With training camp set to start the middle of September, speculation on who will actually make the Wings roster is ramping up. There are stars guaranteed spots, veterans who want to prove they still have what it takes and youngsters itching to earn their way onto the team. Throw in injuries, contract disputes, cap management and a new head coach and you have a recipe for intrigue.
Looking at the team in its current makeup, let’s examine who will, may and won’t make the opening night squad.
- Pavel Datsyuk: The 37-year-old star center had ankle surgery in the offseason and looks to play potentially either late October or early November. It is highly doubtful he will start the season.
- Johan Franzen: After suffering another concussion in the middle of the last season, Franzen’s career may be over. GM Ken Holland recently reported that he plans on having a healthy “mule” report for the start of training camp, but it is entirely up in the air as of now.
With neither Datsyuk nor Franzen likely to start the season, that opens up two forward spots for competition during camp.
- The only forward regularly practicing now with the team without a contract is Dan Cleary. A utility forward for the Wings for the past ten seasons, Cleary was often a healthy scratch last season, but insists he wants to continue playing. If there was a verbal agreement between the Wings and Cleary for him to stay on the team, he may sign a two-way contract that allows him to start with the AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins. He is unlikely to make the opening night roster.
There are always injuries during training camp (players are battling hard for roster spots), so one player’s injury means another one’s opportunity, but sparing injuries, there are several forwards pretty much guaranteed a spot come opening night.
- Henrik Zetterberg- C, LW
- Gustav Nyquist- RW
- Justin Abdelkader- LW
- Tomas Tatar- LW
- Riley Sheahan- C
- Brad Richards- C
- Darren Helm- C, LW
- Luke Glendening- C
- Tomas Jurco- RW
- Drew Miller- LW
That’s ten guaranteed spots, leaving just three (two when Datsyuk returns and just one if Franzen is able to come back).
Barring further injuries and a star-turning training camp from another prospect, the list of young players competing for the last roster spots are:
- Teemu Pulkinnen
- Mitch Callahan
- Landon Ferraro
- Anthony Mantha
- Tomas Nosek
- Andreas Athanasiou
- Dylan Larkin
Larkin is seen as one of the cornerstone players of future Wings teams, but he is just 19 and may need some seasoning yet. Rest assured though, if Holland and head coach Jeff Blashill think he is ready for the grind of being an NHL player, they will seriously consider adding him to the team.
Mantha, also a top prospect, had a disappointing season, his first in the majors, with the Griffins last year, but if he can maximize on his potential and with a good camp, he could push for that spot.
Ferraro earned a spot in the last week of the regular season last season and played well in the playoffs as a grinding type forward. That experience may give him the inside track to make the team full-time.
Pulkinnen has become a big-time scorer in the AHL and spent a few games with the Wings last season. Out of minor league options, he has to make the club to avoid being put on waivers, a risk the Wings are unlikely to make, giving him a very strong case to make the team rather than lose him for nothing.
Nosek, Athanasiou and Callahan all have yet to really establish themselves as ready for the NHL, and without a high-end training camp are likely to start the season in the minor leagues.
The common thinking is that Pulkinnen and Ferraro will be the final two roster spots to open the season with perhaps Callahan the spare (they want Larkin and Mantha playing on the ice rather than sitting in the press box). In terms of line combinations, Blashill will have final say, but they make look something like below:
Pulkinnen – Abdelkader
Helm – Nyquist
Jurco – Tatar
Miller – Ferraro
And when Datsyuk and if Franzen return, the line combinations get a bit more beefed up:
Zetterberg – Abdelkader
Helm – Nyquist
Franzen – Tatar
Miller – Jurco
Again, this is all barring injuries, trades and career-defining training camp performances.
On defense, the roster spots are a bit clearer.
Guaranteed spots are:
- Niklas Kronwall
- Jonathan Ericsson
- Brendan Smith
- Kyle Quincey
- Mike Green
- Danny DeKeyser
With the top six locked up, all that’s left is the seventh and possibly eighth roster spot. Jakub Kindl, scratched so often by former head coach Mike Babcock, is considered expendable, but with a good camp, and with his puck moving skills, he could earn that spot.
The other options are prospects:
- Xavier Ouellet
- Alexey Marchenko
- Ryan Sproul
- Joe Hicketts
- Robbie Russo
- Nick Jensen
Of the six, Marchenko stands the best chance of making the team with his steady presence and right handed shot. Ideally, Marchenko or Ouellet, who both spent some time with the Wings last year, will have a great camp and force Blashill to make some tough decisions.
The Wings will want to audition as many of their prospects as they can this year in the NHL with so many of their veterans with ending contracts. They need to know who they can rely on, who needs more seasoning and who they should cut ties with. The next wave of Red Wings is coming very soon, and this is a make-or-break year for many of the organization’s assets.
And finally in goal, the Wings have more stability than they have in years. Many were willing to cast off Jimmy Howard after he lost the starting job to youngster Petr Mrazek in last year’s playoffs, but Howard is still in his prime as a goaltender and was an all-star before a knee injury in January. He should be back to 100% (barring injury) and eager to reclaim his job.
And Mrazek, with his first taste of the big show, will similarly be eager to prove himself as Detroit’s new number one. That competition between two legitimate top-tier goalies should really help the Wings throughout the season. Ideally, Howard will take back his crease, starting 55 games, while Mrazek gets the experience he needs, about 30 games worth, and learns how much work goes into a full season and being an everyday pro. Then come playoff time, the best man gets the job.
Mrazek is the goalie of the future, but Howard needs to be the goalie of the present. Both need to push the other and create a great tandem.
Looking over the Wings’ roster, there is plenty of reason for optimism. They have good depth, veteran leadership, a stronger defense with the addition of free agent signing Mike Green, youngsters fighting to get into the lineup, a strong goaltending duo and a new voice behind the bench. Is it a Stanley Cup-worthy team? Time will tell. With the offseason shredding of the Cup-winning Blackhawks’ roster (not to mention star player Patrick Kane’s deserved legal trouble), the downgrade of Boston and Los Angeles, the aging Rangers and the choking Ducks, the NHL is as wide open as ever.
The Wings, with good fortune with injuries and opponents, could very well make a deep playoff run. Most prognosticators will pick a combination of Chicago, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Minnesota for the championship, but it just as easily could be Nashville, Montreal, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, Dallas, or yes, Detroit. The Wings probably should have won their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in last season’s playoffs, a team that went all the way to the final. The team that the Lightning lost to in those finals was a team that the Wings held a 3-1 games advantage on two years ago before losing in seven. They’re not that far off. They just need a bit of the killer instinct of seasons past. With Blashill, another year of development for youngsters Tatar and Nyquist and Sheahan and Zetterberg and Datsyuk looking to end their careers on a high note, maybe this is a championship squad.