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#LGRW Daily: Red Wings reflect on rollercoaster shortened season

Players and staff encouraged by young prospects, increased maturity and confidence as attention now turns to offseason and 2021-22 campaign

by Josh Berenter @DetroitRedWings / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- When NHL teams attempt to build a Stanley Cup championship puzzle, it's crucial to first confirm they have all the right pieces in place to ensure the correct fit.

And while the Detroit Red Wings' rebuild has gone without a playoff appearance the last five seasons, executive vice president & general manager Steve Yzerman remains patient with his pieces and knows the Red Wings are making steady progress through two-way hockey, relentless work ethic and unwavering mental toughness.

Those were some of the biggest takeaways from Detroit's season-ending press conferences this week as the Red Wings officially put a bow on the 2020-21 season and began preparing for the offseason and the 2021-22 campaign.

After Yzerman announced that coach Jeff Blashill signed an extension on Tuesday, several Wings players met virtually with the media on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss their outlook on one of the most unique seasons in franchise history.

Forward Adam Erne had perhaps the biggest breakout campaign for Detroit this season, as he led the club with a career-high 11 goals, and Erne said with the emergence of young players like Filip Hronek, Filip Zadina, Michael Rasmussen, Joe Veleno and others, the Wings are taking important steps toward success.

"We're taking steps in the right direction, every practice, every game," Erne said Wednesday. "We put the work boots on and work hard in practice, work hard in the games and just get better. That's what we're trying to do. We know Steve is going to make moves he wants to make to make the team better."

Video: Adam Erne | End of Season Media Availability

Erne, who put together a career-long eight-game point streak from April 1-15, said he is encouraged with Detroit's progress this season and said his young teammates are gaining much-needed confidence as they get their feet wet in the NHL.

"I think we're a young team with some really good veteran presence in the room," Erne said about the Wings' roster, which saw 13 players age 25 or younger play at least five games this season. "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."

The Wings faced adversity all season, beginning with five players missing eight games in the campaign's first month due to COVID-19 protocols. While many other NHL teams with COVID-19 outbreaks had games rescheduled, Detroit forged on shorthanded, suffering through a tough 0-6-2 record during that stretch.

The Red Wings also got bit by the injury bug, with 2019-20 leading scorer Tyler Bertuzzi missing the final 47 games with a back injury, forward Bobby Ryan being shut down after 33 games with an upper-body injury, captain Dylan Larkin missing the final eight games with a neck injury and several other key players also missing extended time.

But despite all the setbacks, Larkin said his teammates remained positive and battled through the adversity.

"As a team, we battled," Larkin said. "After every tough loss, I can't think of many times I could even call out the lack of compete. We cared a lot, we played hard, we defended pretty well."

Video: Dylan Larkin | End of Season Media Availability

The young Wings also lost 17 one-goal games this year, including eight of their last 19 contests.

In addition to the frustrating losses down the stretch, the Red Wings also traded away some key players at the NHL Trade Deadline, including forward Anthony Mantha and defensemen Jon Merrill and Patrik Nemeth, in exchange for future draft picks and assets

Despite the ebbs and flows, Detroit's up-and-coming prospects took advantage of the opportunity and showed their potential as the season winded down, helping the Red Wings collect at least one point in 10 of their last 14 games, and in 15 of their last 21 contests.

"We lost a couple guys at the trade deadline, but it brought an opportunity for the young guys that I thought did a great job," Larkin said. "I thought those additions helped a ton and were great pieces. It's coming. If you look at the standings, if you take the eight games where we missed all of our guys for COVID and give us a healthy lineup, I think our record could look even better. There's a lot of positives."

Defenseman Marc Staal was one of just two Red Wings to skate in all 56 games this season, and the veteran blueliner said he was encouraged with what he saw during his first season in Hockeytown.

"I honestly don't think we were far from off from sniffing around the playoffs this year," Staal said. "COVID kind of crushed us early and then we had some injuries along the way, and we were still able to put out a pretty solid effort.

"The future is bright for this organization. I can tell just being around the rink, the way things are being run, I think it's all going in the right direction."

Video: Marc Staal | End of Season Media Availability

That direction now points toward a busy offseason, starting with the NHL Draft Lottery on June 2, in which Detroit has a 7.6-percent chance of landing the first overall pick and a 15.4-percent chance of earning a top-two selection.

The Seattle Kraken are set to join the NHL as the League's 32nd member, and after the NHL Expansion Draft on July 21, the Red Wings will continue building their puzzle with their league-high 12 selections in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, which is set for July 23-24.

But before the Red Wings officially closed the book on the 2020-21 season, the team attempted to assemble one last time at Comerica Park for a fun-filled afternoon at a Detroit Tigers game.

In true spirit of the rollercoaster year, the Tigers game was rained out, but just as they've done all year, the Red Wings made the best of the situation.

"We went to Tin Roof (instead). It was a nice day," Larkin said. "There were guys that hadn't seen their families in a while. We went through a tough year and there's guys that couldn't be with their young kids. This year was hard on a lot of guys. We had a good time, and we hadn't been able to do that all year, so it was really nice to get the guys together and have a little bit of fun."

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