For Red Wings, cutting teeth last season pays off now

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Many young Red Wings earned opportunities last season after injuries decimated the lineup.

They helped carry the team into the playoffs, and the experience gained has contributed to the success the Red Wings are having right now.

"Absolutely, that was kind of the silver lining what with all the injuries we had," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "Some of the young guys were forced into playing more minutes and taking on bigger roles and they ran with it.

"Never at any point were they feeling sorry for themselves. They got here, they were prepared from their time in Grand Rapids, and they played great.

"And they've kept it going this year."

Players such as 24-year-old Tomas Tatar (23 goals), 25-year-old Gustav Nyquist (20 goals), and 23-year-old Riley Sheahan (nine goals, 25 points), among others, have taken another step in their development.

But coach Mike Babcock is quick to point out there's much more room to grow — and grow and improve, they must.

"We're a better hockey team because we have a lot of kids who are getting better," Babcock said. "The thing I like about our group is we try to get better and we've been fairly consistent. We show up to play most every night.

"We're like most teams, we're trying to get better. The league is very tight. You can look up and say you're close to the top, but you look down and you can say you're close to the bottom. That's just how the league is."

DeKeyser 'getting better every day'

Danny DeKeyser isn't known as an offensive defenseman, but that doesn't mean he has no offense.

"Is he an offensive defenseman? No," Babcock said. "Is he getting better every day? Absolutely.

"Is he a guy that one day can run a second power play? He's doing it for us right now, so obviously he's getting better. Is that his calling card? No."

Babcock said DeKeyser's ability to make the correct play anywhere is a benefit.

"He makes the right play all the time, basically everywhere," DeKeyser said. "He makes the least mistakes of anyone on our back end. He's an elite skater. He has an elite mind, and he's ultra competitive.

He comes to play every day. He's changed our whole back end."

Goalie shuffling

Expect the Red Wings to address their goaltending before they embark on a five-game trip this weekend.

With Jimmy Howard, Petr Mrazek and Jonas Gustavsson on the roster, the Red Wings have one too many goaltenders.

The odd man out? Mrazek, who likely will be sent to Grand Rapids.

"We're in a situation where we have to get one of these guys out of here just because I don't want to have three goalies around," Babcock said. "But we got to figure that out. Howie is going to be way better than that (loss last weekend to the Jets). Pete did a real good job for us (with Howard injured). In saying that, Gus played great for us last year (but) he's just been hurt all year."