Five Red Wings who could make an impact in 2021-2022 NHL season
Detroit — A new hockey season brings a new chance to wipe away the frustrations or disappointments of the previous campaign.
In about a month, every NHL team will have that opportunity to forget whatever happened during the last pandemic-shortened season (or two such seasons, actually).
The Red Wings are no different.
Although last season was a significant improvement collectively, there are still individual players who didn't play up to previous levels — or simply have room to grow and expand their contributions.
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When you examine the Red Wings' roster, there are certain candidates who look capable of having breakthrough seasons beginning in October — or are capable of big comeback seasons, coming off injuries.
Here are five Wings who could have big impacts with improved individual efforts:
►Filip Zadina — Zadina will likely top many of these preseason lists.
The expectations have been high for Zadina since he was drafted sixth overall in 2018. He doesn’t turn 22 until November. There’s no doubt Zadina was better playing on the defensive side of the puck last season, being a more complete player, and regularly earning the praise of coach Jeff Blashill.
But with just six goals and 13 assists (19 points) in 49 games he underperformed. Zadina has yet to show consistent offensive explosiveness as was expected when he was drafted.
Given the Wings’ acquisitions and expected return to health of Dylan Larkin, Robby Fabbri and Tyler Bertuzzi, Zadina will find himself with offensively capable linemates.
The pieces are in place, along with the NHL experience at this point, for Zadina to have a breakthrough season.
►Thomas Greiss — Greiss ended last season in strong fashion, not losing in regulation his last nine decisions (6-0-3). During one stretch, he put together a shutout streak of nearly 150 minutes.
As the schedule progressed, Greiss appeared to get increasingly comfortable with the players in front of him and shook off bad breaks that were affecting his early performance.
If Greiss’ playing time is managed — he played a lot more than planned last season with Jonathan Bernier injured — there’s a good chance he can put up impressive numbers for an entire season, not just a chunk.
Acquiring goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic allows Blashill to again split the work load. If one goaltender outplays the others, he'll get a little longer stretch of playing time.
Greiss has shown throughout his career he can be a top-tier goaltender when not over-worked. At age 35, and playing in front of a better defensive team than last season, Greiss might have the chance to thrive.
►Jakub Vrana — After arriving with the Wings in return for Anthony Mantha, Vrana made an immediate impact with eight goals in 11 games, including a four-goal game.
Vrana had a lesser role in Washington, where the veteran and talent-laden Capitals played Vrana further down the lineup.
That isn’t going to happen with the Wings. Vrana will get every opportunity to show what kind of player he can be. The expectations will be higher, and given early impressions, Vrana wants that.
Vrana is one player who could achieve big offensive numbers given his talent, and the role he’ll have.
►Dylan Larkin — A late-season injury to Larkin, plus not having his regular linemate Bertuzzi for much of the season due to Bertuzzi's back injury, and seeing linemate Mantha traded all contributed to Larkin enduring a sub-par season.
Larkin only had nine goals and 23 points in 44 games, and never was able to get on-track offensively.
Still, Blashill and general manager Steve Yzerman both felt Larkin’s defensive game, and two-way game, improved significantly and masked the dip in offense.
The Wings need more offense out of Larkin. As long as he’s healthy, and players around him are healthy, Larkin’s offensive production should return.
►Danny DeKeyser — With DeKeyser it’s not about offense. But the defenseman should return to the overall game the Wings have relied on from him for the last nine seasons.
DeKeyser struggled early last season recovering from back surgery that cost him all but eight games during the 2019-20 season.
It took a while, and DeKeyser, 31, was held out of the lineup for a brief time to get healthy and stronger last season.
The rest worked. When DeKeyser returned, he gradually built to the point where he more closely resembled the player he’s been.
There will be a stiff fight for playing time on defense, and DeKeyser isn't assured of a big minutes or even a spot in the regular lineup.
But given more time this offseason to get healthy, it wouldn’t be surprising to see DeKeyser return to the type of player he's been throughout his career.