But when the season concluded in May, the Red Wings were pleasantly surprised to see the emergence of 26-year-old forward Adam Erne, who was near the top of the Wings' leaderboard in almost every offensive category.
After earning two goals and three assists in 56 games with Detroit last season, Erne collected career-highs with 11 goals and 13:55 of average ice time this year, while matching a career-high with 20 points.
Video: Adam Erne | End of Season Media Availability
Erne caught fire in April with a career-high eight-game point streak, and his 200-foot game improved immensely as he had a full-season career low of just 26 penalty minutes, while his plus-minus rating was third among Detroit skaters who played at least 40 games this season.
The 6-foot-1, 214-pound winger said he was pleased to earn trust from the coaching staff this season, and in turn, take advantage of the opportunities he received.
"I just tried to stick with it and earn more opportunities," Erne said during his season-ending press conference. "Luckily, I was able to do something with those opportunities when they came. So for me personally, I was happy with my season."
Red Wings executive vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman drafted Erne in 2013 (33rd overall) when he was GM for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Yzerman said he's thrilled to see Erne's hard work and development come to fruition.
"Very encouraging for us. I feel good for Adam," Yzerman said about Erne's breakout performance this season. "I was there in Tampa when we drafted him, I have gotten to know him since he was 18. I have watched him work through his final years as a junior, go to the American Hockey League, follow me to Detroit. He is really driven. He really wants to be a good player in the NHL, he puts the time and work in and it was good for him to earn a bigger role on the team and to thrive in it."
Video: CAR@DET: Erne scores second PPG of first period
Erne said he's thrilled to receive praise from such a well-respected NHL figure like Yzerman, and said he has tremendous respect for the way Yzerman goes about his business.
"Steve is a great guy. He's very honest, doesn't tell you what you want to hear, tells you what you need to hear," Erne said. "I respect that a lot. I always take what he says to heart and just try to work on what he thinks I need to work on, and always take his advice."
One of the biggest keys for Erne's success this season was the chemistry he formed with his linemates, Luke Glendening and Darren Helm. The fourth-line trio was together for most of the season and was often tasked with shutting down the opponent's No. 1 line.
"Those are two really hard-working guys," Erne said about Glendening and Helm. "All three of us pride ourselves on that. A lot of the nights, we played against the other teams' top lines, and we prided ourselves on not giving them much. When you can shut down the other team's top line, it gives you a better chance to win. We tried to keep it simple and just kind of grind them, frustrate them, make them play in their zone."
Erne said he enjoyed playing alongside Glendening and Helm all season and learned a lot from their veteran leadership.
"I think everybody is just close knit in our group," the winger said. "I think it starts there, and they are just really good veteran players. They've been around and they know how to do their jobs. I thought we did well together."
While the Red Wings didn't finish where they would've hoped in the standings this season, Erne said he's encouraged by Detroit's grit throughout the rollercoaster campaign and by the way the Wings closed out the year, going 10-6-6 in their final 22 games.
"I think we're a young team with some really good veteran presence in the room," Erne said. "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. Every game and every practice that goes by, hopefully we can just build some momentum, and just build off it.
"We're a confident group. Are we where we want to be? No. But I think we're taking steps in the right direction. It's not going to happen overnight, but if we keep doing what we're doing, I think we're on our way."
As for his individual performance, Erne said while others may have been surprised by his emergence, he wasn't, saying he's confident in his abilities and knows he can hold his own with the best players in the NHL.
The winger is back in his home state of Connecticut for the offseason, but true to his fourth-line mentality, he said the grind never stops and he's constantly working to improve his game.
"Just continue to do what I was doing," he said bluntly about preparation for next season. "I just try to build on areas of the game that I play in the most, in front of the net, down low. Just being a 200-foot hockey player. Just build off this season and try and bring that into next season, and do that consistently throughout the year."
Video: DET@CAR: Erne nets Red Wings 20,000th franchise goal
Yzerman agreed with Erne about his potential to make his presence felt among the biggest stars in the League, and said he can't wait to see what Erne does next season.
"We have a real good player who is a different dimension for us. A big, thick kid who has good hands and can play in a lot of different situations," Yzerman said. "Honestly, I think there is a lot more there. I really like Adam's determination and drive. I think we all feel good for him, because I know he has put a lot of work into it and I know he has really wanted it. He has been waiting for his opportunity, he got a good opportunity and made the most of it."