The unexpected youth movement Detroit underwent this past season revealed a relatively bright future for the Red Wings.
Youngsters like Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco and Luke Glendening all proved worthy of regular roster spots. Additionally, players such as Danny DeKeyser and Brendan Smith established their value on what is a decidedly green Detroit blue line.
However, of Detroit’s 20-somethings, no two players stood out more than Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist.
Nyquist emerged as the Red Wings’ leading scorer, potting 28 goals among 48 points, and Tatar displayed game-breaking ability en route to a 39 point finish, many of them coming via a spectacular individual effort. Nyquist is under contract for next season, and though Tatar is currently a restricted free agent, his retention is all but assured.
Having both of these players as roster members to begin next season is surely going to benefit the Red Wings.
However, there’s likely to be considerable expectations for these two players to not just sustain but also improve their production from this season.
However, beyond mere stats, the Red Wings should be counting on Nyquist and Tatar to form what may likely be a new core of leadership in Detroit.
The current dynamic duo of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk will no doubt continue to be exactly that next season.
However, by that time, they’ll be 34 and 36, respectively.
Though their talent and work ethic will surely make them two of the best players in their age bracket, Zetterberg and Datsyuk’s history with the Detroit Red Wings is now outpacing their future.
Zetterberg will likely play through the remainder of his current contract, taking him through his 40th birthday in 2021, thus ensuring Detroit will face no significant leadership issues until then.
What these two players have done since the 2002-03 season (Zetterberg’s first in the NHL) has allowed the Red Wings to slowly grow an identity and style around them. As both possess an outstanding work ethic, superb two-way abilities and remarkable offensive talent, those are the qualities that have continued to define Red Wings hockey.
Nevertheless, as No. 40 and 13 will not be on the roster forever, Detroit should now be looking for two players who will someday define Red Wings hockey in much the same way.
As of now, Tatar and Nyquist look to be the best options around which to build a new core of leadership in Detroit.
Twenty-three of Nyquist’s 28 goals came in a 28-game span between late January and early April, helping to finish the season as one of the hottest scorers in the NHL.
That kind of goal-scoring ability is rare and indicative of a player who is capable of setting the tone and the pace for the whole of his team. At just 24-years-old, Nyquist has a very long and promising NHL career ahead of him. Next season, should he continue to improve on his ability to consistently beat defenders and goalies alike with his blazing speed and accurate shot, the Red Wings would be well served by securing his services long-term.
Like Nyquist, Tatar possesses considerable speed and offensive prowess. However, he also has an added grittiness and tenacity that is infectious among his teammates and downright annoying for the opposition. Though he will need to improve his defensive game, there is rarely any easy ice when Tatar is on it, and that, too, is a quality around which a team should seek to build an identity.
While Zetterberg and Datsyuk will continue to define the present state of hockey in Detroit, Nyquist and Tatar should be the next in line to define the future of Red Wings hockey.
*All statistics courtesy of NHL.com and CapGeek.com unless otherwise noted.