Detroit Red Wings' Top 5 Breakout Performers of the 2013-14 NHL Season

Matt HutterAnalyst IApril 8, 2014

Detroit Red Wings' Top 5 Breakout Performers of the 2013-14 NHL Season

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    The Red Wings are on the cusp of extending their playoff streak to 23 years. This fact alone serves as a testament to the legacy of excellence this organization has cultivated during that time. However, several players have contributed new chapters to that story this season—many of whom had no plans of doing so when the season began.

    The Red Wings’ 2013-14 season has been marred by injuries to top players in Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Alfredsson, Johan Franzen and Darren Helm, among others.

    As regrettable as this is, it has allowed Detroit’s younger players to contribute in ways far beyond what their relative inexperience would suggest is possible. Indeed, 10 rookies have suited up for the Red Wings this seasonsome of whom can now be counted as indispensable.

    What follows is a ranking of the top five breakout performances by young players (rookies and second-year players) in Detroit this season.

    The ranking takes into account the player’s position, his contributions to team success and overall individual performance, evaluating them in ascending order of excellence.

    The Detroit Red Wings would not be in the position they are today without these five players.

Honorable Mention: Tomas Jurco

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    Position: Right wing

    Status: Rookie

    Games played: 32

    Points: 13 (seven goals, six assists)

    Tomas Jurco is having a solid start to his NHL career in Detroit this season. The Slovakian winger has displayed flashes of the offensive and puck-handling brilliance that made him a YouTube celebrity even prior to his 2011 NHL draft selection.

    Still, he is still developing his game, and while he’s earned his ice time this season, his individual contributions as a winger haven’t had as strong an impact on the team’s success as some of his peers.

    He figures to be an outstanding NHL forward and is off to a great start in Detroit.

5. Luke Glendening

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    Position: Center

    Status: Rookie

    Games played: 52

    Points: seven (one goal, six assists)

    Contributing to team success isn’t all about point production. As Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press recently reported, head coach Mike Babcock has wanted Luke Glendening in the lineup since the season began.

    Injuries may have made his presence necessary, but his play this season has made him essential. His speed, tenacity and defensive acumen have made him an impactful role player and a standout on the penalty kill.

    With Detroit’s center position decimated by injuries this season, Glendening has provided much-needed stability down the middle.

4. Riley Sheahan

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    Position: Center

    Status: Rookie

    Games played: 38

    Points: 21 (six goals, 15 assists)

    Like Glendening, Riley Sheahan didn’t figure to be a central cog in Detroit’s system this season. However, after 38 games, he has morphed from a spare part to a key component in the Red Wings’ success.

    His large frame (6’2”, 212 lbs) has allowed him to use his size effectively on Detroit’s power play, providing a regular and effective net-front presence. His soft hands and accurate wrist shot have also helped him to become a regular offensive threat during five-on-five play.

    Additionally, his defensive awareness has made him a reliable center option for head coach Mike Babcock in any situation.

    With his offensive and defensive reliability, Sheahan has been one of the most impressive rookies to take the ice for Detroit this season.

3. Tomas Tatar

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    Position: Left wing

    Status: Second-year player

    Games played: 69

    Points: 36 (19 goals, 17 assists)

    At 5’10” and 158 pounds, Tomas Tatar doesn’t cut a particularly intimidating figure. However, the diminutive forward has used his time in Detroit this season to demonstrate time and again why he earned playoff MVP honors in the AHL last season.

    His work ethic and tenacity shift after shift are awe-inspiring, and his flat-out refusal to quit on a play has yielded him and his team some valuable goals this season. He plays a mature game that belies his 23 years of age, and he is adept at being offensively creative without being defensively irresponsible.

    While Tatar demonstrated significant promise during his rookie season in 2012-13, he has used this season to establish himself as a valuable member of Detroit’s top-six forward corps.

2. Danny DeKeyser

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    Position: Defense

    Status: Rookie

    Games played: 62         

    Points: 23 (four goals, 19 assists)

    While Detroit Red Wings fans have cursed the names of some Detroit defensemen this season, Danny DeKeyser hasn’t been one of them.

    He is second in defensive scoring this season behind No. 1 defender Niklas Kronwall and leads all Detroit rearguards in plus/minus with a plus-nine rating. DeKeyser’s seemingly preternatural ability to excel on the defensive side of the puck is almost too smooth to notice. Unlike some of his youthful counterparts, he seems to always make the smartest play with the puck, and his ability to make a good first pass rivals that of many veteran players.

    In addition to his defensive prowess, DeKeyser is displaying his offensive abilities with increasing regularity, having scored 11 of his 23 points since the 2014 Olympic break (February 26).

    While Kronwall has been Detroit’s very best defenseman this season, DeKeyser has proved to be nearly as valuable on the Red Wings’ blue line this season.

1. Gustav Nyquist

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    Position: Right wing

    Status: Second-year player

    Games played: 53

    Points: 47 (28 goals, 19 assists)

    That Gustav Nyquist tops the list of breakout young performers in Detroit this season is hardly a surprise. That he is in the mix as one of the top performers in the entire NHL this season is something that most didn’t see coming.

    Whether or not it will be officially recognized is irrelevant—Nyquist has established himself as Detroit’s MVP this season. Aside from leading the team in scoring, his six game-winning goals are indicative of just how important he’s been to Detroit’s success this season.

    In fact, if not for his emergence as an elite goal scorer and the 10-game point streak he mounted to close out the month of March, it’s fair to assume that Detroit may have already been eliminated from playoff contention.

    Nyquist’s career-making season makes him the Red Wings’ top young player of the year. However, by any measure and at any age, he is one of the NHL’s very best players of the 2013-14 season.

     

    *All stats courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.