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Datsyuk's health, coach among Red Wings' X-factors

by Paul Harris

DETROIT -- The 2015-16 Detroit Red Wings are a combination of elite veterans, solid veterans and young players who have been impressive at times but are still developing.

It will be first-year NHL coach Jeff Blashill's job to meld them into a cohesive group that can extend the Red Wings' streak of Stanley Cup Playoff appearances to 25 seasons.

Here are three X-factors that will help determine whether Detroit can make the postseason and go on a run:

Mike Green's impact: The Red Wings have lacked an offensive defenseman with a right-handed shot the past few seasons.

They got one in Green, 30 on July 1, when they signed him to a three-year contract reportedly worth $18 million.

"He's got elite skill," Blashill said. "It's one thing to be an offensive defenseman and have good offensive skill, he's got elite offensive skill. The right shot has been talked about lots over the years. I think more importantly than the right shot is the skill set he brings. It's going to be fun to watch."

Green had 10 goals and 45 points in 72 games last season with the Washington Capitals. Considered a defensive liability by many over his past several seasons with Washington, Green will be paired with Danny DeKeyser, 25, who is strong defensively.

"We hope him and Danny DeKeyser can create good chemistry," Blashill said. "We hope that they can go back and break pucks out and not spend a lot of time in the defensive zone. Both are very capable defenders. We expect them to defend when they're in those spots, we want to be out of the zone as fast as we can. We think those guys can do it. … They both skate well. They both pass the puck extremely well. They both got real good poise."

Green will also give the Red Wings a lethal right-handed shot on a power-play unit that finished second in the NHL without him last season.

Pavel Datsyuk's return: Datsyuk can begin skating in early October, general manager Ken Holland said, after surgery on ruptured tendons in his right ankle on June 26.

Datsyuk met with his surgeon last week and was optimistic about the update he received.

"Great News! Had a good doctor visit," Datsyuk wrote on his verified Twitter account. "... See you soon back in Detroit."

The Red Wings expect the 37-year-old center to play by mid-November.

Though Datsyuk has been plagued by injuries as he has gotten older and doesn't generate quite as many highlight-reel plays as he once did, he remains one of the NHL's elite performers. He had 26 goals, 39 assists and a plus-12 rating in 63 games in 2014-15.

Even without Datsyuk, the Red Wings' top two lines, centered by captain Henrik Zetterberg and Brad Richards, who signed a one-year contract as a free agent July 1, should be potent.

When Datsyuk returns, he likely will join Zetterberg on the top line. Datsyuk usually plays center and Zetterberg left wing when they are on a line together, but it would be logical to assume that Zetterberg will play center and Datsyuk on the wing for at least a while until Datsyuk gets back up to full speed.

Datsyuk's return should bode well for young Red Wings forwards like Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, who combined for 56 goals last season.

New coach: Though this is Blashill's first season as an NHL coach, he isn't completely new to the League. He was an assistant on Mike Babcock's coaching staff with Detroit in 2011-12.

So, after coaching Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids for the past three seasons, Blashill has coached most of the players on the Red Wings roster.

"I've had experience with the majority of the players on the team, including a lot of guys that have been around here when I was here as an assistant. My job is to evaluate where they stand today," he said. "Certainly their resumes, they've all built different resumes that we go into the year with great knowledge of, but this is a relentless profession. Where do you stand today and what do you get done today, that's what I'll be evaluating."

Blashill's tone will be quite a change from that of Babcock, who has a hard-driving, abrasive style. Blashill isn't soft, but he is far more personable with his players.

The Red Wings were ready for a change after Babcock's 10th season in Detroit.

"I want to thank Mike for the time he had here, but I think both him and us probably decided it was time," Zetterberg said.

They are also looking forward to playing for Blashill.

"He coached me and he coached us three years ago in Grand Rapids when we won the Calder Cup," goalie Petr Mrazek said. "It was our first year and it was a great experience. We all know that he's a great coach and we all know he's going to help us."

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