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5 Questions: Detroit Red Wings

Newcomer Frans Nielsen expected to play big role, veteran forwards must produce

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

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Detroit Red Wings:

 

Can Pavel Datsyuk be replaced?

There is not another "Magic Man," but Datsyuk had been struggling to stay healthy and would have been playing at age 38 had he not returned home to Russia with one season left on his contract. Center Frans Nielsen, who signed a six-year contract reportedly worth $31.5 million (average annual value $5.25 million) as a free agent July 1, is 32. At least in the short term, he should help fill the void. Datsyuk had 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists) in 66 games for the Red Wings last season; Nielsen had 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) in 81 games for the New York Islanders. Dylan Larkin, 20, will move from wing to center, bumping Henrik Zetterberg, who will turn 36 on Sunday, to the wing. Team speed should increase.

 

How much do Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and Thomas Vanek have left?

Playing on the wing with Nielsen, Zetterberg won't have to skate as much and will be in position to make plays. The knee injury he sustained in preseason training, which kept him from captaining Team Sweden in the World Cup of Hockey 2016, is not expected to linger. However, Kronwall, 35, has chronic knee problems; he might not be ready for the season opener, and it is unclear how he will perform and hold up. Vanek, 32, has had declining goal totals the past three seasons, from 27 to 21 to 18. But he will start on the third line and the top power-play unit. Vanek doesn't need to reach 40 goals, as he did in 2008-09. If he contributes 20 or so, that will help.

Video: TBL@DET, Gm3: Zetterberg's deflection doubles lead

 

How many goals will Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist score?

Tatar scored 29 in 2014-15 and 21 last season. Nyquist scored 27 in 2014-15 and 17 last season. The Red Wings hope Tatar, 25, and Nyquist, 27, each produce at least somewhere in between this season. Tatar's drop occurred mostly at even strength, when he went from 20 goals to 14. Nyquist's occurred mostly on the power play, where he went from 14 goals to seven. But each occurred with a drop in ice time: Tatar went from averaging 16:13 per game to 14:21, Nyquist from 16:39 to 15:10. Expect them to get the opportunity to score more, but each needs to be more of a catalyst and drive play.

 

How can Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha earn ice time?

The Red Wings have a logjam up front and a longstanding philosophy of making young players earn roster spots and big roles. They want more from these two 22-year-olds, each of whom can be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers. Athanasiou has speed and skill. Mantha has size (6-foot-5, 214 pounds) and scoring touch. But that's not enough, especially in terms of long-term development. They have to compete harder and more consistently the length of the ice to force Detroit to put them on the roster and to play them.

Video: TBL@DET, Gm3: Athanasiou opens the scoring in 2nd

 

How does Petr Mrazek return to an elite level and stay there?

Mrazek, 24, is an athletic, calm and confident goaltender. But he needs to build a better technical base so he has a foundation he can return to when necessary. That way, his struggles shouldn't snowball as easily. His new goalie coach is Jeff Salajko, who once worked with him in the minors. Perhaps that will help.

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