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Krupa: Budding stars are lifting Red Wings to new heights

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Red Wings center Andreas Athanasiou celebrates his goal against the Coyotes Tuesday.

Detroit — People who looked away from the Red Wings around Halloween, deciding that losing hockey did not fit on their busy, mid-autumn calendars, have missed some developments.

After a miserable first 10 games, the Wings are flying.

And, before the same people, and others, get too disappointed about their plans for the Wings to draft prime NHL prospect Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick in June, consider that the team’s seven wins in the past eight games are the product of critically important development.

A half-dozen potential stars — Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Dennis Cholowski, Tyler Bertuzzi and Michael Rasmussen — have played significant roles in the victories.

More: Red Wings upbeat as losses turn to wins in 'relentless' NHL

Hoping the Red Wings lose, as their prospective stars play better and shape their careers, is fraught with peril.

They are contributing to the Wings finishing more scoring plays on a timely basis.

It results in more wins.

Anyone who wants them to stop in the hope that leads directly to Hughes wearing red and white with the winged-wheel crest next season likely knows even less about rebuilding a Stanley Cup contender than the rules of the NHL Entry Draft.

The past three weeks have heralded news that the rebuild is getting on track and gathering momentum.

The victories are significant evidence.

Toward the start of a regular season in which Red Wings management and coaches have talked about hoping to see some of their younger players “take the next step,” there is evidence it might occur.

Led by Larkin

Larkin is on pace for 32 goals and 50 assists.

Amid the Wings streak, he has a point in six of the seven games.

He beat the Rangers 3-2 Friday with an overtime goal, one of three consecutive wins in which the Red Wings came back from two-goal deficits.

Only eight NHL teams have done that in history.

Anthony Mantha

And, especially in the absence of Henrik Zetterberg, Larkin now is unarguably a keystone as leader and scorer.

Athanasiou is on pace for 32 goals.

His goal and assist against the Coyotes gave Athanasiou three consecutive multi-point games and seven goals and four assists in the past seven games, during the Wings' hot streak.

Mantha is on pace for 27 goals.

After opening the scoring against the Coyotes, he tallied three goals in two periods of regulation, doubling his total for the previous 16 games.

The two third-period goals against the Hurricanes Saturday powered one of the three, two-goal comebacks.

Cholowski, who scored his third goal against the Coyotes, is second among Red Wings’ defensemen in time on ice per game and is on pace for a 41-point season.

The Wings had two defensemen with more than 20 points last season, Mike Green (33) and Niklas Kronwall (27). They had one the year before, Green (36).

They have not had a 40-point defenseman in four seasons, since Kronwall tallied nine goals and 35 assists in 2014-15.

Bertuzzi is on pace for 23 goals and 18 assists.

Rasmussen is on pace to score 14 goals and 23 points as 19-year-old rookie. He has three goals and an assist in the last seven games.

Good kids

The Red Wings are playing better in no small part because the kids are alright.

The prospective stars are driving them to victory.

If they can manage 64 games like the first 18, the Red Wings would emerge from the season with greater confidence that they have potential stars, more than $20 million available in cap space for 2019-20 and bushelfull of 2019 draft picks.

Arguing that the sextet should try to play worse in the hope of obtaining the first overall pick betrays the philosophy of rebuilding.

They must be about constant improvement.

In late October, it became easy to argue the Wings accumulating losses were part of rebuild, as they afforded Christoffer Ehn, Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek and Libor Sulak NHL playing time and increased the lottery chances of drafting first.

But a roster composed of so many debuting players did not afford the half-dozen strivers the chance to succeed.

And their progress is critical. As the season proceeds, management can fashion a roster to encourage more rebuilding.

That may mean culling veterans, trading them in return for even more draft choices with the enhanced benefit of allowing for playing time for prospects now in Grand Rapids, later in the season.

And, oh, by the way, Filip Zadina had his third two-goal game for Grand Rapids, Wednesday.

Things are developing for the Red Wings.

Some winning proves it.

Twitter @greggkrupa