DETROIT -- It doesn't seem like that long ago when Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were the young guys pushing the veterans.
Now for Zetterberg, who turns 35 opening night, and Datsyuk, 37, the shoe is on the other foot.
"The difference is, me and Pav were 22, 23 when we came in," Zetterberg said. "These guys are 18, 19 and 20 and the thing that we were talking about is there was no chance that we would be able to do what they were doing when we were 19. It is impressive. But for us, it keeps us younger. That's the nice thing. Just the everyday life that they go through, it's fun to come to the rink and just spend time with them."
Dylan Larkin is 19, Tyler Bertuzzi is 20, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou just turned 21, Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet are 22, and Teemu Pulkkinen and Alexey Marchenko are 23.
All are either vying for a roster spot or to be one of the first players called up in case of injuries.
The veterans say the youngsters are making their presence felt.
"I think a lot of the young guys have had a terrific training camp and preseason here," goaltender Jimmy Howard said. "Now that we're winding down with three games left you're seeing a push from them and I think the veterans are really responding from it as well."
This is something that has been going on for the last few years.
It started with the rash of injuries two seasons ago but the players who came up showed they deserved to stay.
"We see it in the games, see it in practices," Zetterberg said. "As an older guy, it’s nice to see that we have guys coming up every year. Last couple years we’re seeing (Gustav) Nyquist, (Tomas) Tatar, (Riley) Sheahan, (Luke) Glendening, among others. Now the second wave is coming. Give a lot of credit to Grand Rapids. Obviously Blash (coach Jeff Blashill) has done a good job with his staff down there and also the scouts have really done a good job. The future looks good and it’s fun for us older guys to have the young guys coming up and push up."
Nyquist and Glendening are 26, Tatar is 24 and Sheahan is still just 23.
Tatar led the Wings in goals with 29 last year and Nyquist was second with 27.
"I think it’s been a competitive environment for sure," Blashill said. "I think the one thing with this group of guys is they come and compete hard every day anyways. I think it’s a reminder of the relentless nature of sports in that you have to be at your best every single day because somebody’s always trying to take your spot, whether it was your spot within the team, whether it was your spot in the lineup, or your spot on the team."
As the first wave group of Nyquist, Tatar, Glendening and Sheahan take on more responsibility and leadership, the second wave group will continue to knock at the door.
"We came in young and we had older guys and we got more and more ice time and more and more opportunity to play," Zetterberg said. "For us to be on the other side now and see the young guys coming in, it's pretty special. But for us that's been here for so long, it's nice to see that when we leave, the club will do fine."
JENSEN LOOKING TO MAKE MARK
Defenseman Nick Jensen had a solid season in Grand Rapids last year and hopes to be in Detroit at some point.
The Wings selected Jensen with their fifth-round pick in the 2009 draft, 150th overall.
Jensen, 25, had six goals, 21 assists and was plus-30 in 75 games last season with the Griffins.
Having had Blashill as his coach helped coming into camp this year.
"It makes you feel pretty comfortable right away," Jensen said. "Coming into exhibition games I got my debut out of the way last year so I felt a little more comfortable this year. I feel like I keep progressing each game, getting a little more used to the feel of the level of play in the NHL. Obviously it’s pre-season so it’s not all the top guys but it’s still a high intensity pace of play. I feel like it’s going pretty good so far and obviously I get another game in tonight. The more games I play the better for me, I feel."
Jensen knows that to reach the next level, he has to keep improving.
"I think the biggest thing I want to improve upon is playing consistent hockey," Jensen said. "Obviously there’s small things to get better at like making great breakouts in the D zone, getting the puck up to the forwards but the more important thing is doing that consistently over and over again. I think that’s the biggest thing I need to make sure I do in order to get a chance to play in the NHL."
CHECK OUT FRIDAY'S ROSTER
If you're looking for some clues as to which players are strong candidates to make the Red Wings this season, look no further than Friday's home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Friday will not be a total NHL roster because you need the number of pros for the next night," Blashill said. "But Friday we’ll try to get a lot of NHL guys in, as close as we can to what we’d like our team to be."
The Wings play Saturday in Toronto to complete the home-and-home preseason series.
Johan Franzen will play in his third preseason game tonight in Pittsburgh, his first three games since suffering a concussion Jan. 6 in Edmonton.
Franzen is happy with the way things have gone through training camp and preseason so far.
"My head is great," Franzen said. "Concussion-wise I feel really good."
Franzen has been playing with Sheahan and Glendening in the early going.
"It’s going to be a process," Franzen said. "It’s not going to be perfect from the start. It’s a good mixture of different talent. Hopefully it’ll be a good line."
TONIGHT'S GAME ONLINE
Although there's no television or radio broadcasts of tonight's game in Pittsburgh, radio play-by-play voice Ken Kal will be doing the game live on detroitredwings.com.