Power Ranking Detroit Red Wings' Top 6 Forwards for 2014-15
While teams are enjoying the summer sun, it won’t be long until the leaves change color, the temperature drops and hockey season creeps back into everyone’s mind.
The Detroit Red Wings have had an uneventful summer, and putting it behind them and focusing on the upcoming season would be well-advised.
With Tomas Tatar still a restricted free agent, the Red Wings currently have 13 forwards on the roster. Adding him into the mix is only a matter of time, but it will put Detroit two bodies over the roster limit.
Highly touted prospect Anthony Mantha is expected to battle for a spot, while Daniel Alfredsson remains a looming question mark. While the lineup may not differ significantly from last season, it is definitely going to need enhanced production from its six best forwards.
The forward lines will eventually take shape with a mix of skill, grit and energy. Whether it is an improvement from a down season, the need for a healthy campaign or showing continuous progression, Detroit needs an offensive pick-me-up.
We are ranking Detroit’s six best forwards based on talent level, value to the club and projected production next season.
6. Darren Helm
Last season, Darren Helm took an invaluable step forward, tying his career high with 12 goals and finishing with 20 points in 42 games.
At times he was forced to step up and play second-line minutes in an unfamiliar scoring role. He showed flashes of offensive prowess before unseen, helping Detroit better manage its injury-ridden lineup.
Helm set his career-best 12 goals back in 2010-11 through 82 games. He was on pace for 23 goals over the course of a full season and was irreplaceable for Detroit on the penalty kill. His defensive responsibility is never in question, but the added offense has been a welcome addition.
Detroit has felt the absence when he has missed time, and he rebounded in 2013-14 after playing just one game in 2012-13. If he can stay relatively healthy, similar production can be expected. Fifteen goals and 40 points over a full season is quite doable.
An old adage throughout hockey is that speed kills, and with the kind Helm brings game after game, Detroit is looking at quality depth down the middle.
5. Tomas Tatar
In his first full NHL season, Tomas Tatar was everything Detroit was hoping he’d be.
Scoring 19 goals and 39 points in 73 games, Tatar is likely to see increased time and will be counted on for 20 or more goals in 2014-15. He has innate offensive talent, which should help him finish ahead of Darren Helm from a production standpoint, but his role may not quite land him top-six minutes next season.
The 23-year-old Slovak finished second on the team in goals and sixth in points while implanting himself as a legitimate scoring threat at even strength and on the power play.
Currently a restricted free agent, Tatar has yet to sign after receiving an offer from general manager Ken Holland, according to the Detroit Free Press' George Sipple. Should Tatar re-sign with the club, he is practically guaranteed a roster spot after his 2013-14 performance.
Tatar has a nose for the net and has shown the ability to create offense single-handedly. Improving upon his successful 2013-14 campaign is predictable, with 25 goals and 50 points not out of the realm of possibility.
With Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg both another year older and coming back from exhausting injuries, Tatar will be counted on to produce with regularity.
4. Johan Franzen
Detroit is in desperate need for a big year from Johan Franzen. His upside continues to put him among the team’s top forwards, but inconsistency lands him near the middle of our list.
The big Swede tallied 16 goals and 41 points in 54 games last season, which, paced over 82 games, would have equaled 24 goals and a career-high 61 points.
Franzen is notoriously streaky, but with the emergence of Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist as scoring threats, the pain of his dry spells could be lessened.
With a healthy Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, the pressure is off of Franzen to carry the offensive load, but he needs to show more with regularity. If he can do so while also staying healthy, 30 goals is easily within reach.
He possesses an excellent shot and hockey sense, but a proclivity for continuous production is lacking. His best streak of the 2013-14 season came when he tallied seven goals and 17 points in 14 games from Nov. 12 through Dec. 10.
When Franzen is rolling, the rest of Detroit’s offense tends to follow, and with a full season out of the Mule, 30 goals and 60 points would be favorably received.
3. Gustav Nyquist
After starting the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Gustav Nyquist burst onto the scene and never seemed to slow down.
Nyquist’s first full NHL season was one to remember, with a team-best 28 goals in 57 games. His consistency put him among Detroit’s top scorers for the year, placing him deservedly amid them on our list.
He finished with a club-high 18.3 shooting percentage and tied with Henrik Zetterberg for third on the team with 48 points.
The 24-year-old is a shoo-in for the second line next season, and the club is hoping he’ll bring the same wicked scoring pace with him. Nyquist was on pace to score 40 goals (over a full season) and would have been the first Red Wing to do so since Marian Hossa in 2008-09.
Nyquist was a significant reason Detroit was able to secure a 23rd consecutive postseason appearance in 2013-14, and the club will rely on him to help contribute in a similar fashion next season.
The same 40-goal pace is unrealistic heading into next season, but flirting with 30 goals again is possible. Skating alongside Johan Franzen and Stephen Weiss could be beneficial for all involved.
2. Pavel Datsyuk
Limited to just 45 games due to a lingering knee issue, Pavel Datsyuk managed to record 37 points and was Detroit’s best player in the postseason.
Datsyuk clearly wasn’t 100 percent in the first-round series against the Boston Bruins, but he proved that even on one leg, he’s still one of the best players in the league. The concern over his longevity lands him second on our list but still No. 1 in the hearts of Hockeytown faithful.
He needed the offseason just as much as anyone, and enough rest for his knee could get him as close to healthy as he’ll be for the upcoming campaign. Twenty goals and 65 points through 70 games would be a realistic mark for the Magic Man.
Knee injuries are tricky, and Datsyuk may require periodical rest to remain fresh for most of 2014-15, but even at 36 years old, he’s sure to embarrass the occasional 20-year-old.
Whether he ever gets back to top speed is irrelevant because when he’s in the lineup, he’s still among the best in the world.
1. Henrik Zetterberg
Detroit sorely missed its captain last season, but Henrik Zetterberg had an immediate impact when he returned from back surgery.
Although he played just two playoff games, Zetterberg was everywhere on the ice and tallied a goal and an assist. His consistent scoring pace and invaluable presence earn him the top spot.
With the entire offseason to rest and rehabilitate, he is sure to be ready to go when the season begins. His leadership on and off the ice is immeasurable, and the club will certainly need him.
He finished just one point off the team lead in only 45 games and at one point was among the league leaders in scoring before suffering a herniated disc in his back.
He was on pace for 87 points over an 82-game season, and more of the same could be forthcoming.
A healthy Zetterberg is as good as it gets for the Red Wings. Like a fine wine, he has gotten better with age. The captain will be ready to lead the club to a 24th straight playoff appearance.