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State of the Red Wings: Young, talented forwards form building block

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Editor's note: This is the third of a three-part series in which The Detroit News takes a look at the Red Wings' position groups. Up today: Forwards.

Detroit — There were few memorable evenings during this Red Wings’ season. The 17-49-5 record, before the season was suspended, will tell you that.

But on March 8, in the second-to-last game before the coronavirus pandemic, during the Wings’ 5-4 shootout victory over Tampa Bay, Wings’fans got another glimpse of what could be in the future.

Mainly, because of scoring line Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha.

Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin give the Red Wings a solid foundation of forwards.

The Larkin line combined for 11 points in the victory over Tampa, continuing what had been a late season surge for the trio.

“We kind of saw a glimpse of how we finished last year,” Mantha said after the victory. “It’s huge. Chemistry is starting to connect again.”

Mantha had a pair of injuries that kept him out nearly half of the season. That resulted in coach Jeff Blashill being forced to balance his lines and spread whatever offense was left amongst the lineup.

But the three forwards played their best, and had their best offensive production, when they played together. They gave the Wings a legitimate, and dangerous, No. 1 line that could go head-to-head against anyone in the NHL.

“They’ve shown they have chemistry and, at times, it’s been great this year,” Blashill said. “At times, it hasn’t been good enough, but at times, it’s been great. It’s a shame the injuries Mantha has been through, because they started the years so good.

“It would have been nice to see what they would have done without that interruption.

“It’s a line that has good elements. They’ve got a hard, skill guy in Bertuzzi, an engine guy in Larkin and then Anthony’s got a real unique skill-set, a real unique skill-set.

“When they’re going at a high level, they’re dangerous.”

More: 'I just want to play again': Red Wings' Danny DeKeyser on the way back after lost season

Where the Wings have a base to build around toward the future, it’s among the forward position.

The Larkin line; recent draft picks Filip Zadina, Evgeny Svechnikov, Michael Rasmussen and Joe Veleno; trade acquisition Robby Fabbri; and veterans such as Luke Glendening and Darren Helm give the Wings a base.

Although more is needed, given the lack of overall offense firepower.

Justin Abdelkader

Stats: 49 games, 0 goals, 3 assists, 3 points

Outlook: The veteran has struggled for several consecutive seasons and was a healthy scratch at times this season. His future with the Wings is cloudy.

Tyler Bertuzzi

Stats: 71 games, 21 goals, 27 assists, 48 points

Outlook: Posted a second consecutive 21-goal season, playing a complementary style that can work on a variety of lines. Bertuzzi is becoming a respected NHL player.

Christoffer Ehn

Stats: 54 games, 2 goal, 2 assists, 4 points

Outlook: The Wings would like to see more offense out of Ehn, but his instincts and defense can work on the fourth line.

Adam Erne

Stats: 56 games, 2 goals, 3 assists, 5 points

Outlook: Erne was acquired in a trade last summer and the offensive production was a disappointment. More was expected overall, but he’s likely to return.

Robby Fabbri

Stats: 61 games, 15 goals, 17 assists, 32 points

Outlook: One of general manager Steve Yzerman’s best trades, as Fabbri was stolen for expendable forward Jacob de la Rose. Fabbri is a legitimate top-six forward as long as he plays with some grit to his game.

Valtteri Filppula

Stats: 70 games, 6 goals, 15 assists, 21 points

Outlook: Filppula was signed to a two-year, free-agent contract last summer, but went through a difficult season. He wasn’t effective enough at either end of the ice.

Sam Gagner

Stats: 42 games, 6 goals, 7 assists, 13 points

Outlook: Acquired at the trade deadline in the Mike Green deal, Gagner displayed leadership qualities that the organization might not mind bringing back for another season.

Luke Glendening

Stats: 60 games, 6 goals, 3 assists, 9 points

Outlook: Glendening has grown into a leader on this evolving roster, and he’s arguably the team’s best defensive forward.

Darren Helm

Stats: 68 games, 9 goals, 7 assists, 16 points

Outlook: One of the Wings’ better forwards all season, Helm can be an UFA in 2021, so he could be a trade chip next deadline.

Taro Hirose

Stats: 35 games (Grand Rapids), 5 goals, 22 assists, 27 points

Outlook: Hirose started the season in the NHL, slumped, and was demoted to Grand Rapids where he continued to adapt to pro hockey. Needs to get stronger, quicker.

Dylan Larkin

Stats: 71 games, 19 goals, 34 assists, 53 points

Outlook: On the ice the production dipped a bit, but off the ice, Larkin’s leadership was never more noticeable. Likely the next Wings’ captain, at some point.

Anthony Mantha

Stats: 43 games, 16 goals, 22 assists, 38 points

Outlook: Two long-term injuries cut into Mantha’s season. But when healthy, Mantha was one of the Wings’ best players. A restricted free agent, it’ll be interesting to see if the two sides can find common ground.

Frans Nielsen

Stats: 60 games, 4 goals, 5 assists, 9 points

Outlook: Nielsen’s offensive production completely cratered. He must rediscover it for next season, given he’s got two more years at over $5 million per season.

Brendan Perlini

Stats: 39 games, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points

Outlook: Acquired early in the season, Perlini had plenty of opportunity to show his ability but he never got going offensively.

Michael Rasmussen

Stats: 35 games (Grand Rapids), 7 goals, 15 assists, 22 points

Outlook: Spent this entire season in the AHL after playing with the Wings last season. Rasmussen will likely battle for an NHL job next training camp, but he will not be automatically given a job.

Givani Smith

Stats: 37 games (Grand Rapids), 9 goals, 10 assists, 19 points

Outlook: In brief stints with the Wings, Smith played with an edge that this lineup desperately needs.

Evgeny Svechnikov

Stats: 51 games (Grand Rapids), 11 goals, 14 assists, 25 points

Outlook: Svechnikov either stays with the Wings, or will be exposed to waivers before rosters are set in October. Had hits-and-misses returning from knee surgery this season.

Dmytro Timashov

Stats: 44 games, 4 goals, 5 assists, 9 points

Outlook: Late season waiver acquisition from Toronto, Timashov has the speed and offensive potential to be a contributor.

Joe Veleno

Stats: 54 games (Grand Rapids), 11 goals, 12 assists, 23 points

Outlook: The former 1st-round pick was much better the second half of the season, in his rookie professional season. Needs more AHL seasoning.

Filip Zadina

Stats: 28 games, 8 goals, 7 assists 15 points

Outlook: Was playing some of his best hockey when an ankle surgery shelved his season. The Wings are counting on Zadina to be significant part of lineup next season.


Jonatan Berggren (Sweden), Albin Grewe (Sweden), Robert Mastrosimone (Boston University), Chase Pearson (Grand Rapids), Elmer Soderblom (Sweden)

Outlook: All are at minimum, about two years away, with Pearson the lone pro. Soderblom is a 6-foot-6 sleeper.

Previous installments

State of the Red Wings: Turnover will be significant on defense

State of the Red Wings: Jonathan Bernier gives hope to goaltending group


Twitter: @tkulfan