Hockey

Warning to the NHL: The Yzerplan is Working

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Early on in the NHL season, there have been a few surprises, both good and bad. The Buffalo Sabres are off to a 5-1-1 start while the all-in Chicago Blackhawks are still without a win through eight games. One of the best stories so far has been the start of the Detroit Red Wings who, two years removed from the worst season in the overtime loss era, have gotten off to a 4-2-2 record despite a fairly brutal start to their schedule. They’ve competed with some of the best teams in the NHL while fielding the youngest roster Hockeytown has seen in decades.

Just Keep Fighting

A big reason for the Red Wings’ success early on is the grit and effort they have shown. Ask any Red Wings fan what they thought of the effort of any of the teams coached by Jeff Blashilll prior to this season, and most would say it felt like it wasn’t where it needed to be. It was a big criticism by many for former players Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha who were both traded away by GM Steve Yzerman. This season, that is the exact opposite of what they’ve shown.

Look no further than last night as they took on the 7-0-0 Florida Panthers, who are off to one of the best starts in NHL history. After a solid first period where they created a lot of chances but couldn’t capitalize, they went into the break down 2-0. They had played well but had nothing to show for it. Past Red Wings teams would’ve folded, especially against a better team. In the 2021 season, they had a 1-19-1 record when going down 2-0 at any point with that one win coming in the penultimate game of the season against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Not only that, but in those 19 regulation losses, the Red Wings didn’t come back to tie any of those games up at any point. But this team is different.

Sam Gagner scored a goal off a deflection in the second period as they continued to create chance after chance and Sergei Bobrovsky made save after save. This all could’ve come crashing down late in the third period as the Florida Panthers had extended possession in the Red Wings defensive end. This led to one of the wildest sequences you’ll ever see and had Little Caesars Arena, and play-by-play commentator John Buccigross, in a frenzy.

This set of plays motivated the team and kept them within a goal and sure enough, with less than three minutes to go, Pius Suter deflected a Moritz Seider shot between the legs of Bobrovsky to tie the game up at two goals apiece. The Red Wings would go on to lose in overtime thanks to an Aleksander Barkov goal, but this kind of effort isn’t an anomaly. Just earlier this week, the Washington Capitals were up 2-0 on the Red Wings before, just like last night, they came back, tied it up, and took it to overtime. Only this time, Dylan Larkin scored the game-winner. The assists on those goals? Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider.

The Youth Movement Has Arrived

As mentioned earlier, this version of the Detroit Red Wings is the youngest one they’ve had in decades. At an average age of 26.25 years old, the last time they had a roster that young was the 1993-94 roster that had an average age of 26.22, and no other year since then was even under 27.5. This team got young quickly with the departure of players such as Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, and Frans Nielsen as well as the additions of players like Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider. Not only has that youth been injected into the roster, but they are already contributing at levels beyond their years.

Seider is already playing like a top-pair defenseman at age 20 and being given the very deserved minutes to go with that. Last night, in what is just his eighth NHL game, he played a whopping 26:31. This is four minutes more than any other Red Wings skater in that game. He’s playing on the top power-play line where he spent almost six minutes on the ice as well as on a penalty kill line where he’s done a great job of tying guys up in front.

Then there are his offensive stats, which was one of the big worries about him coming into the 2019 NHL Draft. So far through eight NHL games, he has seven assists. This leads all NHL rookies so far this season. Not only that but he is also tied for third among all NHL defensemen in assists. This is also tied for seventh in the entire NHL. He is moving the puck extremely well and creating chances for his team. His worries in his game were his puck movement and ability with the puck, and so far, he has looked just fine.

Then there’s Lucas Raymond, who is currently: first in rookie goals with four, first in rookie points with eight, and tied for second in rookie assists with four. He has been put on the first line with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi and looks like he belongs there. In the toughest test so far this season against Florida, he played a career-high 19:37 which trailed only Bertuzzi and Larkin for Red Wings forwards. He had four shots on goal which trailed only Larkin’s seven including what would’ve been a genuine goal of the year candidate had he finished it on a beautiful move late in the first period.

His ability to create plays himself is unlike anything that has been seen by a Red Wings rookie since Pavel Datsyuk, and he also has the intelligence and awareness to put himself in the right position for others to set him up. Raymond is also putting his name in categories only previously occupied by the likes of Steve Yzerman and Gordie Howe. He had a hat trick against the Blackhawks, joining his GM as the only teenage Red Wings with three goals in a game. He also added an assist in the game, making him the third teenage rookie Red Wing to have four points in a game, joining Howe and Yzerman. He’s making a huge difference in this Red Wings offense that has been absolutely dreadful for each of the previous two seasons.

Can the Red Wings Keep This Up?

It really is the big question. A 4-2-2 start is great, especially when you take four points out of six against the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, and Florida Panthers. However, they are in the Atlantic Division which, if the best teams figure things out as they should, will be very tough for them to maintain. With that said, a very possible expectation for this team is 85 points. It would be their highest point total since 2015-16 when they last made the playoffs, and would likely have them still in contention for a playoff spot come April.

85 points would be a significant sign of growth in a Red Wings franchise that, at one point, felt stagnant under head coach Jeff Blashill. A lot of Red Wings fans, including this writer, wanted to see him gone following the 2021 season. With the team so young and more exciting prospects to come such as Jonatan Berggren and Simon Edvinsson, there’s plenty of more growth to come. With that in mind, the NHL better be on Red Wing watch because, within a couple of seasons, they could be serious contenders.

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Riley McPherson is a 27-year-old writer from Southwest Michigan. She won 3 Student MAB awards while attending Grand Valley State University as both a radio broadcaster and sports anchor. She is a fan of Detroit sports, the University of Michigan and is a big Premier League and Aussie Rules football fanatic. She also hosts her own Michigan sports podcast called Great Lakes Sports Takes.