The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Detroit Red Wings.
Coach: Jeff Blashill (seventh season)
Last season: 19-27-10; seventh in Discover Central Division, did not qualify for Stanley Cup Playoffs
1. Offensive improvement
They simply need to score more. They scored 125 goals last season, one more than the Anaheim Ducks, who scored the fewest in the NHL. Part of the problem was injuries. Part of it was the power play (11.4 percent), second-to-last in the NHL behind the Ducks (8.9 percent).
Forwards Tyler Bertuzzi, Robby Fabbri and Dylan Larkin are expected to be healthy. Forward Jakub Vrana wants to show what he can do in a larger role after coming from the Washington Capitals in a trade April 12. Detroit added defenseman Nick Leddy and center Pius Suter in the offseason, plus assistant Alex Tanguay to coach the power play.
2. Nedeljkovic’s numbers
Goalie Alex Nedeljkovic needs to follow up on last season, when he was a finalist for the Calder Trophy, which goes to the NHL rookie of the year as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, after going 15-5-3 with a 1.90 goals-against average, a .932 save percentage and three shutouts in 23 games (all starts) for the Carolina Hurricanes.
That would help the Red Wings win in the short term and address the concern about the small sample size of his NHL career (29 games). After trading for the 25-year-old on July 22 and signing him to a two-year contract, general manager Steve Yzerman said they think he has the potential to be their goalie “for a number of years.”
3. Seider’s development
The most important thing for them to return to Stanley Cup contention is the development of their top prospects, and the top prospect most ready to make an impact in the NHL is 20-year-old defenseman Moritz Seider.
The No. 6 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft scored 22 points (two goals, 20 assists) in 49 games for Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League in 2019-20. After he was loaned to Rogle of the Swedish Hockey League amid the coronavirus pandemic last season, he scored 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) in 41 games. He won the SHL Elite Prospects Award and was named SHL Defenseman of the Year.
Yzerman has made it clear young players will not have jobs handed to them. They must earn them. And so the key battles involve the top prospects. Seider seems a lock to make the roster but must prove he belongs among the top six defensemen. Forwards Jonatan Berggren, Lucas Raymond and Joe Veleno must beat out older players or will start out in Grand Rapids. Berggren, a second-round pick (No. 33) in the 2018 NHL Draft, and Veleno, the No. 30 pick in 2018, are 21. Raymond, the No. 4 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, is 19.
Most intriguing addition
Leddy brings a lot to a young team that needs improvement and development. With 11 seasons of NHL experience, the 30-year-old can set an example and mentor younger players. With his skating ability and skill level, he can help on the power play and at each end of the ice at even strength, getting the puck out of the defensive zone and helping to spend more time in the offensive end.
Biggest potential surprise
Vrana scored 24 goals in 82 games in 2018-19, 25 goals in 69 games in 2019-20 and 19 goals in 50 games last season. In other words, his goals per game rose from 0.29 to 0.36 to 0.38. And he never averaged more than 14:53 of ice time per game with Washington. If he plays a full season and gets more ice time in Detroit, his production might explode.
Ready to break through
It’s time for forward Filip Zadina to show the talent that made him the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft. He has scored 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) in 86 games for Detroit. Now he’s 21 and has spent most of the past three seasons in North America, adjusting to the smaller ice and learning how to play a complete game in the AHL and NHL.
Defenseman Filip Hronek scored 26 points (two goals, 24 assists) in 56 games last season, including 11 power-play points (all assists). He will likely skate on the top pair and on the first power-play unit, bringing exposure to valuable forwards Larkin and Vrana. Hronek could take the next step offensively and have an improved plus/minus (minus-18 last season) this season after the acquisition of Nedeljkovic, who led the NHL in save percentage last season (.932; minimum 20 games). — Rob Reese
Jakub Vrana — Dylan Larkin — Tyler Bertuzzi
Robby Fabbri — Pius Suter — Filip Zadina
Vladislav Namestnikov — Michael Rasmussen — Sam Gagner
Givani Smith — Joe Veleno — Adam Erne
Nick Leddy — Filip Hronek
Danny DeKeyser — Moritz Seider
Marc Staal — Troy Stecher