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Season Preview: Detroit Red Wings

Newcomer Frans Nielsen counted on to help extend playoff streak to 26 seasons

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist
At a glance

2015-16 record: 41-30-11, 93 points, 3rd in Atlantic Division, 8th in Eastern Conference

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Lost to Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in Eastern Conference First Round

Additions: F: Frans Nielsen, Steve Ott, Thomas Vanek

Subtractions: F: Pavel Datsyuk, Brad Richards; D: Kyle Quincey

 

Projected opening night lineup

Forwards

Henrik Zetterberg -- Frans Nielsen -- Gustav Nyquist
Tomas Tatar -- Dylan Larkin -- Justin Abdelkader
Riley Sheahan -- Darren Helm -- Thomas Vanek
Steve Ott -- Luke Glendening -- Drew Miller
Andreas Athanasiou

Defensemen

Danny DeKeyser -- Alexey Marchenko
Brendan Smith -- Mike Green
Xavier Ouellet - Jonathan Ericsson
Brian Lashoff

Goalies
Petr Mrazek
Jimmy Howard
Jared Coreau

Video: NYI@FLA, Gm5: Nielsen opens the scoring in the 1st

The Detroit Red Wings want to be faster and harder to play against as they try to extend their Stanley Cup Playoff streak to 26 in their final season at Joe Louis Arena.

Pavel Datsyuk has returned home to Russia. But the Red Wings have weathered the losses of many great players over the years, from Steve Yzerman to Nicklas Lidstrom, and hope to do the same again.

Frans Nielsen and Dylan Larkin will take over as the top two centers. Nielsen, who signed a six-year contract as a free agent July 1, is a smart, skilled two-way player who patterns himself after Henrik Zetterberg and fits the Detroit mold. Larkin impressed on the wing as a 19-year-old rookie last season and appears ready to play the middle at age 20. Zetterberg, who turns 36 on Sunday, will move from center to left wing on Nielsen's line.

Forwards Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar will try to bounce back after down seasons. The Red Wings created a logjam by signing free agent forwards Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott to one-year contracts July 1. They hope Vanek will be motivated to resurrect his career and boost their scoring, especially on the power play, and that Ott will add sandpaper to the fourth line. Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha, each 22 and with potential, will have to push for jobs and ice time.

The Red Wings would like to use their surplus of forwards to trade for a top-pair defenseman. Niklas Kronwall has chronic knee problems. He struggled last season, might not be ready for the season-opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 13, and looks like he eventually will land on the third pair with Jonathan Ericsson, who has a chronic hip problem. As of now, Danny DeKeyser and Alexey Marchenko likely will face top competition, while Brendan Smith and Mike Green will be more offensive-minded.

Video: TBL@DET, Gm4: Mrazek denies Namestnikov in front

Petr Mrazek replaced Jimmy Howard as the No. 1 goaltender last season. He ranked first in the NHL in goals-against average (1.94) and save percentage (.933) until Feb. 14, his 24th birthday, then struggled down the stretch. The Red Wings can't expect Mrazek to sustain a .933 save percentage for a full season, but they might need him to play at an elite level to keep their playoff streak going.

 

Why they should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

They always do. No matter who has left, no matter what has happened, they have found a way. Nielsen should strengthen the power play and shootout. He scored four shootout goals last season; no player on the Red Wings scored more than two. The Red Wings were in a battle all season for a playoff spot in 2015-16, and in another tight race this season, a shootout goal or two could make the difference.

 

Why they could miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs

They're long overdue to miss. No other team has made it every season since the salary-cap era began in 2005-06, let alone every season since 1990-91. But they've had to scratch and claw in recent seasons. They edged the Boston Bruins last season because of a tiebreaker, finishing with the same number of points (93) but one more regulation/overtime win (39-38). With little margin for error, if they slip at all, for any number of reasons, the streak could end.

 

Breakout candidate

Athanasiou. He drops jaws with his moves. As a rookie last season he had nine goals and five assists in 37 games while averaging 9:01 of ice time, giving him 1.62 goals and 2.52 points per 60 minutes, Red Wings bests in those categories. 

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

 

On the hot seat

Nyquist. In 2013-14 he came up from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League and scored 28 goals in 57 games, a 40-goal pace for an 82-game season. He had 27 goals in 82 games in 2014-15 and signed a four-year, $19 million contract. Then he scored 17 goals in 82 games last season.

 

Trophy candidates

Mrazek (Vezina)

 

Quotable

"I think we've got a lot of good young players who are pushing their way to come up on the team, so we have a good mix of veterans and some young guys. It should be hopefully a great year and it's going to be fun to watch us grow as a team." -- forward Justin Abdelkader

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