Let’s kick off Red Wings day on PHT with a list of five players that will be key to the team’s success in 2013-14…
Stephen Weiss. While it was the Daniel Alfredsson (more on him later) signing that got the most media attention, it was Weiss who got the largest financial commitment — $24.5 million over five years. The 30-year-old center comes to Detroit from the Florida Panthers, the team that drafted him fourth overall in 2001, with much to prove. Weiss played just 17 games in 2013, scoring only once with three assists. (A wrist injury that required surgery caused him to miss 26 games.) Ideally, his addition will allow coach Mike Babcock to play superstars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg together, with Weiss holding down the No. 2 center spot.
Daniel Alfredsson: The former Ottawa captain will be 41 once the playoffs start, but there’s reason to believe he can still be a very effective player, even at his age. Alfredsson had 26 points in 47 games in 2013, and that was on an injury-ravaged Senators side with multiple offensive stars out of the lineup. Alfie led the Sens in postseason scoring, with 10 points in 10 games. For obvious reasons, fans in Ottawa will be watching him closely this season as well. When asked why he chose Detroit, he said the Wings gave him a better chance to win a Stanley Cup. “This is purely a situation to me where this is about me,” he said. “This is the decision I make for myself, not for anybody else. It’s all about trying to get the Stanley Cup.”
Danny DeKeyser: The 23-year-old college free agent has earned high praise since joining the Wings in March. He may not ever put up big offensive numbers, but his size, decision-making and ability to move the puck out of his end make his progression as an NHL defenseman vitally important for the club. “He really has done a good job for us,” Babcock said in April. “We liked him all along when we were recruiting him. We had no idea that when he came to the National Hockey League he’d be able to do the things he’s done for us. Basically, it’s allowed us to move the puck better, to get back and get pucks. If you improve your D zone play, it improves your offense and makes you a much quicker team. Obviously, we had deep growth amongst the group we had already and we added him, it made us all that much better.”
Jonathan Ericsson: Mostly under the microscope because he’s in the last year of his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Only Niklas Kronwall averaged more ice time than Ericsson in 2013. The big 29-year-old led all Wings d-men in hits and shorthanded ice time. However, given the crop of young defensmen like DeKeyser, Brian Lashoff, and Brendan Smith that will be fighting for more and more minutes — and with Kronwall locked up long-term — it’s not totally clear how Ericsson fits into the Wings’ future plans.
Darren Helm: Mostly under the microscope because of the mysterious back injury he suffered through last season that limited him to just one game. The 26-year-old speedster sounded cautiously optimistic after skating recently at Red Wings development camp. “I’m encouraged, for sure,” he said. “I see this moving in the right direction, especially in the last few days.” Babcock is a huge fan of Helm, going so far as to call him “a top-four forward” on his team.