5 Lineup Changes the Detroit Red Wings Should Consider for the New Year
The Detroit Red Wings got off to a hot start to the 2014-15 season, but as of late, the team has struggled. The Red Wings are 4-2-4 in their last 10 games, and there are a couple of changes Mike Babcock and Co. should consider heading into the new year.
The Wings are still on pace to make the playoffs, but here are some changes that could help their chances going forward.
Put Gustav Nyquist Back on First Line
At 25 years old, Gustav Nyquist is one of the Red Wings' top young forwards, and he is one of their best goal scorers as well. Nyquist has 14 goals on the season and is tied with fellow youngster Tomas Tatar, who is 24 years old.
He is currently skating on the third line behind Tomas Jurco and Justin Abdelkader, and it appears the Wings are trying to balance their scoring prowess throughout the lineup.
While this is a solid strategy, Nyquist is a better fit with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk than he is with Darren Helm and Johan Franzen. Nyquist had the bulk of his success earlier this season playing on that line, so it is in the team's best interest to put him in a place he will be successful.
Nyquist is a goal scorer, so it makes perfect sense to put him with two quality playmakers in Zetterberg and Datsyuk.
Put Justin Abdelkader with Darren Helm and Johan Franzen
On the last slide, I suggested placing Gustav Nyquist back on the first line, so that means Justin Abdelkader would have to move somewhere. Placing him on the third line may seem like a punishment, but that is where Abdelkader has always played.
Throughout his career, he hasn't been much of a scorer, but this season, he got off to a hot start before being sidelined with an injury. The best way to get Abdelkader back on top is by placing him in a familiar situation so he can get back to playing his game.
It appears Abdelkader has overcomplicated things and just needs to get back to playing a simple game. He showed some prowess offensively earlier this year but has been a bit rusty since returning from a shoulder injury.
A speedster such as Darren Helm and a work mule such as Johan Franzen are perfect complements to Abdelkader's two-way game, and it is a move that could make the Wings a tougher team to play against.
Promote Teemu Pulkkinen
Teemu Pulkkinen is currently the leading scorer on the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings' AHL affiliate, and he is a talented winger with serious upside. Pulkkinen has 30 points in 28 games this season, and it is clear he deserves an NHL shot to prove himself.
Tomas Jurco hasn't played that well this season, and sending him back to the AHL wouldn't be the worst thing for his development. Someone would have to be sent down to make room for Pulkkinen, and Jurco is a decent candidate at this point.
Pulkkinen is a gifted offensive winger who could help bolster the Wings offense, and it is clear that he is too good for the Griffins. In addition, the NHL always benefits when there is a Teemu around.
Pair Brendan Smith with Niklas Kronwall
Brendan Smith is a talented young defender who is still trying to find his way in the NHL, and he could use some veteran help to get him on track. He is currently paired with Jakub Kindl, a defender who has experience, but Niklas Kronwall is the veteran defender Smith could use as his partner.
Jonathan Ericsson has played well, but moving him to the second pairing and Kyle Quincey to the third pairing would make room for Smith. Kronwall learned from Nicklas Lidstrom and developed into a good defender, and the cycle could continue if Smith is promoted.
Smith has shown spurts of brilliance throughout his brief NHL career, and pairing him with Kronwall could give him a chance to take steps toward becoming more consistent.
Play Petr Mrazek More for the Rest of the Season
Jimmy Howard is currently on injured reserve with a lower body injury, and Petr Mrazek is the main man between the pipes. Although he is getting a ton of playing time now, he should get even more the rest of the season.
Howard is the Red Wings' top man in net, but he's been a bit fragile over the past few years. In 2013-14, he suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss eight games. He returned and missed one game with a hip flexor and then went on to miss three more games with a knee injury.
This season, Howard has missed one game because of a strained groin and the last two games with a lower body injury after being pulled against the New York Islanders.
Playing Mrazek often when the team has a chance will not only allow him to gain valuable NHL experience, but it will also keep Howard fresh for the playoffs, when he will be needed most.