DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings will start 2018 training camp on Sept. 14.
The team's first preseason game is Sept. 19 when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The season won't start until Oct. 4 when Detroit hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Now is a good time to think about what this team will look like for the 2018-19 season. General Manager Ken Holland still could make some moves and, of course, it's ultimately up to coach Jeff Blashill to decide who is in the opening night lineup and what the lines will look like to start the season.
First, consider these offseason Detroit signings:
- Veteran winger Thomas Vanek, 34, was signed to a one-year, $3 million deal for a second stint in Detroit. The hope is Vanek can add depth and mentorship to a team transitioning to a younger corps up front.
- Defenseman Mike Green, 32, decided to re-sign for two more seasons with the Red Wings. He'll be expected to continue to carry the load for Detroit's defense.
- Goalie Jonathan Bernier will step in on a 3-year, $3 million contract. He fills the hole left by Petr Mrazek, who the Red Wings traded at the deadline. Bernier is considered Jimmy Howard's backup, but it wouldn't be surprising to see the duo equally splitting the schedule.
Second, consider these players who aren't on the actual NHL roster right now but could make an appearance on it soon:
- Evgeny Svechnikov (W) is a 2015 1st-round draft pick who has appeared in 16 games for the Red Wings over the past two seasons. In those 16 games this past season he scored 2 goals and 2 assists. He hasn't been scoring too much with the Grand Rapids Griffins -- just 7 goals and 16 assists in 57 games played this past season -- but the Red Wings still consider him a top prospect with size -- he's listed as 6 feet 3 inches and 212 pounds. With Tomas Tatar's departure last spring, Svechnikov has a better shot at staying up with the Red Wings this season.
- Michael Rasmussen (C), 19, was drafted 9th overall by the Red Wings in 2017. He has not played a professional hockey game yet. Last season was his fourth season with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL (Canada junior league). In the WHL playoffs he had 33 points in 14 games played. That's impressive. If Detroit is looking for a young center to slot in, perhaps Rasmussen gets the call. However, without any time spent in the AHL, Rasmussen's shot at cracking the NHL lineup does not look promising. He's under contract until 2021.
- Axel Holmstrom (W) (no, he is not related to Tomas Holmstrom) was drafted in the 7th round back in 2014. He has spent the past two seasons in Grand Rapids where he scored 7 goals and 19 assists in 66 games played this past season. Before the Griffins, Holmstrom played in Sweden's top league. He has a lot of experience for being just 22.
- Dominic Turgeon (C, W) (yes, he is Pierre Turgeon's son) is another 2014 draft pick still trying to crack the Red Wings lineup. He scored 14 goals and 18 assists in 69 games played with the Griffins this past season, and he also appeared with limited ice time in five games with the Red Wings. At 22 years young, he has a lot of potential as a speedy winger with some size -- 6-foot-2, 200 pounds.
- Joe Hicketts (D) appeared in 5 games with the Red Wings this past season. He is 22 and already has two full AHL seasons under his belt. His height -- 5-foot-8 -- has not held him back at any level in his career, yet. The Red Wings may be looking at Hicketts even more this season depending on the health of some of their other defensemen.
- Vili Saarijarvi (D) was playing with the Griffins this past season -- 11 assists in 42 games played. The 2015 draft pick is just 21.
- Dylan Sadowy (D) is yet another 2014 draft pick trying to make the Red Wings lineup. He's been back and forth between Grand Rapids and the ECHL's Toledo Walleye. It's unclear if he's considered an option for Detroit.
- David Pope (W) spent four seasons with the NCAA's University of Nebraska-Omaha after he was drafted by the Red Wings in 2013. He's coming right out of college this year, and probably ends up in Grand Rapids.
- Filip Zadina (W) is the one player everyone is buzzing about. Rated a top-three draft option this year, he fell to the Red Wings at 6th overall, and he's expected to be playing pro this fall. Whether he's playing in the NHL is another story, but if he's the high-powered goal scorer he was in juniors (44 goals with Halifax this past season), then he's cracking the NHL lineup sooner than later. He's still only 18 and is under contract through 2021.
- Dennis Cholowski (D) hasn't really seen much pro hockey. He was drafted 20th overall in 2016 but has spent the past two seasons at St. Cloud State and juniors (WHL). It's tough to see him in the Red Wings lineup before he heads to Grand Rapids, even if he was a highly-touted draft pick. He's also under contract until 2021.
