DETROIT -- While the Detroit Red Wings performed the arduous task of cleaning out their lockers and coming to grips with another season of not being in the playoffs, a couple veteran players feel the Wings are building toward something good.
"I think a lot of our younger guys took big steps in the right direction. Now let's have a good summer and do it again and keep getting better," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said Monday at Little Caesars Arena. "We have a great group of guys. It was great to see the steps that most of our young guys took, both on the back end but also up front, with Bert (Tyler Bertuzzi), Double-A (Andreas Athanasiou), Moe (Anthony Mantha), (Dylan) Larkin, they all had really good years. Now it's a matter of staying with that and keep pushing yourself to get even better and not just be satisfied with where you're at."
Kronwall said he thought the team had great resolve this season and stuck together and competed hard despite being hit with injuries to key players.
"We've been more on the same page this year. It feels like structurally, we're doing the right things. It's not always going to work out in your favor but we want to do the right things. Everybody wants to do the right things," Kronwall said. "It's the attention to detail that's the difference in a lot of games, whether that's specialty teams, or whatever that might be. But it feels like we're more structurally sound. We had some injuries to some key players that we couldn't overcome.
"It's easy to fold, but at the same time, you're here for a reason. You want to play hockey because you love winning. The feeling in a locker room after you win, or you win something big together, it's tough to explain that to anyone. But that feeling is something that you want after every game."
Like Kronwall, left wing Thomas Vanek saw significant growth among the Red Wings youthful corps.
"We have players that are really good. I think we saw it in Larks. For myself, from two years ago to now, a completely different player," Vanek said. "He's, to me, one of the best forwards in the game in general. The way he really elevated his game is amazing, I think. And then you have the next group with Bert and Doubles (Athanasiou) and Moe, and I think they're real close to joining him. So I think that's exciting for this team."
Larkin catapulted himself into another sphere this season, going from a very good player to the cusp of becoming a superstar. He showed consistency, leadership, desire and a bit of a nasty streak, leading the Red Wings not only in goals (32), assists (41) and points (73), but also in penalty minutes with 75.
"He's just taken his game to a whole new level. He had a really good year last year but this year, it was almost like he had a chip on his shoulder. I think he felt more responsibilities with Hank (Henrik Zetterberg) gone," Kronwall said. "I think he just took it and ran with it, from the first day of camp. He's just been our driver each and every night. How's he matured himself, it's been awesome to watch, actually. The way he plays the game, he always wants to get better. Practice, games, it doesn't matter. He's always digging in. That's been very encouraging."
Speculation has run rampant that once the Red Wings name their next captain, it will be Michigan's native son, Larkin.
"I'm not worried about it. I'm just worried about coming back and trying to turn this around. We all are," Larkin said. "We've had time where we didn't have a captain but there's leadership in this room. We talked about that a lot. Kronner (Kronwall) does it right every day and plays hard and still is a great player. And Abby (Justin Abdelkader) plays hard, and Fransie (Frans Nielsen). There's a bunch of guys that could definitely be wearing the captain's C. I try not to focus on that. I try to focus on playing hard every game and now we need to focus on winning.
"I don't think these days you need a C. In a group full of people, there's leaders and everyone knows who those leaders are. I think we have great leadership in here. I've talked about guys that are leaders and there's guys that don't wear letters that are leaders. I think to be a leader, you don't need a title. You just do it naturally and that's how you go about it."
Whether Larkin feels the Red Wings need a captain or not, he admitted without Zetterberg this season, he felt the responsibility to grow his leadership role.
"With Z not coming back, we missed him a lot. Obviously, a player like that, a person like that in this locker room, you don't replace a guy like that," Larkin said. "For me, I tried through talking with Kronner and Abby and Fransie and Dales (Trevor Daley), the older guys in this locker room, we're gonna have to come together, we're gonna have to chip in for what he did behind the scenes.
"Personally, after he said he wasn't going to play this year, I understood that I had to put some of that responsibility of what he meant on the ice, doing it right, playing big minutes, winning big face-offs and playing against the other teams' best players. It's tough but I feel like I took a step in doing that this year and took a huge step in my career, playing against great players and still producing offensively."
Red Wings brass was noncommittal about when the team would name its next captain.
Coach Jeff Blashill tabled the issue, telling the press corps that he hasn't even broached the subject with general manger Ken Holland, but based on what he said about Larkin's performance this season, Holland may be leaning towards Larkin wearing the C.
"I thought he took a huge step. The steps as you get towards the top of that pyramid are harder and harder and harder to take and so you don't know on any player when they've kind of reached their max. You just don't know until it all plays out," Blashill said. "I know Larkin wants to continuously get better and better and better. I thought he took a huge step this year. Now I also think for us to win moving forward, he's gonna have to continue to take steps at his overall game. I think he's become a real well-rounded centerman but I think he can be better at it, better at both sides of the puck. I think he thinks that. It was a great step. We need another big step from him."
Holland wasn't about to name Larkin the Red Wings captain on Monday, but he did indicate he expects the Wings to have a captain next season.
Vanek said he doesn't think there's a choice to be made.
"One hundred percent," Vanek, a former Buffalo Sabres captain, said when asked about Larkin having what it takes to wear the C. "What he has done from my time two years ago to now, not just on the ice but off the ice, it's impressive. It's a testament to him, how hard he worked. Sure, I can see him being a good captain, a good leader."
DE LA ROSE HAS HEART PROCEDURE: Holland revealed that center Jacob de la Rose underwent minor surgery last week for an accelerated heartbeat.
"de la Rose has had the procedure. He had surgery, I think, Wednesday last week," Holland said. "I know he's got to be on blood thinners for about three months. But he did have surgery, it all went good. Expects to be A-OK, off blood thinners by middle of July. It gives him a good chance to have a good July. He's been green lighted to go train, he can train. Certainly when you're on blood thinners, you can't do anything to run the risk of getting cut. But he's had the surgery and I think it's an ablation."
Claimed off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 17, de la Rose appeared in 60 games for Detroit, potting three goals among his nine points. He was minus-13 with an average ice time of 11:26.
Except for de la Rose, Holland said he was not aware of any medical issues the Wings will need to address through surgery this offseason.