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Red Wings season preview: Looking to rebuild in Yzerman's image

New GM will have finger on pulse of core, youth in hopes of brighter future

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Detroit Red Wings.

Coach: Jeff Blashill (fifth season)

Last season: 32-40-10; seventh place Atlantic Division

 

5 KEYS

 

1. Yzerman's evaluation

This season is essentially an audition. Steve Yzerman took over as general manager April 19 after nine seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning -- the first eight as GM, the last as senior adviser -- and said he wanted to proceed somewhat slowly and get to know everyone in the organization. In large part because of that, the Red Wings didn't change coaches or name a captain. A methodical, meticulous executive, Yzerman will make up his own mind about what Detroit has and what it needs before making big decisions. That presents an opportunity.

Video: Analyzing the future for the Red Wings defense

 

2. Young players' development

Center Dylan Larkin (32) and forwards Andreas Athanasiou (30), Anthony Mantha (25) and Tyler Bertuzzi (21) each set an NHL career high for goals last season. Each must continue growing and taking a leading role, and the next wave of young players must follow the example. Can 23-year-old forward Taro Hirose produce consistently over a full season on the second line? Can 21-year-old Filip Hronek excel as a top-pair defenseman? Can players like 20-year-old center Michael Rasmussen, 19-year-old forward Filip Zadina, 21-year-old defenseman Dennis Cholowski and 18-year-old defenseman Moritz Seider take steps, if not in the NHL now, then in the American Hockey League first?

 

3. Health

The Red Wings need their key players to stay healthy, because they don't have the depth to weather significant injuries. Last season, when Detroit missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight season, injuries decimated the defense. Danny DeKeyser and Jonathan Ericsson each was limited to 52 games. Trevor Daley was limited to 44, Mike Green to 43. Each is expected to be ready for the regular season.

 

4. Better start

The Atlantic Division is too competitive for the Red Wings to dig themselves a huge hole again. Last season, they started 1-7-2 and ranked last in the NHL because of a difficult schedule and the injuries on defense. They went on a 9-2-0 run after that, thanks to an easier schedule and a replenished lineup. That gave them the best record in the League over that time period and a winning record at 10-9-2, but they were still closer to the bottom of the League than the top. They went 22-31-8 the rest of the way and missed the playoffs for the third straight season following 25 consecutive postseason appearances.

Video: Potential breakout players from the Atlantic Division

 

5. Defensive improvement

Defenseman Patrik Nemeth, who signed as an unrestricted free agent July 1, gives Detroit ingredients it lacked -- someone who wins net-front battles, stalls the opposition in the defensive zone and clears the puck on the penalty kill. The Red Wings ranked 27th in the NHL last season in goals against (272), 28th on the penalty kill (77.1 percent) and 27th in goal differential (minus-48) last season. Their team defense must be better.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

Spots are open in the middle six up front and the bottom pair on defense.

It seems likely Athanasiou will play left wing on the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Frans Nielsen centering the second and third lines, respectively. But who will earn the other three spots on the wing? Hirose has an inside track to play right wing on the second line but has to hold on to the spot. Yzerman said Adam Erne has the potential to play in the top nine. Other candidates include Jacob de la Rose and Christoffer Ehn.

The question on defense is whether a player like Cholowski, Seider, Madison Bowey or Oliwer Kaski can knock a veteran like Daley or Ericsson out of the third pair.

 

Most intriguing addition

Kaski (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) signed as a free agent May 28 after winning the Lasse Oksanen Award as the best player in Liiga, Finland's top professional league. The 24-year-old, who played at Western Michigan in 2015-16, ranked first among defensemen and sixth overall in scoring with 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists) in 59 games for Pelicans.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Hirose, who signed as a free agent out of Michigan State on March 12, had seven points (one goal, six assists) in 10 games for Detroit down the stretch last season. He isn't the biggest at 5-10, 160. He isn't the fastest, either. But he's smart and skilled, and he makes plays. Larkin spoke highly of how Hirose looked this summer.

Video: BOS@DET: Hirose breaks tie with first NHL goal

 

Ready to break through

Mantha might have reached 30 goals for the first time in the NHL last season, like Larkin and Athanasiou did, had he not been limited to 67 games because of injury. His goals per game average of 0.37 was the highest of his NHL career by far and translated to 30 goals over an 82-game season. He is capable of even more.

 

Fantasy sleeper

Hronek (average draft position ADP: 184.1) led defensemen in points at the 2019 IIHF World Championship for the Czech Republic (11 in 10 games) and could build off his late-season success with Detroit (seven points; two goals, five assists) in the Red Wings' final six games, especially if he earns a role on the first power-play unit. -- Pete Jensen

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Tyler Bertuzzi -- Dylan Larkin -- Anthony Mantha

Andreas Athanasiou -- Valtteri Filppula -- Taro Hirose

Adam Erne -- Frans Nielsen -- Christoffer Ehn

Justin Abdelkader -- Luke Glendening -- Darren Helm

Danny DeKeyser -- Filip Hronek

Patrik Nemeth -- Mike Green

Trevor Daley -- Jonathan Ericsson

Jimmy Howard

Jonathan Bernier

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