October is right around the corner, and we're getting ready to drop the puck on another NHL season...well, a writer can dream, I suppose.
While we may be a ways off from the regular season, it's never too early to look at the depth charts and wonder up some lines that could materialize. We're all coaches to a degree. And I'm no different.
So how are the Detroit Red Wings looking for the upcoming season?
The offense remains intact, and there will be few changes to the names and numbers we watch on a nightly basis. But this could be the year players like Tomas Holmstrom and Todd Bertuzzi sink down the depth charts a bit, and some of the younger blood starts to make more of an impact.
Nicklas Lidstrom returns for his 148th season, and should maintain his Norris Trophy form. Is the "other" Nik in Niklas Kronwall ready to assume a top-pairing position? Ian White and Mike Commodore will try and make an impact right out of the gate, and will need to for the Wings to be a top-end team in the West.
The goaltending situation is still locked up, and it would take a long fall for either Ty Conklin or Joey MacDonald to usurp Jim Howard for the starting role.
An interesting situation to keep an eye on will be how the players respond to an entirely new coaching staff outside of head coach Mike Babcock. Relative youngsters Jeff Blashill and Bill Peters will try and quickly get up to speed at the NHL level, while Babcock works to keep the ears of the players for another year.
So, with a little over two months to go before the regular season kicks off against the Senators (odd), let's take a look at the players who may be rising and falling on the depth charts, one position at a time.
1. Johan Franzen
2. Tomas Holmstrom
3. Justin Abdelkader
4. Drew Miller
5. Jiri Hudler
6. Teemu Pulkkinen
7. Jan Mursak
The Red Wings are a bit short on the left side, but the seven players that they do have are all guys who can play at the NHL level.
Johan Franzen is the top left wing in the system without question. Detroit will be looking for the "Mule" to play a much more consistent game across an 82-game season. He's been good for a two- or three- (or five-) goal outburst here and there, but the Wings will need an 82-game effort from Franzen.
Homer is aging, and while his net presence is still uncanny, he's losing a step every few seasons. And those are steps that he just can't afford to lose. With cannon-ball players like Abdelkader and Miller beneath him, this may be the season that Holmstrom falls to a third- or fourth-line role.
But he'll still have his rear end in the faces of opposing goaltenders on the power play.
Abdelkader is cementing himself as a fan favorite, and a true pest—something that the Wings have been missing a bit for a few seasons now. His play down low sets up more "talented" players, and he hits everything that moves.
Drew Miller is a guy I am stoked to see back in the red and white. With all the talk of big free-agent signings I was afraid that Miller would be a guy that fell through the cracks. Kenny Holland was on the ball (as usual) and locked him up. For his heart and utility I put Miller ahead of Hudler on the depth chart.
Hudler could very well be a wolf in sheep's clothing heading into this season. After the mild debacle that was 2010-11, no one has any expectations of this guy. And perhaps that is a situation that will benefit the winger. If Hudler can return to a 50- or 60-point form, it will be a huge benefit to the team.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Jan Mursak is a bit of a shoo-in to make the squad based on his contract status. He is no longer on a one-way deal with the Wings, and would have to play himself out of a role on the team for Holland and Co. to risk losing him on waivers.
Mursak is an outright puck hound, and is an excellent forechecker. He'll fit in marvelously on Detroit's third or fourth line.
Teemu Pulkkinen is a secret weapon for Detroit. To those that think that the Wings are getting too old and dusty, remember this name, because this kid is going to be good.
Pulkkinen will be more of a gamer than Mursak, but Mursak's one-way deal will keep him ahead technically. It's only a matter of time before Pulkkinen's star shines bright on Detroit's left side, though.
1. Todd Bertuzzi
2. Daniel Cleary
3. Patrick Eaves
4. Mitchell Callahan
5. Trevor Parkes
If the Red Wings are short on left-wingers, then they are even shorter on the right side. The team's extreme positional depth at center comes in handy here as centers can generally fill in on either wing. This slide addresses the players the team has listed as natural right-wingers.