- Gustav Lindstrom (D) is a 19-year-old drafted back in 2017 in the 2nd round. The Swedish defenseman hasn't played on a North American team yet, but who knows, maybe he's awesome. He's another guy under contract until 2021.
- Filip Hronek (D) could be on the cusp of a Red Wings debut. With 39 points and a +24 rating with the Griffins this past seasons, Hronek is making a strong argument for himself. Drafted 53rd overall in 2016, the Czech native seems to be on the right track at just 20 years young. Look for him to slot into the Detroit D pairings at some point this season, if not at the start.
There are a few guys left off that list due to their lack of experience, such as winger Givani Smith who has seen just three games in the AHL since being drafted in 2016.
While those are the prospects trying to make the lineup, next are the players who are expected to be in the lineup and producing. Blashill, like many NHL coaches, changes line combinations often, so let's not consider any of this as even close to being in stone.
Most importantly, keep in mind it looks like Henrik Zetterberg will be missing at least the start of the season due to his back problems. Removing him from the lineup shakes things up quite a bit.
Here's what forward lines could look like at the beginning of the season:
|Forward Line 1||Tyler Bertuzzi||Dylan Larkin||Anthony Mantha|
|Forward Line 2||Thomas Vanek||Frans Nielsen||Gustav Nyquist|
|Forward Line 3||Justin Abdelkader||Andreas Athanasiou||Martin Frk|
|Forward Line 4||????||Luke Glendening||Darren Helm|
The question is: Who is filling the spot left by Zetterberg? Could it really be Filip Zadina's spot? Remember, Luke Witkowski -- the forward/defenseman -- remains on this roster. It's unclear whether he would be preferred to fill a 4th-line role, or if someone else would be shifted down -- such as a Nyquist -- to allow Zadina a better position in the lineup. Then someone like Abdelkader or Frk would fall to the 4th line. In that case, Athanasiou could be playing center, but that doesn't mean he's taking faceoffs.
At this point, it's really tough to tell what this lineup will look like, but at least we can get a glimpse at some of the options. That first line of Bertuzzi-Larkin-Mantha promises to be very exciting. Blashill has some things to play around with on the rest of the forward lines.
As for the defense:
|1st Pairing||Jonathan Ericsson||Mike Green|
|2nd Pairing||Dan DeKeyser||Trevor Daley|
|3rd Pairing||Niklas Kronwall||????|
Maybe that last spot goes to Hronek. Maybe it goes to Hicketts. Maybe it's Lukowski's or Nick Jensen's. Maybe it's a rotating spot. We can safely assume the cash-strapped Red Wings aren't signing a big-name defenseman -- or can we? Lots of questions.
The bottom line is there is nothing to get overly excited about when it comes to this defensive group. The hope is this team gets better defensively as a whole, meaning there is better chemistry between the forwards and the D-men, and one of the prospects turns into something more than, well, just a prospect.
As for the goaltending situation, it's still Howard's crease until it isn't, if that makes sense. Bernier was brought in to help share the workload, but it could be his net to mind sooner than later.
Realistic expectations for Red Wings this season
If we're going to be realistic about this squad right now, they aren't making the playoffs this season. The Red Wings are a team in some kind of transition -- whatever kind it is -- whether fans like it or not. The franchise has aging contracts to wait out, and young, unproven prospects to find out about. Growing pains will continue -- keyword "growing."
Ideally, they are a team that is able to stay competitive all season and is not getting blown out 5-1 on a nightly or weekly basis. Hopefully they are able to perform well against some of their divisional rivals -- the Leafs, the Sabres, the Canadiens, the Bruins, the Lightning, etc. -- but don't expect them to be beating up on anyone more than once. There are just too many teams with better, more proven talent.
With the salary cap and draft lottery rules, "tanking" for draft picks in the NHL isn't a real option anymore. Sure, it could help you land a Connor McDavid, but those types of players are few and far between. No, the Red Wings are better off trying to be the best they can be with the lineup they have. They will want to continue growing young players like Larkin, Bertuzzi and Mantha while filtering in new ones. And maybe they'll surprise some people on some nights. But the fact is there are at least eight or nine other teams in the Eastern Conference who likely will look much better than the Red Wings this season.