A breakdown of how the Red Wings lineup might look to start the season
Going into this season there is plenty of hope for the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings. General manager Steve Yzerman has had a busy offseason building a lineup to fit his vision. He started with a surprising trade with the New York Islanders. Using draft capital of a 2021 second-round pick and recently acquired forward Richard Panik for defenseman Nick Leddy.
After the initial shock of changing the tactic of acquiring as much draft capital as possible. Yzerman did it again taking advantage of a salary dispute with a Calder finalist from the Carolina Hurricanes. On July 22 he traded goalie Jonathan Bernier and a 2021 third-round pick for goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
The final trade acquisition took place after the NHL entry draft. The Red Wings traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning a 2022 sixth-round pick for center Mitchell Stephens. In addition to the trades, Yzerman also made some key free-agent signings.
To help bolster the depth in the defensive corps he added Jordan Oesterle from the Arizona Coyotes with a two-year contract for $1,350,000. The team also took advantage of the Chicago Blackhawks choosing not to qualify center Pius Suter and signed him to a two-year contract for $3,250,000.
The final new player is a depth veteran forward Carter Rowney from the Anaheim Ducks. He signed a one-year contract worth $825,000. Rowney is expected to compete for a roster spot but could be moved to Grand Rapids.
The new additions are expected to provide the Red Wings with options and battles for some key spots in the line-up. While there are still possibilities for young players such as Joe Veleno, Lucas Raymond, Jonathan Berggren, and others that might contend as well. Here is my projected lineup for opening day.
Top six forwards in the lineup
The top six forwards could be variable depending on the opponent and which lines develop chemistry during the pre-season. However, considering the performance of the combinations below during the previous season here is what I project to start the season:
Tyler Bertuzzi – Dylan Larkin – Robby Fabbri
Filip Zadina – Pius Suter – Jakub Vrana
These two lines would provide a potent combination of 1a and 1b lines that the Red Wings have not had for a long time. Each line has a pair of forwards with Bertuzzi and Larkin along with Zadina and Suter that would provide solid forechecking pressure and win board battles.
Fabbri and Vrana both thrive on being the third forward facilitating as an outlet pass when battles along the boards happen. While this lineup projects to have plenty of speed, skill, and finesse it does lack size and grit. Both Bertuzzi and Larkin can provide some toughness but both are returning from injuries and it is preferred that this is not their primary role.
Bottom six forwards in the lineup
For the bottom six forwards, it becomes much more difficult to project. There is the chance that young prospects earn a spot here, although it is unlikely as the Red Wings tend to prefer they first start the season in Grand Rapids to solidify their abilities at that level and develop chemistry with fellow prospects.
Vladislav Namestnikov – Michael Rasmussen – Sam Gagner/Taro Hirose
Adam Erne – Mitchell Stephens – Givani Smith
The Red Wings do have options in their bottom six that will likely be dependent on how much the individual player can provide to special teams. Sam Gagner has been a versatile veteran that can contribute to both the power play and penalty kill. The same contribution could be provided by Rasmussen, Erne, and possibly Smith as well.
Much like the top six, this group has pairs of forwards that could be mixed with a third forward depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent. Erne and Stephens are likely to have some chemistry with their history together in the Tampa Bay Lightning system.
Rasmussen and Namestinkov proved to be a viable pair last season being able to gain puck possession with astute forechecking. Arguably, the most interesting player to watch this pre-season will be Taro Hirose as he battles for a spot in the lineup. He is a responsible forward that distributes the puck well and can be highly effective on the power play.
With the additions of Leddy, Oesterle, and rookie Moritz Seider the Red Wings defense is going to be very interesting. The new options make it likely that playing time is more evenly distributed thought all three pairs.
Danny DeKeyser – Filip Hronek
Nick Leddy – Moritz Seider
Marc Staal – Troy Stecher
Last season the Red Wings often utilized 11 forwards and seven defensemen. I predict that the trend will continue as it gives the team an opportunity to blend in their skilled wingers and generate scoring chances. This also reduces wear and tear on veterans such as DeKeyser, Staal, and Leddy while giving Lindstrom and Oesterle and chance to compete for a larger role.
In net, the Wings are likely to continue a platoon approach and split games 50-50. At least until either goalie proves they deserve the bulk of the starts. However, it’s probable that after such a strong performance last season that Nedeljkovic gets the initial start to open the season.
To begin the season the Red Wings go with proven veterans in the line-up. While keeping younger players Hirose and Lindstrom in the press box. These players are likely to rotate into the lineup on a regular basis.
To begin the season the Red Wings are considerably younger and project to have a lot more talent. With the return of Larkin, Bertuzzi, and Fabbri from injuries along with the new additions there is a considerable amount of potential for this team. Last season, the team proved capable in the defensive end and have a strong portion of that group returning.
While some fans may be disappointed that younger prospects don’t initially get placed in the lineup. It would be a mistake to forget how much of a significant impact the new acquisitions could make. The team looks to build from the last 30 games of last year when they went 12-11-7. Red Wings fans should be excited about what this team could produce and the challenges ahead. Fans will get their first look when preseason starts on Wednesday, September 29 versus the Chicago Blackhawks.