Projecting the Best Detroit Red Wings at Each Position in 5 Years
The Detroit Red Wings have continuously retooled their roster over the course of their 22-year streak of consecutive playoff appearances. This ability to constantly have players that can not only perform at the NHL level but do great things in the league has helped add to the success that the Red Wings have enjoyed over the past two decades.
But who are the Red Wings of the future that will hopefully carry the torch?
Fast-forward five years from now.
Pavel Datsyuk will not be with the Red Wings any more, and Henrik Zetterberg will be 38 years old and in the twilight of his career.
If this scares Red Wings fans, it shouldn't. Detroit has some great young hockey players coming through the ranks and should still be looking to be in playoff contention, to say the least.
Here are projections for the top Red Wings at each position when, in five years' time, the 2018-19 season rolls around.
Note: These projections are based on the players in the Detroit Red Wings organization as of November 2013.
Left Wing: Tomas Tatar
Tomas Tatar is a very under-the-radar type of guy for Detroit in 2013-14.
But Tatar has played himself off of the healthy-scratch list and into the starting lineup since he got his second start of the season October 21.
The 22-year-old Slovak has eight points in 18 games and seems to have finally found a spot in the top-six forwards group.
If Tatar can keep up his play and continue adapting to the league, he should be the Red Wings' No. 1 left wing in five years, assuming he stays with the team and no other major roster moves are made at the position.
Tatar always seems to have a learning curve when entering a new league, as his statistics, via NHL.com, show that he increases scoring in the second year of playing in any given league, whether it be Slovakian or a North American league.
If that trend continues, the Red Wings are in for another Jiri Hudler type of player.
Center: Henrik Zetterberg
The Detroit Red Wings have a "tradition" of sorts of letting players play well into their golden years and sometimes past their prime.
Current captain Henrik Zetterberg will be no exception to this rule.
Zetterberg has a contract, per capgeek.com, that keeps him with the Red Wings until the 2021 free-agency period, effectively meaning that he will be a Red Wing for life as he will be 40 when the deal ends.
Fast-forward only five years, however, and it is highly predictable that Henrik Zetterberg will still be producing at the ripe old age of 38.
Zetterberg may not be a premier scorer in the league anymore at that point, but with the his cap hit of $6.7 million on his current contract, Zetterberg should be able to maintain his hold on the No. 1 center position, assuming Pavel Datsyuk isn't still playing for Detroit.
Datsyuk's deal will end following the 2016-17 season. If he chooses to go elsewhere, Zetterberg will be bumped into the No. 1 center role.
While it makes sense that Zetterberg might not be playing top minutes on the team for centers at the age of 38, he will likely still be the best center on the team unless the Red Wings bring in a free agent above his caliber, or a dark-horse prospect stages a massive growth in talent.
Right Wing: Anthony Mantha
If you, the reader, are surprised that a prospect would get the nod in this position, don't be.
The Red Wings don't have a top-line right wing that can play 20-22 minutes a night, as the current "best" right wing in Daniel Alfredsson will be 41 in a couple of weeks and isn't able to play those kind of minutes anymore.
After Alfredsson, the competition is rather scarce, because Detroit doesn't really have a player that can even make an argument that they should be a top-line right wing.
Enter Anthony Mantha.
While Mantha is just 19 years old now, he could be with the Grand Rapids Griffins next season, as Mantha will be 20 next September.
Fast-forward five years to when Mantha will be 24. His should—and likely will barring a trade—make the Red Wings roster at that point and may have already done so in the years preceding.
The one-time 50-goal scorer in the QMJHL and current top-scoring player for 2013-14 has a nose for the net, and his work ethic allows him to get there where he can release a blazing shot.
Mantha might have a long way to go before he can call the NHL his home, but with the lack of players stepping up to fill the No. 1 right wing role on the Red Wings and the projected vacancy in five years without a major free-agent signing, Mantha should get his chance.
Defenseman: Danny DeKeyser
Danny DeKeyser thinks the game well and is very decisive with the puck.
The combination of those two facets, both offensively and defensively, will serve DeKeyser on a long and illustrious NHL career with the Red Wings.
But DeKeyser's mental and physical capabilities are only half of the equation.
The other reason that DeKeyser will be Detroit's best defenseman in five seasons is that the two players that are currently better than him in Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson will be 37 and 34, respectively.
While age isn't a factor normally, the fact is that defensemen usually come into their primes later than forwards and stay in their primes longer than forwards as well. DeKeyser will be 28 in five seasons and just entering the prime of his career.
That doesn't mean to say that Kronwall and Ericsson won't still be playing in key situations, but the minutes that Kronwall and Ericsson are logging between now and five years' time means that DeKeyser has a chance to pass them as Detroit's best defenseman.
Goalie: Jimmy Howard
The scary part about a struggling goaltender is that it is the goalie, and he plays an extremely important role on the team.
With Jimmy Howard struggling early on this season, all most hockey fans can talk about is the fat new contract that he signed last year for six years and $31.75 million, per Cap Geek.
Fear not, Red Wings fans, Howard will evidently bounce back and be Detroit's starting goalie for years to come.
Howard is just 29 years old and while he turns 35 in March of 2019 (five years from now), his current No. 1 status and large contract and cap hit will make him Detroit's best goalie in five years' time.
The American netminder had 109 wins in his first three full seasons in the Detroit net and has become a rock over the past couple of seasons.
Although off to a rough start this season at 5-7-6 with a 2.72 GAA and a .908 save percentage, Howard is a battler, and if he can clear his head, he and his statistics will bounce back to be respectable by the end of the season.