DETROIT – Whether or not training camp starts on time, one question about the Red Wings’ top six forwards will need to be addressed once it commences: Who will fill the right wing role on Henrik Zetterberg’s line?
Obviously, it’s too early to tell, Zetterberg said on Wednesday, but two right-handed shooting forwards – Mikael Samuelsson and Damien Brunner – could be ideal options in replacing left-handed shooting Jiri Hudler, who signed a four-year contract in July with Calgary.
“I think management has done a good job to address that and we have Sammy and we have Brunner, two new guys who are really good at shooting the puck,” said Zetterberg, of possible replacements to play opposite Valtteri Filppula.
Chemistry will be a big factor for the Zetterberg line that losses Hudler’s productivity featured by his 25 goals, which were second-most on the team behind Johan Franzen’s 29.
Even though Brunner is new to the North American game and smaller rink sizes, he has shown improvement over the last few seasons in Switzerland. The 26-year-old spent the last four seasons with Zug in the Swiss League, producing 78 goals and 112 assists in 167 games. And he recorded a league-best 60 points and 36 assists in 45 games last season.
Brunner drew high-praise from Wings coach Mike Babcock at the World Championship in Finland. The Wings signed the undrafted free agent to a one-year, two-way contract in July, and though he isn’t big (5-foot-8, 180-pounds) he is fast and deceptive, which made an impression on Zetterberg this week.
“I don’t know much about him,” Zetterberg said. “He played against a lot of my friends back in Switzerland, and they said he’s really good. Now that I’m skating with him I see that he’s real slippery and can really fire the puck.”
On the flip side, the Wings already know what to expect from Samuelsson, who played four seasons in Detroit and helped the Wings win the 2008 Stanley Cup.
“The good thing with him is that you can put him anywhere and he will be good,” Zetterberg said. “When he was here last time he went from the third line to the first line to the second line and third line, so you can always put him where he is needed. He will always be on the power play because he has a great shot and good vision.
“We just have to see how it all falls out because we’re going to have three good lines, four good lines this year.”
Samuelsson’s diversity and familiarity with the way the Wings play should be a huge asset for any line that he plays on this season. His presence in the Wings’ dressing room that features several fellow Swedes – whom he’s quite close to – like Zetterberg, Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, will also help him transition back onto the team.
“It may sound cocky, or whatever, but I think – I played against them – and I know how they play and I know how I play,” Samuelsson said. “I wanted to come here because I believe it’s a fun way to play the game. In my mind, I think this is the way you should play the game, and that’s what I like. So I don’t think I’ll have any problems to adjust to that. I don’t think it should take too much time either.”
Samuelsson, 35, has played six-plus seasons in puck-possession systems, including a two-plus season stint with the Vancouver Canucks after he left Detroit in 2010. So he understands the difficulty opponents face when taking on the Red Wings.
“It’s hard,” he said. “I heard that from other guys that it’s hard to play against (them). But it was. You really have to be focused on the same things, like don’t stay on the right side otherwise it’s a quick transition game. You always have to be sharp on every shift. But when you play here and you move to another team it’s not hard to be sharp every time because you want to be so good.”
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