it’s a lot easier for me to be captain.
Kronwall is averaging a team-high 23:40 in ice time and is second on the club with a plus-7 rating.
Tomas Tatar has waited patiently for his opportunity and it's paying dividends.
Tomas Tatar makes this list as a bit of a dark horse. Detroit fans have been waiting patiently to see Tatar finally get an opportunity with the big club—almost as patiently as he has.
Tatar was taken by Detroit with a second-round pick (60th overall) in the 2009 NHL draft and has spent the majority of his time with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL. While there, Tatar has earned the praise of Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill, according to Peter J. Wallner of MLive.com:
Tatar’s one of those guys all year that I saw, that when the game’s on the line, he just seemed to get better and better. He’s got that kind of character and mental toughness. He really wants to win, and learned how to handle his emotions.
Tatar earned a roster spot at the end of training camp this year with confirmation from GM Ken Holland. He has displayed extreme patience and worked tirelessly to earn his shot in Detroit. The reigning Calder Cup MVP showed he can be a leader on the ice, and his resolve and perseverance should be powerful enough to rub off on his teammates.
He makes this list as an influence by example and the character he has shown throughout his career. He's a terrific model of professionalism that other prospects can identify with and follow.
Dan DeKeyser's professionalism at 23 years old makes him a great asset on and off the ice.
Although he’s only 23 years old, rookie Dan DeKeyser has shown excellent hockey sense and has been a consummate professional.
To see his kind of smooth, almost effortless, ability with and without the puck at such a young age is astounding. He plays a quiet, yet effective, style reminiscent of Nick Lidstrom. He has a steadiness on the blue line, where he leads by example for other players of his age, and exhibits the candor of a seasoned veteran.
DeKeyser is second among Red Wings defensemen in scoring with two goals and nine points and is fourth on the team in plus/minus rating at plus-5. While certainly an anchor on Detroit’s back end, the Wings will be without him for three-to-six weeks after he suffered a shoulder injury on Tuesday.
The Red Wings will certainly miss him on the ice, as was evident when he missed most of last season's playoffs after suffering a broken thumb in the first round. He will remain around the team as he heals. Once he returns, it will be a tremendous boost for the entire lineup.