The Biggest Question for Each Detroit Red Wings Line in 2014-15

Daniel Williams@@dwill3Contributor IIIAugust 5, 2014

The Biggest Question for Each Detroit Red Wings Line in 2014-15

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    With training camp right around the corner, the Detroit Red Wings are on the cusp of filling out the roster.

    With Danny DeKeyser and Daniel Alfredsson the only question marks remaining, Detroit is nearing its annual trip to Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City, Michigan, in September.

    DeKeyser is expected to re-sign before camp, per’s Brendan Savage, solidifying Detroit’s blue line with all seven defensemen returning for the 2014-15 season.

    Alfredsson’s future remains clouded as Detroit’s shrinking cap space and crowded group of forwards make it difficult to include the 41-year-old veteran.

    With players returning from injury and the growth of budding young stars, Detroit’s glut of talent up front is a good problem to have.

    Included is a projection of Detroit’s forward lineup for the 2014-15 season based on last season’s line combinations, the nearly identical returning lineup and some conjectures determined by yours truly.

    These are the biggest questions surrounding each of Detroit’s four lines for the 2014-15 season.

Projected 2014-15 Forward Lines

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    The battle for the bottom six spots on the forward lines will be the most intriguing to watch.

    Young players like Riley Sheahan, Luke Glendening, Tomas Jurco and Anthony Mantha will be vying for regular spots in the lineup, as will returning veterans Dan Cleary and Joakim Andersson.

    The possibility of Daniel Alfredsson returning in time for training camp can’t be ignored, but as an unrestricted free agent, he will not appear in this lineup.

    Forward Lines

    • Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Justin Abdelkader
    • Johan Franzen, Stephen Weiss, Gustav Nyquist
    • Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco
    • Drew Miller, Darren Helm, Dan Cleary
    • Spares: Luke Glendening, Joakim Andersson

Line 1: How Long Will They Remain Together?

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    Detroit’s top line will likely start with Euro-twins Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg skating alongside workhorse Justin Abdelkader.

    The combination has paid dividends in the past, with Abdelkader netting 10 goals in each of the last two seasons, including a career-high 28 points in 70 games in 2013-14.

    He is a gritty, physical winger who does a lot of the dirty work, while the skill possessed by Datsyuk and Zetterberg can relieve the pressure each would face on separate lines.

    Detroit will need the magic that its two best players create together, but how long will they skate alongside each other?

    It seems like every season Detroit hopes to keep the two together to deliver the pungent offensive threat that’s expected from a team’s top scoring line.

    No matter how often they start together, Datsyuk and Zetterberg are inevitably split between the top two lines, thinning out Detroit’s attack.

    The success of the second line will determine the fate of Line 1. If it can produce on its own, then Datsyuk and Zetterberg could enjoy an extended stay alongside each other on the top line.

Line 2: Can They Produce with Regularity?

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    The continuity of the entire lineup will rest on the shoulders of the three men lining up as Detroit’s second scoring unit.

    Johan Franzen needs to show he can produce with consistency, while Stephen Weiss needs to establish himself as both healthy and a genuine second-line center for Detroit. If Gustav Nyquist can maintain the level of play he exhibited last year, he’ll be just fine.

    Weiss is the biggest concern on the line. He’ll get every opportunity to rebound from his disappointing, injury-plagued 2013-14 campaign. If he can’t play to the level Detroit expects from him, Riley Sheahan or Darren Helm could see second-line minutes in his stead.

    Franzen is notoriously streaky, and Detroit is still waiting for him to become the big-scoring winger he has the ability to be. His pace last year would have translated into a career-high 62 points over the course of a full season, but injury and inconsistency beleaguered him once again.

    There won’t be much pressure on Nyquist to score at last year’s unreal pace, but a 20-goal and 50-point season is a reasonable expectation over 82 games, seeing as he nearly accomplished 30 goals and 50 points in 57 games in 2013-14.

    If Detroit’s second line can prove to be as operative as it appears on paper, Detroit’s offense could prove compelling in 2014-15.

Line 3: Can They Take the Next Step?

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    If last year’s success can translate to the upcoming season, Detroit could be one of the deeper scoring teams in the NHL in 2014-15.

    The line of Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco could be labeled the savior of Detroit’s 2013-14 season, becoming a legitimate scoring threat when injuries decimated the regular lineup.

    Tatar finished second on the team, with 19 goals and sixth with 39 points in 73 games. Sheahan established himself as a reliable two-way forward, notching nine goals and 24 points in 42 games.

    Jurco enjoyed some success with eight goals and 15 points in 36 games, but he was a healthy scratch for two games during Detroit’s first-round loss to the Boston Bruins. He has an excellent opportunity to earn a regular spot in the lineup, but his waiver-exempt status could see him start in the AHL.

    The “kid line” was shut down in the postseason, combining for zero points and a minus-five. The experience is still vital to their development, and could act as motivation for the upcoming season.

    There will always be growing pains over the course of a full 82-game season, but increased time and responsibility will only make each of them stronger individuals and quality professionals.

Line 4: Can the Lineup Be Consistent?

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    With excessive competition for the few remaining roster spots, the fourth line will be required to work, work and work some more.

    Of Detroit’s forward lines, the fourth is easily the one that will fluctuate the most, causing concern for developing chemistry and consistency.

    Darren Helm could line up on either the third or fourth line, but the likelihood of keeping the “kid line” intact could pencil him in on Line 4.

    Drew Miller is a shoo-in on the left side after finishing last year as the only Red Wings forward to skate in all 82 games.

    Dan Cleary is hoping to secure a spot after an abysmal 2013-14 season but will have to compete with some up and coming players.

    Narrowing down the final spot with Miller and Helm will not be an easy decision. Luke Glendening, Joakim Andersson and stud prospect Anthony Mantha are in the mix and could present a strong case through training camp and the preseason.

    While it will only see near a maximum of nine to 10 minutes of ice time per game, running all four lines at even strength is an integral part of Detroit’s approach. Without an effective bottom line, a shortened bench could limit Detroit’s productivity long term.