Todd Bertuzzi has left a lot out on the ice during his recent incarnation with the Red Wings. He's played hard, made better choices with the puck and been a solid player for Detroit. His contract is fine and dandy, and this is a guy that plays up to his numbers.
There are few guys that bring it on a nightly basis like Cleary does.
Since his first season in Detroit, he's been one of my favorite guys on the ice, and for good reason. He goes all in, 100 percent every shift and does what needs to be done in front of the net and in the corners.
Patrick Eaves is a player I can't say enough good things about. He's earned his contract—much like Cleary did a few years prior—through hard work and special teams play. I'd take Eaves on my team before a lot of the available free-agent forwards.
Kudos to Holland for signing Eaves while there were sexier names out there.
Just in case the Wings need another agitator at forward, Callahan is a winger who can fill that role. He's another player that is a long shot (like, Maine to California long) to make the squad this season, but he could find a way onto the team in the next year or two. He won't scrap a whole lot at the NHL level, but he can get under the opposition's skin on the third or fourth line.
Contrary to popular belief, the Wings have plenty of excellent grinders and toughness to take over the new guard as the years go on.
Parkes is a ways away from the NHL. According to Red Wings Central, he's a guy who loves to shoot the puck and has a nose for the net. However, he doesn't have one true standout ability, which the Wings tend to gravitate towards.
He won't be a bottom-six guy this year. Moving forward, it comes down to the top three or four players at the position. Detroit is more likely to move a center to the right wing spot than push either Parkes or Callahan to the pros—at least for this season.
1. Pavel Datsyuk
2. Henrik Zetterberg
3. Darren Helm
4. Valtteri Filppula
5. Tomas Tatar
6. Cory Emmerton
7. Gustav Nyquist
There are two ways to build a competitive NHL squad these days: from the net out, or down the middle. Detroit's bread, butter and toaster is the center position. The Red Wings draft this position heavily, and seem to be of the mind that there isn't such a thing as too many NHL-level pivots.
Pavel Datsyuk won't see a drop-off during the upcoming season. His play against the Coyotes and Sharks during the playoffs showed that the Russian phenom still has what it takes to be one of the best players on the face of the planet.
I've gone on record in several places stating that this may be the year that a Red Wing gets some love for an individual trophy on offense. In my mind, Pav is the front-runner in that department, and could get a nomination for the Hart Trophy.
Zetterberg needs to get healthy for the Red Wings to take a step forward during the upcoming season. While Franzen needs to find consistency, Z needs to find health. The Wings can get by without him, but they are a much better and more dynamic team with him in the lineup.
If both Zetterberg and Datsyuk suit up, they can both bolt out to wing at any given point. This versatility makes the Wings much tougher to match up against, and the squad is much deeper across the board.
Ah, Darren Helm. What a phenomenal hockey player.
If I could legally clone the guy I would. Hell, if I could illegally clone the guy I would. And with those copies I'd fill out the bottom six of the lineup for Detroit without hesitation. He is all hustle, guts and speed.
Helm brings to the table everything you want to see from a skater on a nightly basis. For that, I spot him ahead of the inconsistent Filppula on the depth chart, despite the latter being the "better" player.
Filppula is technically one of the more talented centers that Detroit employs, but he has proven easy to knock off the puck, and his career has been plagued by inconsistency and a rain of curse words from yours truly.
He showed flashes of the player he could be during the playoffs this past season. If he can somehow maintain that form, then the Red Wings suddenly have one of the stronger 1-2-3 punches down the middle in the league. If not, he may find himself on a lift along with Hudler towards the trade deadline, being lifted out of town for some other assets that can be more useful moving towards the playoffs.
Tomas Tatar is Detroit's second-highest rated prospect according to Hockeysfuture.com. He possesses top-notch hockey sense, and this is probably the season where the Wings will be looking for him to make the big team out of training camp.
What kind of impact he can make remains to be seen, but big things are expected out of the Slovakian as the forward core of the Wings continues to age. The future lies with players such as Tatar—that's what fans have been fed for the last few seasons—and we hope that scouting has been spot-on yet again.
