Time has flown by this offseason like never before. What seemed like only days after the playoffs concluded we were through the NHL Draft and the month of June. Free agency and training camp have already come and gone which brings us to where we are today, the pre-season. Heading into the new year, the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings have the potential to shock people this upcoming season more than they let on. But it is all going to depend on how management, now led by Steve Yzerman, and head coach, Jeff Blashill, and the rest of the staff decide how to arrange their roster.
What we’re going to do here is break down how this team could be assembled for optimal success this season. The 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings could, if all goes well, shock fans and actually contend for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The alternative to this potential scenario is that, yet again, the team ends up as among the bottom of the league. This wastes another year of star players’ development, ultimately pushing the Wings further behind the rest of the league.
A Look at the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings Lineup
The Forwards Battle It Out
Let’s start with the forwards, shall we? With the pre-season underway, players are being mixed and matched, assumptions can be made. One of these assumptions that’s seemed fairly easy to make is that star prospect Michael Rasmussen is likely to spend a good amount of time in the AHL. Last year with the Wings he played primarily as a winger. But through the training camp and the pre-season, they are giving him a hard look at centre. The four main centres for the Wings this season will likely be Dylan Larkin, Valtteri Filppula, Frans Nielsen, and Luke Glendening, in that order down the depth chart. So, for Rasmussen to get playing time at the position, he will need to be in the minors.
Veteran Centres Down The Middle
Larkin is the teams’ bonafide number one centre and overall leader. That leaves Filppula and Nielsen to be the teams’ second and third-line centers, respectively. Both players are virtually interchangeable at this point in their careers. They’re both veterans known for their 2-way style of play and produce roughly the same offencively. Last season Filppula put up 31 points with the Islanders, while Nielsen scored 35 with Detroit. Filppula is likely to get a second line slot thanks to his great chemistry with Wings star Andreas Athanasiou. With Nielsen having been around the team and some of the younger players a bit longer, he could have a bit more influence in a third-line role, serving as a great mentor for younger names.
Shuffling The Wingers
Looking at the wingers, this is where things get competitive. These spots will make a big difference in how the team performs this season. There are eight spots available in the starting lineup, and at least five of those are taken up. The players who are locks, in no particular order, would be Tyler Bertuzzi, Anthony Mantha, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, and Athanasiou. But there are potentially up to seven players fighting for those last three spots. Two young players should be locks this season though to take up two of those three spots, Taro Hirose and Filip Zadina. Hirose looks like he will fit right in with Filppula and Athanasiou on the 2nd line. This leaves Zadina on the 3rd line with Nielsen as his Center and likely Helm on his opposite wing
With Glendenning and Abdelkader being locked in on the fourth line, they should have a rotating Winger with them. Occupying the remaining position will be either Jacob De La Rose, Adam Erne, or Christoffer Ehn. Ehn has looked good but will likely be the odd man out here. He’s instead likely to spend some time in the AHL. That’ll leave De La Rose and Erne to battle it out for the coveted last roster spot. Either way, they should be rotating in-and-out of the line up every few games.
Will This Defence Struggle?
Things get a little trickier when looking at the defence. There are a few players who are making a decent salary but aren’t living up to the hype. Then there are young guns who make far less. And though they lack experience, they have much higher potential to be fantastic NHL players but need a chance. This creates a slight log-jam on defence. But with the right mix of pairings, this could be a breakout year for many.
One amazing option the staff has when assembling the defence is the ability to have all three pairings be lefty-righty combos. Something many teams strive for but cannot put together. The Wings also have the chance to pair defencive partners together in the form of having a veteran player with a younger, inexperienced player. They can also pair them up as offencively-minded with a defencively-minded partner. Doing so creates pairings that will be defencively reliable and able to push the offence.
