Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Detroit Red Wings.
30-39-13, 73 points (fifth in Atlantic, 13th in Eastern Conference)
Dylan Larkin (yesterday)
The 2017-18 season was rough for the Red Wings, but you could argue that it was “the right kind” of rough. Or at least close enough.
As underwhelming as the Red Wings were, they remarkably finished ahead of three other teams in the Atlantic, which says a lot about the disparity between the haves and the have-nots in that division. Nonetheless, management could continue to prattle on about the team’s “culture,” as they enjoyed some of the fruits of tanking without fully doing so.
(Granted, the team would be better served pulling off the Band-Aid, but asking Ken Holland to go to a full-on rebuild seems like a waste of energy at this point.)
The Red Wings did acknowledge reality to a decent extent during the trade deadline, sending Tomas Tatar to Vegas for three picks and Petr Mrazek to the Flyers for a lesser package. Some wanted more – was there really no market for Mike Green? – but this is about as committed as you’ll see this proud franchise get to really trying to load up on future assets.
And, hey, it paid off quite nicely.
By just about all accounts, the Red Wings nailed it with their first-rounders, seeing two interesting forwards drop to them (Filip Zadina at sixth, Joe Veleno all the way down to 30th). It was a busy draft weekend overall, as the Red Wings drafted two players in the second round, three in the third, and then had the usual selection in rounds 4-7. We may look back at those 10 selections as the turning point for a franchise that seemed to be stuck in neutral for a while after their peak window closed.
Again, the regular season wasn’t much to write home about, although it was nice to see some young players thrive.
Dylan Larkin enjoyed the best year of his NHL career, and he received a healthy contract on Friday. Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou were signed to bridge deals after promising seasons, while Tyler Bertuzzi showed some evidence that he could be a useful pro for Detroit.
There are some good things to consider, even if there’s also some darkness to wade through (Henrik Zetterberg‘s health issues are a real bummer) and confusion to shake away (did this team really need to hand contracts to veterans Green and Vanek?).
The Red Wings have a long way to go, and they honestly probably would be better served stinking to an even higher level in 2018-19. This past draft was promising, but getting a true gem – Jack Hughes, perhaps? – would be crucial to go along with the nice players they’re starting to collect and nurture.
This might not be easy to watch next season, yet at least there’s hope.
- Filip Zadina, RW, 18, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) – 2018 first-rounder
For much of the year heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, Zadina was the consensus third overall pick. In a rather surprising turn of events, the intriguing sniper instead slipped to No. 6 for Detroit. He’s already talking about haunting the teams who passed on him by filling their nets with pucks, but if the Red Wings have their way, he’ll be doing that to opponents who never got the shot to land him, too.
Zadina’s already captivating with slick highlights.
The 2018 draft haul drew rave reviews, while the 2017 edition inspired far more criticism. Rasmussen is a giant human, no doubt, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the ninth pick of 2017 make an impact on the Red Wings’ roster as early as 2018-19.
Can he prove he’s more than just a big body with decent skills? We’ll find out soon enough.
- Filip Hronek, D, 20, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL), 2016 second-rounder
- Dennis Cholowski, D, 20, Portland Winterhawks (WHL), 2016 first-rounder
We might as well group these two defensemen together, as you could start a spirited debate among hardcore Red Wings fans regarding who has the brighter future. Hronek has already received quite a bit of seasoning at the pro level considering his work in the AHL, and showed some signs of being a useful offensive weapon. Cholowski is the first-rounder with the bigger body, so who knows which guy will pan out to a larger degree?
The Red Wings would prefer “both.”
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.