Krupa: Red Wings pull back on larger youth movement
Detroit — It is a cruel blow to be young and poised for success long sought, and suddenly diverted.
Of course, if you are a hockey player, by the time you approach a regular gig in the NHL you know injuries come with the time on ice.
But one can only feel badly for Tyler Bertuzzi and Evgeny Svechnikov.
Injuries are blocking Bertuzzi’s path to a probable roster spot and keeping Svechnikov off the ice for some preseason NHL action that, coupled with a good start in Grand Rapids, could have put him back in Detroit later this season.
They are also further delaying the Wings’ reconstruction.
The preseason is not encouraging thoughts that the changes needed for a deep thrust in the playoffs are within reach, nor was such a happy prospect likely in 2017.
But it also appears the Red Wings will not significantly expand their set of young players, at least at the start of the season.
Not ready to launch
Unlike a growing number of NHL teams going with younger players, the Wings do not seem ready to play more of their prospects.
While skating with two rookies used to seem like a lot until recently in the league, it is not unheard of to have more than a few. And some teams are having success, although it helps to have twin stars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin to win the Stanley Cup with a number of “kids.”
At a moment in their careers bursting with opportunity for both Red Wings’ prospects, injuries mean Bertuzzi and Svechnikov will start their seasons in Grand Rapids.
Bertuzzi fought an infection this summer, contracted when he fought and cut his fist on an opponents’ teeth, which kept him on an IV part of the summer.
Now, an inflamed tendon in his wrist requires immobilization and rest.
The Wings are evaluating Svechnikov’s neck injury, and it may be a sprain.
The good news is that Martin Frk may be playing well enough to grab a roster spot.
The 23-year-old Czech shoots hard, skates with pace, looks like he can withstand some physical play and could be a weapon on the power play.
But that would feel more like one young guy in and one young guy out.
Sitting across the table at the pregame dinner Thursday, Ken Holland said there has been no progress recently in the talks with Andreas Athanasiou.
It may be that Frk, David Booth and Ben Street are vying for Athanasiou's vacated spot.
“I think some guys have made real good statements.” Jeff Blashill said, mentioning all three. “Frky’s played really well.”
There is one other possibility with two games against Mike Babcock’s young, talented Maple Leafs remaining in the preseason. And, it is a little surprising.
Hard to overlook
Michael Rasmussen, the 18-year-old 2017 first round pick, is forcing the Red Wings to give him a long look.
He scored his third goal of the preseason against the Blackhawks by doing what he does best, going to the net.
It is striking how Rasmussen seems to do it more as a matter of obsession than routine.
Also noticeable, so far, is that despite his detractors on the issue, Rasmussen seems to skate pretty well. He mostly keeps moving without the puck, too.
He is huge at 6-foot-6, so his strides are long.
But Rasmussen moves, and keeps moving. But not too far from the net once he is there and the Red Wings have the puck
As for big, tough NHL defensemen moving him away, the rules and the way they are interpreted today preclude a lot of that kind of play. In Rasmussen’s case, they could play by the rules in Gordie Howe’s day and it might not matter.
He is big and getting bigger.
His 221 pounds are likely to become 235 or 240.
“We thought he was a hard-to-find big man with skill,” Holland said, of the decision to pick Rasmussen.
“He moves pretty good for a big man, and I think he’s going to move better for a big man in a year or two.
“He’s got hockey sense. He’s got hands. And the other things he does as a big man is he goes to the front of the net.”
Asked if players must still be overripe to enter the Red Wings lineup, Holland offered his standard.
“My take on young players is very simple,” Holland said. “It’s not overripe, it’s nothing other than can you be in the top nine forwards or the top five defensemen on an everyday basis?
“Then, you can play on the Detroit Red Wings.”
Other than that, Holland said, it is better to play in Grand Rapids or, Rasmussen’s case, perhaps in junior hockey, where a young player “can play in all important situations.”
The rebuilding remains measured.
The next Stanley Cup contender in Detroit is likely several years down the road. Some of the players who may contribute significantly may be skating in the organization, now.
But it will take time.