The 5 Detroit Red Wings with the Brightest Future

Daniel Williams@@dwill3Contributor IIIApril 11, 2014

The 5 Detroit Red Wings with the Brightest Future

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    The 2013-14 NHL season has been a wild, stressful battle for a 23rd consecutive playoff appearance.

    On Wednesday night, Hockeytown released its collective sigh of relief.

    Upon Riley Sheahan’s game-tying goal with 1:15 remaining in regulation, the Detroit Red Wings forced overtime and earned the critical point that clinched their playoff berth.

    Consider this: Sheahan was on the ice in a pivotal moment when a goal needed to be scored.

    He was accompanied by Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Brendan Smith and Niklas Kronwall. Aside from Kronwall, the average age of the line is just less than 23 years old.

    The kids are all right.

    This season has been an exciting glimpse into the future of the Red Wings, which perhaps is already upon them. The youth infusion is taking over, and Detroit finally appears ready to accept it.

    The future is very bright, specifically for the following five youngsters who are already in the NHL.

Gustav Nyquist

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    If anyone is immediately realizing his potential, it is Gustav Nyquist.

    The “Goose” has been loose all over the ice lately, contributing heavily to Detroit’s second-half success. His 28 goals lead the team, and while drawing attention from opposing team’s top defensive pairings, he continues to make plays.

    He started the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins due to a logjam at the forward position to begin the 2013-14 campaign.

    He totaled 21 points in 15 games before receiving the call that kept him in Detroit for good. In his first game on November 21, he scored a pair of goals—including the game-winner—in a 4-3 victory over Carolina.

    Since the return from the Olympic break, he has scored 14 times, accounting for 21 percent of the team’s goals.

    A taste of the NHL’s level of competition is important for younger players, and last season’s playoff run was instrumental for his growth. His improvement is apparent, and another playoff series against a tough team this spring could vault him to new heights.

    The No. 14 jersey has been associated with Brendan Shanahan in Detroit for some time, but Nyquist has made it clear that he’s here to stay.

Tomas Tatar

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    Like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar has been remarkable in his first full NHL season.

    The AHL’s reigning Jack A. Butterfield Trophy winner has scored 19 goals and 37 points in 71 games with the Detroit Red Wings.

    He has the chance to accompany Nyquist as the team’s second 20-goal scorer. His performance over the course of the season may have cost veterans Mikael Samuelsson and Dan Cleary their roster spot, but for good reason.

    When Detroit needed a goal to tie Pittsburgh late in Wednesday’s game, head coach Mike Babcock tapped Tatar, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan with the responsibility. The line delivered, ultimately pushing the team to the playoffs.

    Babcock told reporters, via Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press: “The guys you think are going to score, you put them out there.” He chose Tatar and company over Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Daniel Alfredsson, who have scored a combined 896 career goals.

    That is a very high compliment.

    Tatar's confidence with the puck at his age (23) is reminiscent of Datsyuk in his first season. Smooth hands and a quick release create offense in a hurry, and that's why Tatar’s responsibilities increase with every game.

    He has a tremendous amount of skill and a nose for the net that will parlay into higher point totals going forward. There’s no doubt that he is a big piece of this franchise now, let alone the future.

Tomas Jurco

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    Tomas Jurco has shown aspects of his game that fly below the radar, and Detroit should be very excited.

    At just 21 years old, he is a young player who is still learning his role at the NHL level. A proven scorer in junior hockey, he has embraced his responsibility on Detroit’s third line, flourishing before our eyes.

    Sure, he only has eight goals and 14 points in 34 games, but what stands out is his grit.

    Not known as an especially physical player, he is using his 6’2” frame to his advantage, while dutifully playing 200-foot hockey.

    This being his first taste of NHL hockey, Jurco has plenty of time to grow into the potent scoring threat he can be. Until then, he’ll continue to work at every aspect he can control before the puck starts going in regularly.

    He’s shown a little feistiness in recent games, against the Boston Bruins in particular. Jurco laid a hit on defenseman Johnny Boychuk, earning a warranted two-minute penalty for boarding.

    The hit may not have been the cleanest, but finishing a check—and a big one—forces defensemen to keep their heads up and look over their shoulders.

    A young, skill player with an edge is a coveted commodity for any NHL team. He is showing that he can play with the “big boys” in every facet of the game.

    The game gets faster and significantly more physical in the postseason, and Jurco is proving he’s ready for it.

Danny DeKeyser

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    Danny DeKeyser was already prepared for the NHL after his college career at Western Michigan University.

    He signed with Detroit in March last season, providing a huge boost on the blue line before suffering a broken thumb in the first round of the playoffs.

    This year he has been calming on the back end. In his first full season, he has provided a subtle stability, making plays that often go overlooked but are no less integral to the team.

    He’s drawn comparisons to Nicklas Lidstrom—a high respect and taller order—but it’s no added pressure to a young player who models his game in such a manner.

    Niklas Kronwall told George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press, “He never puts himself in trouble. It kind of felt like he played a little bit like Nick Lidstrom that way. He’s just very smart and just read the situations.”

    There is no better player to idolize, and to play in any style similar to No. 5’s is a perfect fit for the team that is still struggling to fill the void left by his retirement.

    DeKeyser is unquestionably the steadying force on Detroit’s blue line for the foreseeable future. Other players may provide higher offensive numbers, but having such a dependable rearguard is paramount.

    He is already well on his way to becoming that player.

Riley Sheahan

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    Riley Sheahan has exhibited his growing talent this season, but more importantly his character has become evident.

    Following a 2012 arrest for operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.17 or higher, Sheahan has put his focus on hockey and is reaping the benefits.

    Playing alongside Grand Rapids teammates Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco most of this season, he has developed into a reliable faceoff guy with flashes of passing brilliance.

    As the middle man for the “kid line,” Sheahan creates scoring depth and improves defensive dependability. He told Ansar Khan of

    I think we just figured it out and we read off each other well. We skate a lot. All of us think the game the same; we enjoy playing in the offensive zone and when it comes to playing in the D-zone we’re pretty steady and we get the puck out as quick as we can so we can have some more time in the O-zone.

    When Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Darren Helm missed time with injuries, Sheahan was called upon to step up his play at the center position, and he answered.

    With his off-ice incident behind him, he is turning potential into reality, solidifying himself in the NHL lineup as a key component to Detroit’s success now and forthcoming.