How Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider Are Sparking Hopes of a Red Wings Revival

Adam Herman@@AdamZHermanContributor INovember 13, 2021

Detroit Red Wings left wing Lucas Raymond (23) celebrates with defenseman Moritz Seider (53) and left wing Tyler Bertuzzi (59) after scoring against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Duane Burleson/Associated Press

By any objective measure, the Detroit Red Wings aren't having a great start to the 2021-22 NHL season. Through 15 games, they hold a 7-8-2 record, which ranks 23rd leaguewide in points percentage.

The underlying numbers are more or less in line with that record. The Red Wings rank 22nd by expected goals percentage (48.4 percent), per Evolving Hockey.

For most NHL franchises, that kind of a stretch to open the season would raise the question of why so much is going wrong. But consider where the Red Wings came from.

The Red Wings have failed to make the playoffs ever since their 25-season run of playing in the postseason ended in 2016. It isn't just that they were losing; their entire outlook was as bleak as possible.

The roster was a decaying visage with a number of bloated contracts from their prior contention window, plus whatever leftover journeymen they could find. General manager Steve Yzerman, whom the Red Wings hired in 2019, inherited an unmitigated disaster with few redeemable parts. 

Anything above the abyss is progress for Detroit, and flirting with a position outside the bottom 10 teams is certainly that.

There's a noticeable buzz inside Little Caesars Arena that wasn't present in previous seasons. The current group of players is, if not good, then at least intriguing. 

Rookies Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider are at the center of the Red Wings' upward trend. The two top prospects made the team out of training camp, which was fully expected. It was less certain that they'd be positive contributors so soon.

Yet not only are they proving they belong at hockey's top level, but they are also two of the biggest drivers of Detroit's relative progress through 15 games.

Seider, whom the Red Wings drafted sixth overall in 2019, was named the Swedish Hockey League's top defenseman last season, producing seven goals and 21 assists in 41 regular-season games while dominating analytically. Now in Detroit, he is playing one of the most difficult roles in the league.

Logging 22-23 minutes every night on a subpar team is a heavy burden, but he's thriving in the role. Per Evolving Hockey, Seider ranks 19th among all defensemen in Defensive Goals Above Replacement.

How is he doing it? The German is displaying a mental and physical maturity beyond his years that in some ways is reminiscent of a young Ryan McDonagh.

At 6'4" and 197 pounds, Seider has the size and strength to defend at the top level, but his skating and footwork is what's tilting the scales in his favor. He's able to cover so much ice and doesn't have wasted motion in his crossovers and pivots.

The most evident benefit is that Seider can defend aggressively.

When defending the rush, he defends from the middle lane outward. He protects the most vulnerable ice in the neutral and defensive zones, and once he's ensured its safety, he closes in on puck-carriers in the blink of an eye. He also mops up a lot of messes on transition rushes when his team is vulnerable, taking big strides and his range to get back quickly on the backcheck.

If it's not his feet, then Seider is using his strength. Once he's gapped up with a puck-carrier, he uses his size to keep them to the perimeter.

On controlled offensive plays, Seider is battling in front of the net, keeping his man out of the goaltender's line of vision. 

The final ingredient is his defensive vision.

Seider anticipates plays well. He takes good routes to pucks on dump-ins and times his jumps well in the neutral zone when picking off plays.

The German has two goals and nine assists in 15 games, which is far more offensive production than most anticipated out of him this soon.

Seider is not a prolific playmaker, but he's comfortable with the puck and can make some passes. He has only two assists at five-on-five, and the Red Wings are shooting an unsustainable 12.8 percent when he's on the ice.

Expect his production to regress, but he does not look out of place in offensive-zone situations nor on the power play. There's untapped offensive potential that should come as he becomes more situated.

Raymond has been equally as effective for Detroit, though with different contributions.

The 2020 fourth-overall pick had a good-but-not-great season with Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League last year. Whereas he was fighting for playing time there, he's being given a more prominent role in his rookie NHL season.

Raymond has six goals and eight assists in 15 games, and a lot of his success can be attributed to his linemates. Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi are playing the best hockey of their careers. 

But they aren't carrying Raymond. Instead, they feed into Raymond's strengths.

There are few flaws in the 19-year-old's unconventionally mature game, but his best attributes are his passing, his contributions to a cycle offense and his ability to get open for shooting opportunities. Getting the most out of him requires linemates who can keep up and feed into those strengths.

Larkin and Bertuzzi are high-end players who fill that need. They're carrying out extended possessions, and they're doing an excellent job of finding Raymond on the power play, where he's scored half of his goals.

If Raymond was only capitalizing on the man advantage and in sheltered offensive-zone minutes, that would be more than acceptable at this stage of his development. But his line is being matched against the opposition's top players most nights, and he is doing his part to tilt the ice in Detroit's favor.

He's been responsible in his own end, creating turnovers when pressuring the points, playing a physical game to win puck battles and making plays in smaller areas of the ice to help advance the puck to the opposing end.

Seider and Raymond are thriving because they are elite young players whose skill sets and physical maturity are easing the adjustment to the NHL compared to most their age. Head coach Jeff Blashill also deserves credit for trusting their talent and handing them in top roles out of the gate.

Detroit's otherwise weak roster makes those decisions a lot easier, but there are plenty of examples of coaches deferring to veterans over more capable rookies. The Red Wings have no expectations this season, which creates a great sandbox to give these two the ability to grow and develop in prominent roles without fear of how their mistakes might hurt the team.

It's a moot point for now, as both are among not only the team's top performers, but the NHL's as a whole. They're each among the early front-runners for the Calder Trophy. 

Continuing this success will be a major challenge for the two, as the 82-game schedule is a grind with which they aren't familiar. The Swedish season is roughly half as long.

However, it's been an ideal start to the season. While the Red Wings still have a lot of rebuilding to do, they're playing competent hockey and giving the fanbase a reason to tune in for the first time in six seasons.