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Nyquist, Tatar, Mrazek add to Red Wings optimism

by Paul Harris

DETROIT -- No matter what challenges the Detroit Red Wings have faced in the past quarter century, there has been one constant: making the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Detroit reached the playoffs for the 24th consecutive season in 2014-15, but was eliminated in seven games in the Eastern Conference First Round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Mike Babcock was Red Wings coach for the past 10 seasons but left for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Jeff Blashill, who coached the Red Wings' American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids the past three seasons, was hired to replace him.

Detroit's roster remains largely intact, although they signed defenseman Mike Green and center Brad Richards as free agents.

They are among four reasons the Red Wings should be optimistic:

Development of Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar: The forwards, who combined for 56 goals (Nyquist 27, Tatar 29) last season, have provided much-needed offense.

Nyquist, 25, and Tatar, 24, have been productive the past two seasons. Nyquist has 55 goals and 102 points, and Tatar has 48 goals and 95 points.

Nyquist signed a four-year contract in July, and he and Tatar should help take the pressure off veterans Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who will miss the start of the season after having surgery on his ankle.

Mike Green and Brad Richards: Each should fit in well with the Red Wings' puck-possession system and on the power play.

Green, 29, is a right-handed shooting defenseman with offensive ability that Detroit has been looking for since Brian Rafalski retired from the NHL in 2011. General manager Ken Holland and Blashill each said Green will be paired with Danny DeKeyser, who is strong defensively, which should offset Green's liabilities.

Richards, 35, is a talented veteran center with a high hockey IQ. He's won the Stanley Cup twice, including last season with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The emergence of Petr Mrazek: The original plan was for the 23-year-old goalie to play his first full NHL season as Jimmy Howard's backup.

But because of injuries to Howard, 31, and Jonas Gustavsson (the backup going into last season), Mrazek played 29 games (16-9-2 with a 2.38 goals against average, .918 save percentage and three shutouts) and was Detroit's starting goalie in the playoffs when Howard struggled after returning from a groin injury. Mrazek had a 2.11 GAA, .925 save percentage and two shutouts in the playoffs, proving he can be the No. 1 goalie.

If Mrazek falters, Howard would take over. Howard was 23-13-11 with a 2.44 GAA and a .910 save percentage last season.

Jeff Blashill's familiarity: It will be a change with Babcock gone, but Blashill is ready and capable for the challenge.

Blashill coached many of the Red Wings in Grand Rapids, including Nyqvist, DeKeyser, Mrazek, Riley Sheahan, Luke Glendening, Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson and Tomas Jurco on the Calder Cup-winning team in 2013.

"I think we're all really happy," Sheahan told the Red Wings website. "The guys that played with him before know how [Blashill] reacts to different situations and knows what he expects. I think in that way some guys will be a little bit more confident, which always helps. It's definitely a good thing."

Don't expect Blashill to be a soft touch when circumstances dictate otherwise, but the different approach could be a positive one for the players.

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