Red Wings season preview: Young forward core holds key to improvement

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The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. 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 lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Detroit Red Wings, who will play in the Central Division.

Coach: Jeff Blashill (sixth season)

Last season: 17-49-5 (.275 points percentage); 16th place in Eastern Conference

3 KEYS

1. The young core

The engine that drives the Red Wings remains the top line of Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha. Larkin, 24, led the team with 53 points (19 goals, 34 assists). Bertuzzi, 25, was next with 48 points (21 goals, 27 assists) and Mantha, 26, was third with 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists). They were also the top three goal scorers on the team. Each forward needs to take another step in his development. General manager Steve Yzerman has said the Red Wings plan to name a captain before the season; Larkin is the favorite.

Video: Top 5 Dylan Larkin plays from 2019-20

2. Newcomers

Detroit made several additions in the offseason: goalie Thomas Greiss; defensemen Jon Merrill, Marc Staal and Troy Stecher; and forwards Vladislav Namestnikov and Bobby Ryan. The Red Wings need more scoring depth to support the top line and must improve in all areas after finishing 31st in goals (2.00) and goals against (3.73) per game last season. To do that, they need to find a rhythm with Greiss and Jonathan Bernier in net, and chemistry with their forward lines and defense pairings without the benefit of a preseason.

3. Motivation

The Red Wings finished 23 points behind the 30th-place Ottawa Senators last season and had the worst record in the NHL since the introduction of the salary cap in 2005-06. Many players are holding spots while prospects develop at lower levels, but there is plenty for which to play. Larkin (signed through 2022-23) and Mantha (signed through 2023-24) are the only players with more than two years left on their contracts. That’s by design, giving the team flexibility and the players motivation to earn their next contracts in Detroit or elsewhere.

Video: 31 in 31: Detroit Red Wings 2020-21 season preview

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Making the cut

The biggest question is whether one or two young players can force their way onto the roster without the chance to prove themselves in preseason games. Evgeny Svechnikov, a 24-year-old forward selected No. 19 in the 2015 NHL Draft, and Dennis Cholowski, a 22-year-old defenseman selected No. 20 in the 2016 NHL Draft, are the prime candidates. Svechnikov has scored four points (two goals, two assists) in 20 NHL games. Cholowski has scored 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in 88 NHL games.

Most intriguing addition

Ryan signed a one-year contract as an unrestricted free agent Oct. 9, looking to reignite his career. He won the Masterton Trophy last season as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey after taking a leave of absence from the Senators to enter the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program, citing issues with alcohol abuse. He had five goals in 24 games last season but had four seasons with at least 31 goals for the Anaheim Ducks from 2008-12.

Biggest potential surprise

Defenseman Filip Hronek could be in position to take a major step this season. He scored 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 46 games for the Red Wings in 2018-19, then 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) in 65 games last season. The 23-year-old should be sharp after playing in the Czech Extraliga this season, scoring 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 22 games while on loan to HK Hradec Kralove.

Ready to break out

The Red Wings are waiting for forward Filip Zadina to fulfill his potential as the No. 6 selection of the 2018 NHL Draft. He has scored 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) in 37 games for the Red Wings during the past two seasons, while scoring 51 points (25 goals, 26 assists) in 80 games for Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League. Like Hronek, Zadina, 21, should be sharp after he scored 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 17 games on loan to HC Ocelari Trinec in the Extraliga.

Fantasy sleeper

Zadina (LW/RW; undrafted on average in fantasy) scored 15 points (eight goals, seven assists), including four goals and seven points on the power play, in 28 games last season. Zadina could capture a spot on Detroit’s top power-play unit, which would bring exposure to valuable fantasy forwards Larkin, Mantha and Bertuzzi, and another deep fantasy sleeper in Hronek. Zadina is an intriguing late-round selection in deep and keeper leagues and should be monitored on the waiver wire in standard leagues. — Rob Reese

Projected lineup

Tyler Bertuzzi — Dylan Larkin — Anthony Mantha

Robby Fabbri — Vladislav Namestnikov — Bobby Ryan

Filip Zadina — Frans NielsenSam Gagner

Valtteri FilppulaLuke GlendeningDarren Helm

Patrik Nemeth — Filip Hronek

Jon Merrill — Troy Stecher

Marc Staal — Danny DeKeyser

Thomas Greiss

Jonathan Bernier

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