Detroit – Teams will sometimes acquire a player in a low-risk trade and it can turn out to be a steal.
The Red Wings are still a long way from being congratulated on a steal, but it feels like acquiring forward Adam Erne from Tampa Bay for 2020 fourth-round pick could prove to be a shrewd acquisition.
Erne has played with an edge during this exhibition season, looks like can be a good net-front presence, and might have some offensive potential that is untapped.
“He can bring a pretty good combination of physicality and skill,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “That’s a rare combination in the league. Not many guys in the league are super physical and still have skill to play in the top nine (forwards).
“He’s got that ability.”
Erne, 24, was a 2013 second-round pick of Tampa Bay, when Steve Yzerman was general manager of the Lightning.
Yzerman now the Wings’ GM, worked out a trade with his former team in August, quickly signing Erne, a restricted free agent, to a one-year contract worth $1.05 million.
Erne (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) played in 65 games with the Lightning last season, his first full NHL season, and had 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists).
But on the stacked Tampa roster, Erne wasn’t going to rise on the depth chart any time soon.
“Adam has a chance to be a top-nine forward in the NHL,” said Yzerman in training camp. “He’s got good puck skills, he’s got a good shot and he’s worked extremely hard. His skating is good, he’s a very powerful, strong guy.
“He’s difficult to play against because he’s thick. He’s got pretty good hockey sense. He fits in with our group of players and the young guys coming up.”
Erne believes Yzerman being familiar with his style of play was one of the reasons Erne was brought to Detroit.
“I was with him in Tampa so he knows what I can bring to the table,” Erne said. “I’m just trying to play my game and work my way into the lineup. I’m a big, two-way forward who can make plays, score goals, someone who can be used up and down the lineup.
“We’ll see where I can fit.”
In Tampa's skilled lineup, Erne was asked to be a physical presence on a fourth-line energy role.
“In Tampa, with all the skill we had, sometimes I was relied on to be a bigger body,” Erne said. “I’m just looking to get back to creating offense and be good on that side of the puck, for sure.
“It’s an opportunity that I see available here and it’s exciting. There’s a lot of talent and a real great group of guys. Form old to young (players), there’s no cliques, a real good mesh.”
Erne’s skills were on display Friday against the New York Islanders.
Erne irritated Islanders forward Matt Martin with a couple of big hits on the physical forward, then also fed Filip Hronek on a power-play goal with a nifty pass.
Forward Anthony Mantha feels Erne’s edgy play will be a big addition to the lineup.
“You know he’s going to battle hard,” Mantha said. “He’s going to be first on the forecheck, he’s able to protect the puck real well. He’s playing hard hockey, the way he’s supposed to.
“If he keeps playing that way, he’s going to be able to help the team.”
Defenseman Dennis Cholowski made the Wings’ opening night roster last season and held his own through the first half of the season.
But gradually his defensive work slipped and he was demoted to Grand Rapids.
Cholowski’s main focus this September has been on his performance without the puck, and thus far, Blashill has been pleased with Cholowski’s progress.
“Dennis has been sharp moving the puck, he’s been more physically engaged, he’s ended cycles better,” Blashill said. “He’s had a real good start to this preseason. He’s spent a couple of summers here really working and he’s put himself in good position, and now you have to keep going.”
A year of experience, said Cholowski, has made him more comfortable and confident.
“I feel a little more like I know what I’m doing,” Cholowski said. “Just the mental side of it mostly, coping with the fact I got sent down. I made mistakes and there were things they didn’t like in my game. So it’s just kind of being mentally strong and having a good mind frame and going in every day to practice and work on those things.”
Cholowski is likely in a battle with Madison Bowey, Oliwer Kaski and Moritz Seider for a roster spot on defense, although it's unlikely the Wings would keep Cholowski, Seider or Kaski on the roster without a regular spot in the lineup.
Bowey also isn't waiver exempt, meaning he'd be exposed to waivers and likely lost to another team, if he were to be sent down to Grand Rapids.