New defenseman Patrik Nemeth sees shades of Colorado in Red Wings' rebuild

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill says new defenseman Patrik Nemeth brings a strong net-front presence to the team.

Detroit — Patrik Nemeth has been through this before.

The defenseman who the Red Wings signed as an unrestricted free agent July 1 was with the Colorado Avalanche the last two seasons. The season before Nemeth joined the Avalanche (2016-17), Colorado earned only 48 points all season — one of the worst NHL seasons on record.

Last season, the Avalanche earned 90 points, had the nucleus of one of the best young teams in the NHL, and reached the second round of the playoffs.

So, Nemeth has seen this rebuilding stuff come to fruition and thrive. And, Nemeth feels the Red Wings are trending in the same direction.

“When I got (to Colorado, on waivers), they had 40-something points, really low points, the year before,” Nemeth said. “It was just trying to build a different mindset. That’s what I’m talking about with (general manager) Steve (Yzerman) coming in, what he’s trying to do. With him and (coach) Jeff (Blashill), what they’re trying to do is have that mindset switched, so you’re expecting to win.

“That’s something that you have to change in order to turn this thing around. That’s what is appealing. It’s a fun thing to be part of.”

Nemeth, 27, was one of the free agents targeted by the Wings when free agency opened.

The Wings had a need for a burly defenseman who is tough in front of his net, is effective killing penalties and can clear the puck.

Nemeth checks off all the boxes, plus is regarded as one of the better shot blockers in the league. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, the Wings were to quick to sign the Swedish defenseman (to a two-year, $6 million contract), especially with Niklas Kronwall undecided about his future at that time (Kronwall eventually retired).

Nemeth figures to easily slide into a top-four defensemen role on the Wings, along with being an integral part of the penalty kill.

“He’s strong, strong, strong,” Blashill said. “He wins puck battles, wins net-front battles. We haven’t been good enough in front of our net. We haven’t been good enough at getting pucks out on the power play. We haven’t been good enough in creating stalls in the defensive zone.

“He does all those things. He knows how to defend.”

Nemeth’s offensive game lags behind his defensive strengths, though Blashill feels Nemeth’s shot can be an effective weapon.

But the fact Nemeth understands his strengths, Blashill said, is a positive.

“We needed to become a good penalty-killing team, and the best way to do that is to add great penalty killers,” Blashill said. “He blocks shots for fun. He’s going to be a real good addition.

“He’s a lot of what we didn’t have.”

Nemeth was, and has been, excited about joining the Wings organization.

Although the lack of playoff participation the last three seasons — and likely a fourth, in many analysts’ opinions — is disappointing, Nemeth believes in all the young talent headed into the Wings organization.

“It’s an organization that’s on the rise,” Nemeth said. “They’ve been missing the playoffs three years in a row, right? (But) they have a lot of good young players and with the history it has, it’s a real professional organization.

“That was the most exciting part of it (of joining the Wings).”

Nemeth experienced how the Avalanche gradually became successful again, and believes the Wings can duplicate with some early success.

“Once you get the feeling that you are actually winning some games, you’ve got some confidence in the group, that’s when you’re starting to believe things can happen,” Nemeth said. “The league is so tight now that you can never know what can happen. If you look at St. Louis last season, they were predicted to be a top team, got off to a slow start — they were last in the league by New Year’s (Day) — and then they go win the Cup. Nobody expected that.

“It’s such a tight league that if you just have a good group of guys, with good character, and have that mindset that you want to win, anything can happen.”

Interestlngly, it was Nemeth who got into a fight with Anthony Mantha on Dec. 2, in a fight in which Mantha broke his hand and was forced to miss 15 games.

Nemeth brushed off the incident as part of professional sports.

“That is stuff that happens,” Nemeth said. “My head was pretty hard, I don’t know what to say. That was last year. It’s one of those things that happens sometimes.”

Preseason: Red Wings at Penguins

Faceoff: 7 p.m. Wednesday, PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh

TV/radio: None.

Outlook: The Red Wings defeated Pittsburgh in Sunday’s exhibition game, but they’re likely going to see a more Penguins’ NHL-centric lineup in this game…This game begins a four-game in four-day stretch that will conclude the exhibition season for the Wings.

Twitter: @tkulfan