The 2014-15 season represents something of a crossroads for the Detroit Red Wings. With another 100-point season, the Wings clinched their 24th consecutive playoff appearance, the longest such streak in all four major professional sports. Despite that success, the Red Wings were once again bounced from the playoffs in the first round, losing in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Eastern Conference representative in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Wings have since lost their long-time head coach Mike Babcock and replaced him with Grand Rapids Griffins coach Jeff Blashill.
The roster in Detroit is interesting for two reasons. The first is that, yes, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg still remain to lead the charge offensively. But they are both in their mid-30s and the twilight of their careers is certainly nearing. The story is the same on defense, with long-time stalwart Niklas Kronwall hitting his mid-30s as well. Still, the Wings seem to have found a way to supplement the aging talent with quality youngsters. Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist took on bigger roles offensively and both nearly hit the 30-goal mark. In net, Jimmy Howard is on the wrong side of 30 and has dealt with some injury issues, but the team may have found a diamond in the rough in Petr Mrazek, who did quality work in 29 games during the 2014-15 season before taking over the starting role for the injured Howard for the team’s playoff series against Tampa Bay.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Dylan Larkin, C/LW
2. Anthony Mantha, RW
3. Teemu Pulkkinen, RW
4. Ryan Sproul, D
5. Xavier Ouellet, D
6. Andreas Athanasiou, LW
7. Landon Ferraro, C
8. Joe Hicketts, D
9. Zach Nastasiuk, RW
10. Alexey Marchenko, D
The success of the team seems to be more a testament to the organization than the roster itself as, on paper, there are a lot of needs for the Red Wings. They have good talent offensively with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Nyquist and Tatar, but they have a glaring lack of size up front. They have just two players over 6’2” – Johan Franzen, whose career might be over thanks to frequent concussions, and Riley Sheahan – and no one with great size who plays a key role in the top six. Sheahan can score a little, but his role is more as a physical presence on the bottom six. The Wings need more talent with size to complement their scorers who skew closer to 6’0”.
Defensively, the sum of the parts is greater than any individual. Kronwall is still a standout, but he’s heading into the back end of his career. Past him, there are no true impact defensemen. Danny DeKeyser is a solid defender starting to come into his own offensively, but past him, there isn’t a lot. Kyle Quincey, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl are solid defensively, but the three of them combined were matched offensively by Kronwall. Ericsson’s contract could keep him in the fold longer than desired, but he’s far from a liability defensively. The Wings could desperately use some offensive punch from the blueline, which explains their frequent involvement in rumors for any and all quality defensemen that hit the trade market.
The scouting department in Detroit deserve as many awards as they can possibly handle, because despite picking in the latter half of the draft year in and year out, they have managed to stock the cupboards once again. Talents like Anthony Mantha, Teemu Pulkkinen and Dylan Larkin show all the signs of being pillars for the Red Wings for years to come. All three possess great offensive talent, while Larkin has the makings of a poor-man’s Steve Yzerman: a two-way forward with the potential to be a long-time captain. Players like Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi continue to develop at a rate that suggests they will be key role players in the very near future. Somehow, the Wings have managed to set the table nicely for a future without Zetterberg and Datsyuk.
On defense, they may not have the high-end talent that they have up front, but there remains quality throughout. They lack an impact player on the NHL level, but there isn’t a liability to be found. The same can be said of their defensive prospects. They don’t have that cornerstone defenseman waiting in the wings, but they have four or five guys who could conceivably be top-six mainstays in the near future. Sproul seems to be the surest bet, but Joe Hicketts, Xavier Ouellet and Alexey Marchenko all have the talent to make it.
Much like the NHL roster, the Red Wings lack size up front in their forward prospects. Of their quality prospects, none are terribly big or physical and they don’t have a lot of sizeable prospects in the forward ranks. Size isn’t everything as we’ve learned in the NHL, but it helps to be able to ice a few physically imposing forwards to take some of the burden off of the smaller, talented forwards.
In goal, despite finding a potential gem in Mrazek, the Red Wings are still very weak. Howard is just 31 and Mrazek is 23, so they aren’t in too much of a hurry to find the next one between the pipes, but there is no one in the organization past the NHL level who seems to be in the long-term plans. Then again, over their nearly 25 year playoff run, goaltending has taken a back seat to everything else so they may continue to use that approach going forward.
Historically speaking, the Red Wings have skewed more European than anything else. Look at their roster and you can see it plain as day: a dozen Europeans contribute to their regular season successes. Not only that, their prospect ranks are littered with Euros, Pulkkinen being the best of the bunch. Picking where the Wings typically pick, they go for best player available above need and have seemed to do well utilizing that strategy. They shy away from taking many goalies, selecting just four goalies since 2005 (three of them are still in the system in one form or another). Defense may be the priority this year, but don’t put it past the Red Wings to add another talented, if undersized, forward to the mix should they deem him to be the best player on the board.
Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results
If there is no blueliner worthy of this pick, look for the Wings to go for the best player available. Of late, the Wings have found that to be highly-skilled wingers and Svechnikov is no different. In his first season in North America, Svechnikov showed he fits in just fine: 32 goals, 78 points in 55 games for Cape Breton with room to grow.
In addition to fantastic hands and an obvious finishing touch, Svechnikov has good size (6’1”) and plays with good strength. Like a lot of Russian-born players of his age, he needs to work on his defensive game and when he isn’t dominant, he can disappear for stretches. If Svechnikov can continue to build his offensive game and gain a little traction on the defensive end, he could be one of the steals of the draft. He’s got good size, potentially elite skill and could fit right in with what the Wings are trying to do up front.
The Wings, aside from picking 19th, will currently also select 49th, 80th, 110th, 140th, 170th and 200th.
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