Detroit -- The development of NHL defensemen is rarely charted with a straight line, and it often takes a few seasons or more, sometimes well into their 20s, before the rough edges of blueliners' games are smooth.
The Red Wings await the full development of two of their prized, homegrown products, Jonathan Ericsson, 28, and Jakub Kindl, 25. And there were some encouraging signs from both of them, in the 4-1 victory over the Stars Tuesday.
That is good, because the Wings need them now.
With the defense depleted by departures of the great, near great and very good, and injuries depriving the Red Wings of some of the intended replacements, Ericsson and Kindl are no longer on the let's-see-how-they-do list.
They are officially on the do-it list.
"You've got to grab hold of it," coach Mike Babcock said. "You've got to reach out and grab hold of something, and then make it your own."
After a 2011-12 season in which Ericsson's play matured considerably, he started this year on the top pair with Niklas Kronwall. But a freak accident, stepping on a puck, caused an odd fall during practice, and Ericsson injured a hip.
He appeared in only his third game, Tuesday. But his value was immediately clear.
Returning from the January 20 injury on Sunday in Chicago, Ericsson played 21:57, second only to Kronwall.
Ericsson logged 24:34 Tuesday, and garnered three hits, two take-aways and two blocks. Although he was literally on the ice for the Stars' only goal, prone to try to stop a two-on-one break, it was a valiant effort.
With the Wings down five players to three and the Stars on the power play, Babcock put Ericsson on the ice as the lone defenseman with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and they killed off the first penalty.
"It's great to get the opportunity out there and to play in big situations," Ericsson said."That's always what you're striving to do.
"It's a lot of fun. I just feel that I haven't played in a lot of games, so it is going to take a couple of games for me to get into it. But that's the way it goes, sometimes."
Despite losing their top two defensive defensemen in the offseason, Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart, a year after losing Brian Rafalski, Kindl entered the year seventh on the depth chart.
Appearing in only a game before last night, Kindl was inserted in the lineup by Babcock for offensive reasons.
"We're going to try to get our power play going a little bit," the coach said, before the game.
"He's supposed to be a skill guy on the back end, and he's got to move the puck and shoot the puck.
"The big thing is, when we talk about 'Kuba,'" said Babcock, using Kindl's nickname "He's got to grab a piece of the action. That's up to him."
After the game, he was happy with his young defenseman.
"I thought Kindl had a pretty good game for us," Babcock said. "Good for him, and he was competitive.
"When you challenge Kuba, that's always the challenge: You've got the skill set, but the skill set doesn't do anything. You've got to be competitive in this game."
Kindl has played 106 NHL games over the past three seasons, and he also showed improvement last year.
"Every year is a big year," Kindl said. "Nothing has changed. I've been here for three years, but I feel there's always little things I can work on and I'm trying to do that."
So many small, but important lessons — amid the urgency of now, for the Red Wings.
Newcomer Kent Huskins' career is an example of the fortitude NHL defensemen sometimes require. At age 33, Huskins has appeared in just 305 NHL games.
"You've got to kind of evolve with it and keep learning and keep picking up what you can on a daily basis," said Huskins, who was paired with Kindl Tuesday.
"There's a fine line in knowing when to stay and when to go."
That is not a short list of easy things.
But the Red Wings are pining for their two homegrown, late 20-somethings to take it all firmly in hand — and the sooner the better.