All stats accurate through January 8th, 2017.
Throughout an NHL season every team deals with injuries to key players, and they need younger players to step up and provide. Some teams, like this years incarnation of the Detroit Red Wings, have multiple key players out all at the same time. This gives young players the opportunity to show what they’ve got. For the Red Wings, it means rookies are filling important holes in the team’s line-up.
The Red Wings forward depth was tested early on this season when Thomas Vanek was injured against Carolina in October. He had started the season on fire by scoring four goals and eight points in the first seven games. Tyler Bertuzzi was then called up from the Grand Rapids Griffins to fill in. He was almost a non-factor during his seven-game stint in Detroit, not recording a point. His tenure was cut short by an ankle injury which he recently recovered from to rejoin the Griffins.
By far the most impactful rookie this year has been Anthony Mantha. The 6’5″ forward out of Longueuil, Quebec was picked 20th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. His professional career didn’t get off to the start that he would’ve hoped for. He fractured his leg in the Red Wings Prospect Tournament in Traverse City prior to starting his first season in Grand Rapids.
This season, which was his third in Grand Rapids, he lead the AHL in goals with eight through the first 10 games. He was then recalled to Detroit and since then he has moved himself into a tie for the lead in goals with Dylan Larkin with 11 and is fourth in points with 19.
This was a crucial year for the young defensemen in Detroit. Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul, and Nick Jensen were all waiver-eligible this season. Ken Holland wasn’t willing to lose any of them like he did with Teemu Pulkkinen and Martin Frk (although Frk was reacquired after being waived by Carolina).
Niklas Kronwall was hurt to begin the season and therefore Detroit was able to carry more defensemen. Of the three, only Jensen and Sproul are still rookies and have been important to the back end for the Red Wings.
This was a year where Danny DeKeyser was supposed to emerge as a first pair defenseman. That hasn’t happened to this point, and that has made the play of both Jensen and Sproul even more important.
Jensen has played less (eight games) than Sproul, but has shown more flashes of success in that time. Outside of the first line for Detroit, Jensen is the only player with a positive CF% as well as a positive FF%, and he is in the top five in relative CF and FF% on the team.
Sproul on the other hand hasn’t been as good according to the advanced metrics. He is significantly below 50% in both CF and FF and is -3.6 rel CF and -4.6 rel FF. He has been a decent point producer, ranking tied for third with six points, and Jeff Bashill loves his right-hand shot on the power play.
Coming into the season the Red Wings goalie situation seemed as clear cut as it had been in years: Petr Mrazek was the clear cut favorite, and Jimmy Howard was to be his backup. Then the injury bug struck yet another position group, as Howard went down.
This injury to Howard gave Jared Coreau his first opportunity to play in the NHL. His first taste of action in the NHL came on Dec. 3 against the Penguins. He ultimately lost, but played fairly well throughout the game. His first win came on Dec. 23 against the Florida Panthers in overtime. In his six starts for the Red Wings this season, he is 3-1-1 which includes a shutout, but only a 3.14 goals against average and .903 save percentage.
Where Can These Detroit Red Wings Rookies Lead the Team?
Ultimately, this season appears to be over for the Red Wings. It would take a major miracle for Detroit to somehow extend The Streak. The success of this team will come from being able to lessen the roles of older players and start relying on these rookies and other young players.
It won’t come this year, and it may not come next year, but the foundation for a successful team appears to be in place. This foundation will become the next era of players that fans can come to love, and who will attempt to bring the Stanley Cup back to Hockeytown.