10 key questions as Red Wings open first camp in Steve Yzerman era

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit – Expect a little more intensity and motivation in the Red Wings’ training camp this weekend in Traverse City.

The Wings take physicals Thursday and hit the ice for the first time Friday morning under the watchful eye of new general manager Steve Yzerman. Yzerman, the Hall of Fame former Wings star, replaced Ken Holland as the team’s GM in April.

Steve Yzerman

Yzerman made a few subtle personnel moves on the roster – his moves in the front office were more far-reaching – but the likelihood is, there will be more tweaks to the roster.

Who stays and who goes as the months go by could largely be determined by what happens on the ice. So putting in a good first impression under the watch of the new boss and his staff would be well-advised for a slew of veterans who are in the final year of their contracts.

Especially with so many recent draft picks getting seemingly closer to their NHL debuts.

“The last two drafts we’ve had a lot of picks and they’re all encouraging,” said Yzerman earlier this summer. “At this point, getting them from the draft to the NHL, even for first-round picks, there’s not a guarantee. But I’m excited.

“Filip Hronek is one who played in the NHL and did well at the world championships – he’s coming along. (Joe) Veleno will play and come in and turn pro this year. Obviously with (Filip) Zadina and (Michael) Rasmussen, there are kids coming, and (Jared) McIsaac will play another year of junior. There’s a couple of Swedish kids that look promising.

“So there are a lot of kids and what will really expedite the process would be a couple of the kids will take steps forward.”

A team of prospects, led by Veleno, Zadina, Taro Hirose and Ryan Kuffner, led the Red Wings to a championship Tuesday in the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City.

All four are in the running for NHL jobs, another signal for veterans to not take it easy this training camp and exhibition season.

With practices about to begin, here are 10 key questions for the Wings in training camp and the exhibition season.

1. Will Dylan Larkin be captain?

It’s been widely assumed, definitely as last season progressed and into this summer, that Larkin will be the next Red Wings’ captain. (Henrik Zetterberg retired before last season.)

The Wings went with three alternate captains entirely last season, and Larkin was one of them.

Larkin, 23, had an outstanding last season and grew into a leadership role. It’s likely he will be a part of this organization for a long, long time, so being named captain makes a lot of sense.

Expect some clarity as the regular-season opener draws nearer.

2. Will Zadina make opening night roster?

Filip Zadina’s uneven performance in Grand Rapids only solidified the notion how difficult it is to jump from junior hockey to the NHL.

There is a path for the 2018 first-rounder to make the Red Wings, but he’ll have to demonstrate through the exhibition season he’s ready to play at an NHL caliber at both ends of the rink, and show more quickness than he did last year.

If Zadina can’t solidify a spot playing on the top two lines with the Wings, it would make more sense to keep Zadina in Grand Rapids.

Joe Veleno

3. Will Veleno make a run toward NHL job?

Joe Veleno had an eye-opening exhibition season with the Wings last year, and was outstanding for the Wings in the Prospects Camp. With seven goals in the four-game camp, Veleno displayed the ability to finish opportunities around the net.

Veleno projects as a prolific two-way center for the Wings and optimism around him is growing.

With Larkin, Frans Nielsen and Valtteri Filppula likely the top three centers, Veleno is probably headed for Grand Rapids for more pro seasoning.

But Veleno could force the Wings into a tough decision.

4. What’s the health of the defensemen?

Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson and Mike Green all missed substantial playing time last season, especially during the final months.

All three veterans on the final years of their contracts and could be dealt by the February trade deadline.

Still, seeing all three healthy, in the lineup, and contributing to a position group that is quite inexperienced behind them, will be important this month.

Moritz Seider

5. Where will Seider call home opening night?

The Wings’ first-round pick in June, Moritz Seider was impressive during the Prospects Camp.

The young defenseman isn’t likely to make the Wings out of the exhibition season. At 18, it’s simply too big of a gap from playing in Germany last season and the NHL.

But how Seider looks during exhibition games and where he winds up will be interesting.

Seider hinted during the Prospects Tournament he doesn’t plan on returning to Germany, meaning beginning this season in Grand Rapids appears to be a possibility.

6. How does Svechnikov look?

Evgeny Svechnikov, the 2015 first-round forward, missed all last season to knee surgery.

Svechnikov has been unable to secure a full-time NHL job, and it wasn’t definite he was last September before he tore his knee.

Svechnikov will be 23 on Oct. 31. There are recently drafted forwards on their way into the Wings’ organization.

This could be a defining camp, and regular season, for Svechnikov in terms of his standing in the organization.

Justin Abdelkader

7. What is Abdelkader’s role?

Justin Abdelkader, 32, is coming off a poor season, and with four more years left on his contract and all those young forwards seemingly on their way, Abdelkader’s future could be hazy.

Abdelkader is one veteran who could use a promising, impressive training camp and exhibition season to ease the pressure going forward.

8. Who is Oliwer Kaski?

The Wings signed the undrafted defenseman from Finland last spring after an impressive world championship tournament.

Kaski, 23, played collegiately, briefly, at Western Michigan and has European professional hockey experience.

More of an offensive defenseman, Kaski is especially effective on the power play.

Getting some experience in Grand Rapids seems to be Kaski’s immediate destiny, especially being that Kaski is waiver-exempt and Madison Bowey, another promising young defenseman, is not, and the Wings wouldn’t want to lose Bowey to another team.

Jonathan Bernier

9. How does the goaltending shake out?

Barring injuries, Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier will be on the opening night roster. Watching how Bernier rebounds from a rough first season with the Wings these first few weeks will be notable.

But beyond Howard and Bernier, getting first looks at goaltenders Calvin Pickard and Filip Larsson will be important.

Pickard was signed July 1 to be the veteran in Grand Rapids and essentially the No. 3 goalie in the organization. Larsson was troubled with a groin injury during the Prospects Tournament and didn’t play any games. Having had previous groin issues, Larsson’s workload will be closely monitored this month.

10. Can Hirose sustain his performance?

Taro Hirose was a revelation with the Wings after being signed as an undrafted college free agent from Michigan State.

His instincts and playmaking ability were NHL standard almost instantly. Hirose didn’t look out of place, at all.

Hirose will be given every opportunity to secure an opening night roster, and if he maintains his level of performance, he could land as high as the second line.

Training camp schedule

Where: Centre Ice Arena, Traverse City

When: Friday-Monday

Tickets: centreice.org or (231) 933-7465


(Ticket prices in parentheses)

Friday: On-ice practices, 9:30 a.m.-2:25 p.m. ($10, $20)

Saturday: On-ice practices, 9:30 a.m.-2:25 p.m. ($15, $25)

Saturday: Alumni and Celebrity Game, 6 p.m. ($25, $35)

Sunday: Red and White Game, noon ($20, $35)

Monday: On-ice practices, 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. ($10)

Preseason schedule

Tue., Sept. 17, Chicago, 7:30

Wed., Sept. 18, at Chicago, 8:30

Fri., Sept. 20, N.Y. Islanders, 7:30

Sun., Sept. 22, Pittsburgh, 5

Mon., Sept. 23, at NY Islanders, 7

Wed., Sept. 25, at Pittsburgh, 7

Thu., Sept. 26, St. Louis (at Calumet, Mich.), 7

Fri., Sept. 27, Toronto, 7:30

Sat., Sept. 28, at Toronto, 7


Twitter @tkulfan