Led by Larkin, Wings’ renaissance up front already underway
With training camp one month away, Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News is analyzing each of the Red Wings’ position groups. Today: Forwards.
Detroit – Among the goalies and defensemen, the Red Wings’ roster overhaul feels like a gradual process.
At forward, the changing of the guard now.
With Henrik Zetterberg (back) a huge unknown heading into training camp – the severity of his back pain possibly ending his career – Gustav Nyquist a possible trade chip at the trade deadline, and several prospects nearing the start of their NHL careers, the organization’s rebuild is definitely taking shape.
Players such as Dylan Larkin (age 22), Anthony Mantha (23), Andreas Athanasiou (24) and Tyler Bertuzzi (23), along with prospects Evgeny Svechnikov (21), Michael Rasmussen (19), and Filip Zadina (18) – one, or all three, could make the opening night roster – make this position group young and inexperienced, but also intriguingly talented.
Larkin, who could eventually replace Zetterberg as captain, believes the younger players are ready to assume a great responsibility.
Previous report: Red Wings defense on verge of overhaul with young talent on its way
Previous report: Wings' young goaltenders are a long way from ready
“We were the kids, but now there’s even younger kids coming in,” said Larkin, noting, in particular, Rasmussen and Zadina, the last two first-round draft picks. “So myself, Double-A, Mo, Tyler, it’s going to be competitive from within. But we do need to grasp that bigger role of being a leader, doing the right things, setting the example of hard work right from day one in training camp.”
Having missed the playoffs the last two seasons – after a 25-year consecutive stretch of qualifying – Larkin wants to bring back the “winning culture.”
“We need to win games, we need to have that winning culture the veterans have taught us and win games here,” Larkin said. “The fans want it, we want it. The young kids, they want to come in and make an impact right away.”
Larkin recently signed a five-year contract worth $30.5 million, a sign of the faith by the organization in Larkin’s ability and potential going forward after taking a big step in his career last season.
Larkin wants to further grow as a player this season. He had 47 assists and 63 points – both team-highs.
“I need to build on last year and improve,” Larkin said. “For myself and for the team, and be a big-time player where if the game has a minute left, we’re up by a goal or we’re down by a goal, (I’m) taking a big face-off to win it back and score the big goal or score the empty-netter, something just to win games.”
The loss of Zetterberg would be a huge blow to the organization – his leadership on and off the ice, in addition to his offensive production. Zetterberg had 56 points last season, second only to Larkin.
If Zetterberg were unable to play, it’s likely Frans Nielsen would slot up to the No. 2 center (behind Larkin), with Darren Helm assuming the No. 3 center, and Luke Glendening centering the fourth line.
The Red Wings are hopeful the return of Thomas Vanek, signed to a one-year free agent contract on July 1, will strengthen the lineup in a variety of ways.
Vanek had effective chemistry with players such as Athanasiou, Nyquist and Nielsen in his first tour with the Red Wings, and the coach Jeff Blashill is optimistic Vanek can help the development of players such Rasmussen and Zadina, if they make the roster.
Vanek’s ability to make plays on the power play, another area that struggled, is also expected to improve with his passing and offensive instincts.
“Thomas makes other players exponentially better,” Blashill said. “You’re just not getting Thomas’ production, but also whoever is on his line’s production. We want to see some of our young guys continuing to make strides, but it’s hard to make strides when there aren’t guys on your line making you better.
“He makes guys on his line exponentially better.”
KNOW THE SCORE
Here are the top forwards in the Red Wings organization:
Justin Abdelkader – On a roster that’s getting much younger, Abdelkader’s veteran leadership will be crucial.
Andreas Athanasiou – Can Athanasiou parlay his speed and ability into being a consistent 20-, or 25-goal scorer?
Tyler Bertuzzi – Bertuzzi isn’t likely to star in the league, but with his instincts and grit, he could be an effective player for a long time.
Martin Frk – He has a powerful shot but could get crowded off the roster due to the limitations in other areas of his game.
Luke Glendening – An effective checking, defensive forward, Glendening’s name could surface in trade rumors as the season progresses.
Darren Helm – Was often called one of the NHL’s best third-line centers early in his career – and could revisit that role if Zetterberg is unable to play.
Dylan Larkin – Took a step toward becoming a top-tier NHL player last season, and the organization is banking on Larkin doing more of it in the future.
Anthony Mantha – Given his ability and size, scoring 30 goals should be a priority. But he needs to stay consistently hungry and motivated.
Frans Nielsen – If Zetterberg is unable to play, Nielsen becomes the second-line center, and his offensive production will need to increase.
Gustav Nyquist – Heading into the last year of his contract, Nyquist will likely be a trade piece at the deadline. A 21-goal scorer, there should be adequate interest.
Michael Rasmussen – He is a focused 6-foot-5 center/wing and didn’t look out of place last training camp. All but assured a roster spot.
Evgeny Svechnikov – Took a step backward in his development last season. Svechnikov has a shot to make the opening night roster but it won’t be easy.
Dominic Turgeon – He is close to being a bottom-six forward in the NHL but this roster looks too crowded currently.
Thomas Vanek – The organization was anxious to bring Vanek back given his ability to create offense in a variety of ways.
Luke Witkowski – The roster’s one true physical presence, Witkowski’s role is important but making this roster will be difficult.
Filip Zadina – One of the most exciting Red Wings’ draft picks in years, Zadina’s goal-scoring ability could add another dimension to the lineup.
Henrik Zetterberg – He’s been an ideal captain on and off the ice, still a force the past several years despite an aching back. But signs are pointing to Zetterberg being unable to play.