Detroit Red Wings' Playoff Hopes Resting on Young Shoulders

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IMarch 31, 2014

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 29: Gustav Nyquist #14 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates his goal of the Toronto Maple Leafs during NHL action at the Air Canada Centre march 29, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

The Detroit Red Wings are facing their final seven games of the 2013-14 season having no idea if they will play beyond them.

A pair of back-to-back wins against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning have put Detroit in the first wild card slot in the Eastern Conference—whether or not it will stay there is a mystery for now.

However, considering the performance level of Detroit's young players, suffice it to say "the kids" have no intention of ending their seasons after Game 82.

If the Red Wings do extend their 22-season-long playoff streak, they will have their youngest and most inexperienced players to thank for it.

How ironic will that be?

A franchise that has built a legacy of excellence largely on the backs of grizzled veterans will make history again, but this time thanks to a bunch of snot-nosed kids.

While the myriad of injuries to multiple players this season made Detroit's youth movement unexpected, if not a bit unwelcome, there is no doubt it has paid off handsomely.

While Detroit's two most irreplaceable players in captain Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk remain sidelined with injuries, a host of other veterans have essentially been replaced by younger talent.

If and when Daniel Cleary or Stephen Weiss once again become healthy enough to play, it seems unthinkable that they'd replace rookies Tomas Jurco or Riley Sheahan.

There was a time in Detroit when veteran players ruled the roster—even when they weren't active—but those days seem now to be a thing of the past.

Detroit Red Wings' Player Performance Comparison Past Five Games

Johan Franzen12-2
Daniel Alfredsson03-3
David Legwand11-5
Gustav Nyquist61+4
Tomas Tatar33+7
Riley Sheahan12+7

To clarify just how alright these kids actually are, consider their head-to-head numbers over the past five games with those of more veteran players.

Along with Sheahan, Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist have combined for 15 points (nine goals, six assists ) and a plus-18 rating. Compare that to Daniel Alfredsson, Johan Franzen and David Legwand's collective output of nine points (two goals, seven assists) and a minus-10 rating—it's clear who's currently driving the bus in Detroit.

This isn't to say that Detroit's veterans are somehow irrelevant; far from it. Rather, it illuminates the fact that with their season on the line it is Detroit's youngsters who seem to be digging the deepest at the most critical time.

In the absence of experienced leadership in Zetterberg and Datsyuk, Detroit is succeeding on the backs of decidedly younger players.

The offense Franzen has been unable to provide, Nyquist has delivered in spades. The dynamism looked for in Alfredsson's play has been found in Tatar's.

Detroit is looking to make history this season. If it does, it will be by riding on young, but very capable shoulders.


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