Before breaking down the pairings, let’s get something out of the way. Moritz Seider will not be making the big club right away. It doesn’t matter how excited everyone is for him. The great news is that he is leaning towards playing in Grand Rapids. Playing with the Griffins instead of heading back to Germany’s top league could speed up his development immensely. Playing with the Griffins will make him available for the Red Wings if needed. So there is still the chance we could see him at some point. Not to worry though, the Wings still have a few highly talented young defencemen who are ready right now.
Veterans and Youth Make Great Combos
Two of those players are Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek. Both have shown their high-end talent that could lead to them being the top pairing for the team within the next few seasons. But for now, it would be best to keep them paired with savvy veterans, as some call them. With Cholowski being left-handed, and Hronek being right-handed, they’re likely to match up with Mike Green and Danny DeKeyser respectively. Green and DeKeyser are veterans making these solid pairings. The younger players will lean on and learn from them throughout the season.
With the top two pairings set as Dekyser and Hronek and Cholowski and Green, that leaves a jam of five players vying for two spots in the starting lineup. Patrik Nemeth seems to have a roster spot locked down. He is a defencively-minded defenceman who can play a mean and physical style when needed. He can also make a solid breakout pass. Being one of Yzerman’s few free-agent additions this summer, and 27-years-old, it would be a waste to have him out of the lineup.
This last spot is where it comes down to money versus potential. The players involved in the money side of this spot are Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley. Both players are in the final years of their contracts and, like Nemeth, are left-handed. Ericsson has been with Detroit for his entire career and seems to disappoint continually. Daley has bounced around, winning multiple Stanley Cups, but has failed to impess since joining Detroit in the 2017-18 season. Still, he has a stronger case for the spot than Ericsson when it comes to experience and inherent leadership qualities.
Promising Right-Hand Shots Battle For The Final Spot
When it comes to players with potential, Madison Bowey stands out. This will be Boweys first full season with the Red Wings and he will be playing to impress. He has the potential to be a stalwart second-pairing defenceman in the NHL and could quickly become a power-play specialist. He has an offencive upside and was captain of the Kelowna Rockets for two seasons. Bowey even flaunted some of his goal-scoring flairs already this preseason, ultimately finishing with four points in four games.
Then there is Oliwer Kaski, a free-agent addition from Finland’s top league. Kaski is a player many had only heard about until seeing him at the Red Wings training camp. Since then, he has done nothing but impress. He brings a tremendous offencive upside, leading all Finnish defencemen in scoring last season. He took home awards for Best Player and defenceman during the regular season, along with being named an All-Star. Both Kaski and Bowey are restricted free agents after this season and right-hand shots.
Kaski is likely to spend the year in the AHL, though. Bowey needs the NHL ice-time so he can continue his development, ultimately winning him the spot alongside Nemeth. Meanwhile, Daley and Ericsson will rotate in-and-out throughout the season as healthy scratches or when there are injuries.
The Anchor In Goal
Now that the forward lines and defencive pairings set, all that is left is to mention the goaltenders. There isn’t much going on here that should be of any surprise to anyone though. Jimmy Howard has re-signed on a one-year contract and will remain the starting goalie of the team. Jonathan Bernier is entering into the second year of his three-year contract as the back up to Howard. Calvin Pickard was picked up over the summer for added depth which will be needed as the season goes on.
2019-20 Detroit Red Wings Outlook
With the roster set, night in and night out, this team could surprise many. It won’t be easy, that’s for sure, but the potential is all there. There will be growing pains as this is a youthful lineup, but they need to gain experience now. Quite a few players are also entering the prime of their careers in the likes of Larkin, Mantha, and Athanasiou. It’s time for them to be let loose to play some puck finally. They need to begin carrying this team on their backs and lead the younger players.
The 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings shouldn’t be a playoff team, but crazier things have happened. They will be a long shot and a seller if anything at the Trade Deadline. All in all, this will be a crucial year in the development of the Wings. It should be some of the best hockey the team has played in nearly a decade. Let’s drop the puck!