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Red Wings Reset: 2021-22 forward breakdown

Detroit comes into training camp with several hungry young forwards on a mission

by Josh Berenter @DetroitRedWings / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - There are only 65 days until the Detroit Red Wings drop the puck for the 2021-22 season, and with the unrestricted free-agency frenzy in the rearview mirror, along with the Red Wings agreeing to terms on a three-year contract with Jakub Vrana on Tuesday, Detroit's roster is almost set.

Over the next three weeks, we'll break down the Red Wings' 2021-22 roster, position by position, beginning today with a look at the forwards.

In addition to several promising young prospects who will look to crack the lineup this season, Detroit currently has 12 forwards on its roster, including three listed as left wings, one as a right wing and eight listed as centers.

 
THE CENTERS

The Red Wings have a bevy of players listed at center going into training camp, which gives the club flexibility to slot a handful of forwards into different wing positions while remaining strong up the middle.

Detroit's No. 1 center is Dylan Larkin, who's coming off his first season as Red Wings captain, in which he earned 23 points (9-14-23) in 44 games before suffering a season-ending neck injury on April 20.

The Wings' captain avoided offseason surgery and is progressing with his rehab as he prepares to begin his seventh NHL campaign. Larkin celebrated his 25th birthday on July 30 and he's on pace to be a full participant in training camp as he continues evolving into a complete, two-way player.

"The biggest key for Dylan is to be as great a two-way player as humanly possible," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "If your best players are those great two-way winning players, it starts to build towards being a winning hockey team. Dylan knows that. He's worked extremely hard at it over the six years we've been together. His work ethic and compete level is second to none."

Other returning centers include Robby Fabbri, Vladislav Namestnikov and Frans Nielsen, as well as re-signed centermen Sam Gagner and Michael Rasmussen, who agreed to new deals before free agency began in July.

Video: In View | Robby Fabbri's Natural Hat Trick vs. Stars

Fabbri and Namestnikov will both begin their second full campaigns in Detroit after combining for 35 points last season. Fabbri also suffered a season-ending injury in 2021, enduring a concussion that forced him to miss the final 17 games of the season, but the 25-year-old is fully healthy now and is excited to get the 2021-22 campaign started.

"I'm 100 percent now, Fabbri said on July 19. "I've been training for a couple months and everything is back to normal. It's nice to get healthy."

The Red Wings also added free-agent center Pius Suter on July 28 and traded for former Tampa Bay Lightning center Mitchell Stephens on July 30.

Suter earned 27 points (14-13-27) in 55 games for the Blackhawks as a rookie last season, finishing fourth on the club in goals and points.

Despite finishing among the Blackhawks' top six in goals, assists, points, game-winning goals, shots and blocked shots last season, Chicago didn't make Suter a qualifying offer, allowing the 25-year-old rookie to become a free agent.

"I have to prove myself. So it's definitely a goal in mind," Suter said about becoming a second-line center in Detroit. "I try to score and grow as the team grows, grow as a player, too. So we can win more games and it's kind of a mutual benefit."

 

THE RIGHT WINGS

The only player currently listed as a right wing on Detroit's roster is Filip Zadina.

The 21-year-old Czech forward took a big step in his young career last season, earning a full-time role and compiling 19 points (13-6-19) in 49 games.

Zadina averaged 16:48 of ice time per game last season after averaging 15:10 in 2019-20, and he's remaining disciplined with increased responsibility, committing only one penalty in his 86 career NHL games.

Blashill said Zadina has the perfect mindset to help the Red Wings become a winning team.

"He's a competitor. He wants to win," Blashill said in April. "He's not perfect, but he understands what winning hockey looks like. Ultimately, that competitiveness is going to allow him to be a heck of a player and help us win hockey games here in the future. I really like him as a player, I really like him as a person."

 

THE LEFT WINGS

All three of Detroit's left wings came into this offseason as restricted free agents, but the Red Wings have checked two of their biggest signings off the list, as the club agreed to terms on a two-year deal with Tyler Bertuzzi on July 31, and on a three-year deal with Vrana on Tuesday.

Bertuzzi is another piece of Detroit's core who is coming off a season-ending injury, which forced him to miss 47 games last season, but like Larkin and Fabbri, Bertuzzi said he'll be ready to go for training camp.

"Everything is going as planned," Bertuzzi said after signing his new deal. "Pretty much all restrictions are lifted in the gym. I've been skating."

Bertuzzi got off to a torrid start last season, earning seven points (5-2-7) in nine games before suffering a back injury in late January that ended his season prematurely.

But the 26-year-old is excited to have a new deal and is encouraged by the moves that Red Wings executive vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman made this offseason to bolster the roster.

"Some good players coming, a mix of older veterans that bring a lot to the team and be there for the younger guys, and obviously few young guys that are really good in the league already," Bertuzzi said. "I'm very excited. I talked to Larks and Fabbs, and we're all very excited for this year."

Video: In View | Jakub Vrana's four-goal game vs. Stars

As for Vrana, the 25-year-old earned 11 points (8-3-11) in 11 games for Detroit after being acquired from the Washington Capitals on April 12. Vrana's signing avoided a looming arbitration hearing which was set for Wednesday, giving the Red Wings seven promising forwards aged 25 or younger going into the 2021-22 season.

Another piece needed to complete Detroit's forward puzzle this season is restricted free agent Adam Erne. Erne had a breakout year for the Red Wings last season, earning 20 points (11-9-20) in 45 games, including a career-high eight-game point streak in early April.

The 26-year-old has an arbitration hearing scheduled for August 21, but the winger said he's happy with the direction of the club and wants to be back.

"As these young guys and everybody starts gaining confidence, you're going to see us start to gain some traction like we did this season," Erne said after last season. "Every game and every practice that goes by, hopefully we can just build some momentum, and just build off it. I think we're on our way."

Video: In View | Adam Erne's two-goal game vs. Hurricanes

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