Detroit Red Wings: 5 Players Who Will Step Up This Year

PJ Sapienza@@pjsapiContributor IIISeptember 25, 2012

DETROIT, MI - APRIL 17:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a glove save on a shot by Gabriel Bourque #57 of the Nashville Predators during Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Joe Louis Arena on April 17, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. Nashville won the game 3-1 and lead the series 3-1. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

While the league and players still work on a new collective bargaining agreement, fans are still hopeful that there will be a hockey season.

Much has been made about the Detroit Red Wings' offseason moves (or lack thereof), and while the roster may not be set, it is pretty close.  This is still a talented team that will not be pushed aside easily.

Here are five players that will step up this season to help the team.

Darren Helm

Darren Helm is usually on most people's radar for having a breakout season. He is one of the quickest skaters in the game and one of the biggest defensive pests.

Those two attributes tend to allow him many steals and scoring opportunities. Unfortunately, he has yet to develop a knack for finishing those plays often enough.

He has the skill to break 20 goals in a season, and this may be the year he finally starts to reach his potential. Beyond breaking the 20-goal mark, he should also be among the league leaders in shorthanded tallies.

Damien Brunner

The offseason seemed ripe with hope as many thought Zach Parise and Ryan Suter would soon be in Detroit. When the team failed to land either, the focus turned to lesser free agents or even trades for players such as Shea Weber, Rick Nash, Shane Doan or Alex Semin.

When Plan B fell through, there was much worry and blame among the Detroit faithful.  The only player the Wings did sign was Damien Brunner, who at the time seemed like an insignificant pickup as many fans did not realize what kind of a steal Ken Holland had made. 

He led the Swiss Elite league in scoring last year with 60 points in only 45 games, and has averaged 1.24 points per game over the past three seasons. 

There will of course be some adjustment to the North American game, but Brunner seems able to handle it. While that lofty Swiss average may be too much to ask for, he should easily slide into one of the top two lines and become a regular scoring threat.

Jimmy Howard

Before injuries slowed him last season, Howard ranked among the league leaders and was starting to be mentioned in Vezina talks.

This year the team will need him to be a wall in net. With the defense in a state of transition and some younger players seeing extended ice time, he will need to be able to cover for some mistakes in front of him.

A strong Howard, especially early in the season, will help build strength and confidence among the defenders as they learn and gel together.  He will rise to the challenge.

Brendon Smith

Smith will make his long awaited full-time arrival to the team this year.  He has been a highly-rated minor league player who has a bright future ahead of him.

Starting his career the year Lidstrom retires will be rough.  While nobody can replace Lidstrom, there will still be pressure on Smith to assume as much of that role as he can.  His offensive skill set will be a great asset for him along with his defensive zone play, which has improved greatly over the past year.

Smith will make the typical rookie mistakes, but he should have enough solid play to overcome them.

Niklas Kronwall

This is now Kronwall’s defense.  Over the past two seasons he has steadily grown into this role.  His crushing checks on opponents need to be balanced with solid play and leadership.

He has shown that he is very capable in that role.  While comparisons to him and Lidstrom are inevitable, it will actually be limited due to their differing styles.

While the depth of the defense might be an issue, Kronwall will provide strength at the top of the chart and help pull the defense along.

PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings as well as many other sports.

You can follow him on Twitter.

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