Detroit – There’s no denying the Detroit Red Wings had a miserable season.
The poor record and resulting team statistics show that to be true.
But, along with the losses, there was some encouraging development among some of the young prospects not named Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha.
Players such as Filip Hronek and Filip Zadina, plus late season call-up Gustav Lindstrom. And in Grand Rapids, recent draft picks Michael Rasmussen, Moritz Seider, Givani Smith, Evgeny Svechnikov and Joe Veleno all took steps toward becoming capable NHL players.
“These guys are developing, they’re developing into good NHL players,” Larkin said in late May. “That’s huge for our team. Those two guys (Hronek, Zadina), they’re a big part of our future and we need them to take a huge step this summer in the gym and make sure they’re ready to go next season.”
Hronek and Zadina are prime examples of young players who received bigger opportunities to play, had increased responsibilities, and made the most of them.
The plan was for Hronek, 22, to have a role among the top-two defensive pairings this season. But with Danny DeKeyser (herniated disc) limited to only eight games – and veterans Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson and Mike Green (traded at the deadline to Edmonton) all having difficulty staying in the lineup because of injuries – Hronek earned more ice time and thrived.
Hronek led all Wings defensemen with 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) and topped the team in ice time, averaging 23 minutes, 54 seconds.
“Hronek had an opportunity to have a lot of ice time, he was in a really expanded role when we lost Danny DeKeyser basically for the season,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “That really put Filip into an even more expanded role and he did a good job of it, he managed it.
“There were ups and down but when you get that much that early in your career, you’re going to go through some dry spells, and there’s no safety net because of the thinness that we have back there (in the lineup).
“But he’s one I thought grew.”
Zadina, 20, was the Wings’ first-round pick in 2018 and began his second pro season in Grand Rapids before being recalled in late November and continued the development he showed with the Griffins.
Zadina had 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in 28 games with the Wings before suffering an ankle injury. Zadina had five goals in his last 11 games and was handling the puck well and looking to make plays like at no point in his short NHL career.
“Zadina had an opportunity to come in and play pretty good minutes,” Blashill said. “Until he got hurt, he was doing a good job, he was starting to take steps in the right direction. He looked more confident and dangerous as an offensive player.”
The confidence Zadina was showing offensively was something Blashill wanted to see after a timid exhibition season.
“I wanted to see a more dangerous offensive player, and as the year went on we saw that without taking unneeded risk,” Blashill said. “That’s a growth part with him.”
Said Larkin: “Zadina came up and he started playing really well and was dangerous. The more he was on the ice, he was more dangerous. That goal-scoring threat, we needed it pretty badly.”
Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin met with the media in a teleconference Thursday to talk about the premature end of the 2019-20 season. The Detroit News
The prospects in Grand Rapids were enjoying a potentially playoff-bound season with 65 points (29-27-7) when the AHL season paused on March 12.
Lindstrom and Smith both saw playing time with the Wings, while Rasmussen (with the Wings all 2018-19), Svechnikov (coming off a lost season to knee surgery), and Seider and Veleno – in their first pro seasons – all had key roles in the Griffins’ season.
“The exciting part is there’s quite a few of them,” said Larkin of the number of quality prospects in the minor leagues. “You have all the guys that didn’t even get a chance (to get promoted to the NHL) in Grand Rapids that I got to see in training camp.
“Moritz Seider and Joe Veleno, Ras (Rasmussen) – we’ve seen him in Detroit – it seems like he took a step in the right direction playing center. (Seider, Veleno) are just trying to find their footing but also really helped that team down there.
“I was very impressed with the demeanor of Gustav Lindstrom when he came up. He’s the kind of player I love being on the ice with.”
The Wings had the NHL’s worst record (17-49-5) but Blashill was pleased that the young players had an opportunity to grow and develop with the difficult circumstances.
“We talked about the growth from struggle and sometimes that’s your best growth,” Blashill said. “It’s hard to see where that direct growth is until you learn from those trials and tribulations and you apply them in the future.”