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Notes: Wings' defense remains in flux due to injuries

Decision coming soon on whether team will name a new captain or another alternate

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings set their roster Tuesday but it remains a fluid situation.

The team assigned forward/defenseman Luke Witkowski and defensemen Joe Hicketts and Filip Hronek to the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

But because there remain question marks on defense due to injuries, one or more of those three could end up playing in Thursday's home opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill had already ruled out Mike Green (virus) and on Tuesday he said Niklas Kronwall would also be out.

Blashill said it is not yet known whether Kronwall is day to day or has an injury with a little longer timeframe.

Blashill also gave an indication of the timeline for Green, who has been skating.

"We think it'll be two more weeks before he's in full practices, which would leave with two more weeks after that before he's ready to go," Blashill said. "We're looking at a timeline of a month before we'd have him fully available to us. That timeline is fluid, but that's what we're looking at."

Blashill also categorized Jonathan Ericsson (upper body) as "very questionable" and Trevor Daley (lower body), as "very likely" for Thursday. Forward Evgeny Svechnikov will not play Thursday.

Ericsson participated in most of practice and Daley participated in the full practice Tuesday.

"We got to see where everybody is at, who's healthy, who's not healthy, before we potentially call some guys up, so we might send some guys down and then call them back up if some guys aren't healthy," Blashill said. "I don't know that answer until we get through tomorrow's practice."

With Green and Kronwall definitely out, it means rookie Dennis Cholowski will quarterback one power play and it's possible another rookie, Filip Hronek, if he is called back up, could quarterback another.

"If (Hronek) ends up running the power play, that's one of the things he does very well," Blashill said. "He's an efficient power-play player. I had Will Butcher at the world championship, they're somewhat similar in that they're not super-elusive, they don't look tons of guys off, they just make the right play at the right time, 98 percent of the time. They shoot when they're supposed to shoot, pass when they're supposed to pass. They're good carrying the puck up the ice. I'd be confident in Fil's ability to do that, no question."

Of course, Blashill does have two other more experienced options.

"Daley can run one, (Danny) DeKeyser can run one," Blashill said. "DK was on it the year the power play finished second before I got here. Other guys can run it as well."

Hicketts, Hronek, Cholowski and Libor Sulak all played in a lot of preseason games.

Veteran forward Frans Nielsen was impressed with the group.

"They bring you a lot of speed and skating ability," Nielsen said. "They've shown in preseason, and hopefully they can do it now in regular season, that they can get involved in the rushes and we can be dangerous that way. They've been impressive, especially Cholo and Sulak, the way they skate. They skate out of trouble. It looked really good. I know it's going to be a different pace now but hopefully they're going to adjust now."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Frans Nielsen post-practice. 👇 | #LGRW

Hicketts is the only one of the four young defensemen with NHL experience, having played in five games with the Wings last season.

"I've done everything in my power to prove I can be here for the full year over the last two training camps and stuff, but like I've said it's a business," Hicketts said before the roster was released. "It would hurt, I've done everything I can at that level (AHL) to prove I can play here so again, we'll see what happens."

CHANGING LINES: In Tuesday's practice, the forward lines looked a bit different from the preseason ones.

Dylan Larkin centered Anthony Mantha and Gustav Nyquist; Nielsen centered Tyler Bertuzzi and Michael Rasmussen; Andreas Athanasiou centered Thomas Vanek and Justin Abdelkader, with Martin Frk working in in Abdelkader's spot; and Luke Glendening centered Darren Helm and rookie Christoffer Ehn.

"We haven't tried Nyquie with Larks much," Blashill said. "That hasn't been a combo that in the three years Larkin has been here Nyquie has played with him much at all. Nyquie is a very good rush player and with Larks you get lots of rush opportunities. I think Nyquie arguably has been one of our best forwards, certainly one of our best wingers through training camp. He looked stronger, his competitive level is extremely high. He's got a lot of offensive ability, so I think with Mantha, if he does a good job of going to the net, you got a net-presence guy, and line that can grind it down low and also score on the rush. We're hoping it's a good line. We'll see."

For Rasmussen, it was a little bit of a new experience with Nielsen.

"I played with Bert a little bit here and there," Rasmussen said. "I didn't play with Frans at all but they're great players so it's pretty easy being out there with Frans. It's good."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "I love playing hockey. I love playing here. Definitely enjoying every minute," - @mrasmussen16. | #LGRW

The Wings know that things could change but Larkin said he enjoys playing with Mantha.

"I think for us, we both felt pretty good together in the preseason," Larkin said. "It is just preseason and it doesn't mean a whole lot. But chemistry, you could feel that and it does feel like we have that. The biggest thing is we're pretty good buddies so there's a lot of communication, there's an open conversation where sometimes if we don't like what's going on, we're talking it through, we're switching it up. Who knows with the lines but it would be nice if we get hot here and we're winning some games early and creating offense and helping the team win, it would be awesome to play with a player like him all season."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Larkin on the "young guys" and the team's identity this season. 👇 #LGRW

ASSIGNING LETTERS: The Wings said they would hold off on deciding whether to name a new captain or have three alternates until after the preseason.

With Henrik Zetterberg unable to play because of a degenerative back condition, that leaves alternate captains Niklas Kronwall and Justin Abdelkader as the only two players with official letters.

"I think we're closer," Blashill said. "Ken (Holland, general manager) is at the board of governors meeting today. We talked about it last night and will talk about it again tonight. We're getting closer. We feels like we've made the decision. We're going to circle back, make sure we feel good about it and move on from there."

There is rampant speculation that Larkin could be in line to wear an "A" at the very least.

"It's a big hole that Z leaves but you look around this locker room, you look at the nameplates and the players in here, you see a ton of leaders," Larkin said. "I truly believe we don't need a guy wearing the C for us to be successful or whatever. I think in a franchise like this, being from here and seeing some of the greatest players of all-time to ever play wear a C on their Red Wings jersey, it would mean a lot.

"It's something that's not just slapped on there and given, it's something that you have to earn through your play. I think all the guys who have worn it were established and had won Stanley Cups and were key players on the team for a long time. I don't think anything should be given in this league or in life, and I don't think we need a captain to be successful because we have a ton of great leaders."

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