Emmerton is believed to be capable of putting points up on the board at the NHL level. He's a player with a nose for the net, and is another winger who will be looking to show he belongs on the big squad this season.
He can't be sent down to the minors without clearing waivers first, so he'll be given a shot to show what he can do. If he falls a bit short, then he may also be traded. He's one of the three names that seem to pop up most frequently in Detroit's rumor mill.
Last year he had 37 points across 76 games for Grand Rapids, and could be a good third- or fourth-liner in the upcoming season.
Gustav Nyquist is the classic Red Wings player. He plays it safe on both ends of the puck, and has good hockey sense.
1. Nicklas Lidstrom
2. Niklas Kronwall
3. Brad Stuart
4. Ian White
5. Jonathan Ericsson
6. Jakub Kindl
7. Mike Commodore
The blue line is where the Wings needed help heading into the offseason.
Jonathan Ericsson was widely believed to be leaving town after turning down a good offer from Detroit, Ruslan Salei was not expected to return and top-two defender Brian Rafalski rode off into the sunset after retiring in an unexpected fashion.
Losing three of the six main defenders makes for a busy offseason for any squad. Still, Detroit played the market smart and made moves that set the team up to succeed, while keeping enough cap space to either make a midseason move or re-sign its own free agents over the course of the season.
The Wings added the (apparently) overlooked Ian White at a great cap number, and then added Mike Commodore for a bit of toughness on the back end. Also, in a seemingly controversial move, they kept Ericsson on board at a decent cap hit.
Nicklas Lidstrom is returning for at least one more year and, barring serious injury, will continue to clip along at a Norris Trophy pace. He was phenomenal last season, and shouldn't see any huge drop-off in his play.
With longtime defensive partner Rafalski hanging up the skates, who will the Wings deploy next to the ageless No. 5 on the top pairing?
It could very well be time for Niklas Kronwall to assume the position of top blueliner, as he did during the playoffs. One of the younger kids may also gain a lot more from playing next to Lidstrom for a half-season or so.
Brendan Smith will look to make the team out of training camp, but may once again be a causality of the team's contract situation. Jakub Kindl is assumed to be in possession of the sixth spot at this point due to being on a one-way deal, and would have to be sorely outplayed to be placed on waivers.
Smith will likely be used on injury detail in the same fashion Detroit has brought along most of its top prospects. Although, my gut still tells me the kid will get a serious look in the playoffs, like Helm and Abdelkader did a few years back.
Brad Stuart is in a contract year, and will continue to bring stability to the middle of the defensive core like he has for the last several seasons. Holland will be working throughout the season to lock up both Kronwall and Stuart, as they will be vital to the team's continued success through the next few seasons.
Kronwall continuing to get better will be a huge for Detroit this season. He was great in the playoffs, and played more minutes than Lidstrom did across the games that were played. If Kronwall can continue to bring it at that level, then the Wings will be a much better hockey team.
1. Jimmy Howard
2. Ty Conklin
3. Joey MacDonald
Jimmy Howard is the man for the Red Wings moving forward.
Any doubts about that should have been dispelled during his play against the San Jose Sharks in the second round of the playoffs. In my opinion, he was cemented into this position well before his spectacular play against San Jose.
Howard has been huge when he's needed to be, and kept the puck out of the net at routine times. That should sound mildly familiar to Red Wings fans, and he would have to cave in on a pretty catastrophic level to see his job handed over to either Conklin or MacDonald.
Those two are set to battle it out for the backup job in training camp, and the playoff of sorts should be a fun one to keep an eye on.
Conklin has a history with the team, and is the consummate backup. MacDonald has not progressed as those in the Wings organization had hoped, but he was given another chance with a recent contract extension. He's got one year (more or less) to prove that he's a guy that can play at the NHL level after bouncing around a bit.
The Wings have a few more notable goaltenders in the system, but neither Thomas McCollum or Jordan Pearce have enough experience or have made enough noise to truly be considered a threat to the second or third spot on the depth chart for netminders.
People in the organization like McCollum, but he hasn't hit the upward curve that the Wings had in mind. Chris Osgood may be used to mentor the young player a bit, and help him along to a more consistent game.
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