Red Wings Storylines Heading into Training Camp
After arguably the busiest offseason in the entire NHL, the Detroit Red Wings open training camp on Thursday in Traverse City with the most excitement and expectation since Steve Yzerman took over.
With the flashy addition of Alex DeBrincat, and free agent additions such as J.T. Compher, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Daniel Sprong, many Detroit fans have hopes of the 2023-24 season finally being the year the Red Wings return to postseason action. During his keynote speech at the West Michigan Sports Commission’s Annual Luncheon, Yzerman stated that the seven-year playoff drought doesn't have to end this season for it to be a success.
“We’d certainly like to make the playoffs,” Yzerman said. “Our goal isn’t just to make the playoffs, but to build a championship team and a team that can compete for a championship, so the moves we’re making along the way aren’t necessarily designed to make the playoffs this year, or it’s playoffs or bust.”
With that being said, here are five storylines surrounding the Red Wings to watch entering training camp.
Does one of the prospects make the jump?
For the past two training camps, there has been a push from Detroit’s big-name prospects to make noise in training camp and earn a roster spot. In 2021, Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond stood out in preseason, and both were playing top-line minutes on day one. Last year, Simon Edvinsson was the name to watch entering training camp but ultimately it was Elmer Soderblom who surprised and scored the first goal of the Red Wings’ 2022-23 season.
With all the additions the Red Wings made this off-season, there doesn’t seem to be a natural spot on paper for a prospect to fill in, especially on the blue line. At the end of last season, it seemed that Simon Edvinsson would be an NHL regular come game one of this season but, with only returning to the ice recently it may not be so simple. Albert Johansson has also been praised by Red Wings’ management and it seemed if he hadn’t been injured at the end of last season he may have made his NHL debut. At 22 years old, don’t be surprised if he makes roster decisions tough on Derek Lalonde and Steve Yzerman.
Up front, the Red Wings have 13 Forwards signed to one-way deals or on entry-level deals (Raymond and Berggren), which, if the team carried seven defensemen, likely leaving room for another forward.
Elmer Soderblom played 21 games last season and looked like an everyday NHLer until he suffered a lower-body injury. After a strong showing in the prospect tournament, where you could argue he was Detroit’s best player, he may have the best chance to crack the opening night lineup.
Marco Kasper made his NHL debut at the end of last season and looked very comfortable at 19. Being drafted as a center, the organization would likely prefer to see Kasper in a top-nine role in the NHL in the middle, but with the signing of JT Compher, the Red Wings have three established players in that role unless they move one to the wing. Kasper could still prove to be ready for the NHL out of camp on the wing as Dylan Larkin did at 19, but time will tell.
After a strong NCAA season and a six-game stint in Grand Rapids, it looked as if Carter Mazur was going to make some noise and possibly push for a spot in Detroit. With Mazur leaving after the first period of game one in the Prospect Tournament, it looks less likely that he will.
Who plays behind Husso?
Goaltending was a major issue last season for Detroit. While Husso’s numbers on paper aren’t inspiring, with a save percentage of .896, he was overworked as the Red Wings didn’t have a reliable option beyond the 28-year-old.
This summer, Steve Yzerman brought in veteran goaltender James Reimer from San Jose on a one-year contract worth $1.5 million and Alex Lyon on a two-year deal worth $900,000 a season.
At 35 years old, Reimer is coming off of a career-worst season, posting a 12-21 record, a goals-against average of 3.48, and a save percentage of .890 on a dismal Sharks team. The year prior in San Jose, Reimer was much better with relatively the same roster, posting a save percentage of .911 and a goals-against average of 2.90. While he may no longer be able to regain his 2021-22 form, Reimer could potentially provide league-average goaltending and will be reunited with Bob Boughner, whose system he had success under in his first year in San Jose.
Mostly a career AHL goalie, Lyon showed up when the Panthers needed him most last season, posting a 4-1-1 record and a save percentage of .946 in April, propelling them to the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. The year prior, he led the Charlotte Checkers to a Calder Cup Championship, posting a .923 save percentage and a record of 9-3.
Reimer will likely begin the season as the number two but if he goes down to injury or falters in his play, Lyon is a quality insurance option.
Who plays with DeBrincat and Larkin?
After the addition of Alex DeBrincat, the consensus amongst fans and experts is that he will flank Dylan Larkin, creating the Red Wings’ most dangerous top line since Datsyuk and Zetterberg played together. The question remains as to who will play with these two.
The first name people immediately land on is Lucas Raymond, who is a highly-skilled offensive player who already has established chemistry with Dylan Larkin. But with that potential trio, there is the issue of size and the potential defensive load Larkin would have to take on as both DeBrincat and Raymond are more offensively inclined. David Perron is another potential option as he ranked second on the Red Wings in points last season and plays a hard, responsible game.
Two off-the-board names that could make some sense would be Michael Rasmussen and Andrew Copp. Rasmussen had excellent chemistry with Larkin last season and was one of Detroit’s most impactful players at even strength. Add that and he’s a physical two-way winger that would add another dimension to that line. Similar things can be said for Andrew Copp who’s also a strong defensive player who can bring a physical element. Both in Winnipeg and New York, Copp played with elite offensive players whether that be Mark Scheifele or Artemi Panarin, and found success, could he do the same on the wing with Larkin and DeBrincat?
I’d imagine throughout training camp and the preseason we will see a lot of different combinations on the Red Wings’ top line.
How does the defense shake out?
It’s hard to imagine that Derek Lalonde wouldn’t run Jake Walman and Moritz Seider as the team’s first pair to start the year. The question is what happens behind them?
The Red Wings brought in three new defensemen this summer, acquiring Shayne Gostisbehere, Justin Holl, and Jeff Petry, while also still having Olli Maatta and Ben Chiarot on the roster. Gostisbehere fills an immediate need as an offensive-defenseman who has scored 27 goals combining his last two seasons and has a long track record of being a productive power play quarterback. It is possible at points during the season Gostisbehere is on the Red Wings’ top unit over Moritz Seider.
While the Justin Holl signing was the most scrutinized in the public eye, he still is a reliable defensive-defenseman whose specialty is on the penalty kill, something the Red Wings have continued to struggle with. Jeff Petry has the longest track record of success out of the new additions, as he has scored at a 40+ point pace in five of his past six seasons. He can play in all situations and is still a viable top-four option.
That leaves Ben Chiarot and Olli Maatta. When we look at intangibles and their usage last season, Chiarot appears to have the edge over Maatta. This isn’t entirely fair to Maatta, who was one of Detroit’s most consistent defensemen last season, earning himself a two-year extension ahead of the trade deadline.
What do Raymond and Berggren’s roles look like?
Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Among the forwards on the Red Wings roster, Lucas Raymond and Jonatan Berggren have the most potential to take a big jump in production. Raymond had a down year last season, scoring 45 points compared to the 57 he scored in his rookie year, and struggled to find consistency some nights. His main struggles were finding shooting lanes and being knocked off the puck too easily. He looked strong in the World Championships in May for Sweden, and if the Red Wings are in the playoff hunt come April, Raymond needs to have a big season.
Berggren is the more interesting case. In limited ice time, Berggren still managed to score 15 goals in 67 games played, which is no easy feat. With the additions of Klim Kostin, Daniel Sprong, Christian Fischer, and a healthy Robby Fabbri, can Berggren make a jump into more prominent minutes? He’s been a high-end playmaker both in the SHL and AHL. Playing in the top six with more skilled players could result in more offense for Detroit and a breakout for Berggren.