Predicting Detroit Red Wings’ opening night lineup after Steve Yzerman shakes up roster

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
 
| Detroit Free Press

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We’re months away from the Detroit Red Wings playing again, but Steve Yzerman recently made a bunch of changes to the roster, creating fresh and intriguing possibilities for the opening lineup. 

The 2020-21 season, or 2021 as we may as well call it, looks to be in the 50-game range with a start in February. The NHL playoffs, broadcast by NBC, have to be finished before July 23, which is when the 2021 Summer Olympics are scheduled to start. Of course, all of this is at the mercy of this pandemic. 

The Wings haven’t played since March 10, when their record dropped to 17-49-5 after losing to the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Yzerman has made numerous changes to the roster that ended the season in last place by 23 points, notably parting ways with veterans Justin Abdelkader, Jimmy Howard, Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson. 

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That has created openings, but they won’t be filled by top prospects. Lucas Raymond, Yzerman’s top pick in 2020, is staying in Sweden for the season. It’s unlikely we’ll even see Yzerman’s first-round pick from 2019, Moritz Seider, because he’s playing in Sweden, too. The only way Seider may appear in 2021 is if his Swedish team, Rögle, finishes while the NHL is still in action. Other top prospects who aren’t expected to be recalled from their loans to European teams include Joe Veleno, Jared McIsaac and Gustav Lindstrom. Michael Rasmussen may stay in Europe, too, depending on what’s going on with the AHL. 

While next season will be lighter on recent prospects because they’re better off overseas, there are fresh faces who certainly look like they will make the team more competitive. 

Here is a prediction of the lineup on opening night. 

Forwards

Valtteri Filppula-Robby Fabbri-Anthony Mantha 

We know Larkin, Mantha and Bertuzzi have chemistry, but I’d like to see Mantha with more of a playmaker than Larkin and Fabbri could fit that bill. He has played more center than wing in his career, and he’s creative with the puck. Filppula was one of many Wings who didn’t have a good 2019-20, but he has way longer history as a dependable two-way forward who makes deft passes and is sound defensively, and adds a responsible veteran presence to the line.

Tyler Bertuzzi-Dylan Larkin-Bobby Ryan

I think Ryan would fit well with Larkin and Bertuzzi, adding a big, right-shot dimension to make that line more dangerous. Ryan is super motivated to get his career rebooted after being bought out by Ottawa, and it was Larkin he called before signing to make sure he was going to a team that hadn’t accepted losing. Bertuzzi will do what he does, which is add grit and a scoring presence around the net.

Luke Glendening-Vladislav Namestnikov-Filip Zadina

Namestnikov was one of Yzerman’s free-agent signings, someone he drafted while GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He can play center or wing, is an excellent skater, shooter and passer. Glendening is an excellent skater and sound defensive presence. Zadina could thrive on this line, because opponents will focus their best defenders on the top two lines. Zadina is on loan in Europe, but he’s one of the prospects who is expected to be recalled.

Adam Erne-Darren Helm or Frans Nielsen-Sam Gagner

The Nielsen/Helm line will see most of its minutes from special teams — those two and Erne are solid penalty killers, and Gagner, who also shoots right, will be on one of the power play units. This is also Evgeny Svechnikov’s best chance to show he belongs in the lineup over either Helm or Nielsen.

Defensemen

Marc Staal-Filip Hronek

Like Zadina, Hronek is expected to be recalled from the Czech league when the NHL gives the go-ahead on training camps. He was one of the bright spots last year, showing excellent growth in his game and handling hard minutes. In Staal, he gains a veteran defender with great leadership presence. Yzerman acquired Staal in a trade with the Rangers — and if he plays well enough, don’t be surprised to see Staal flipped at the trade deadline to a contender looking to shore up for the playoffs. 

MORE STAAL: How he became ‘excited’ about joining Wings after talking to Yzerman

Patrik Nemeth-Troy Stecher

Stecher was another free-agent signing. He shoots right, and has topped 20 assists in two of his four seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. Nemeth is a dependable stay-at-home defender, who plays with a physical edge. This isn’t a top-four pairing that’s going to make anyone swoon, but compared to the dysfunctional patchwork that operated in this role last season, it’s downright encouraging. 

Danny DeKeyser-Jon Merrill

Merrill, another free-agent signing, is a 6-foot-3, 205-pound defender who grew up playing locally for Little Caesars, the National Team Development Program and Michigan. He’s good about taking care of the puck and being sound defensively. DeKeyser is a bit of a question mark because it’s already been a year since he last played (he left the Oct. 22, 2019, game and underwent season-ending surgery soon after). He’ll be 31 in March, and hasn’t played a full season since 2016-17. If he struggles, there could be an opening for Dennis Cholowski, but he’ll have competition from Alex Biega.

Goaltender

Jonathan Bernier

Barring a poor camp, Bernier has earned the right to start the first game after such a strong 2019-20 (he posted a .907 save percentage on a dreadful team). Ultimately with free-agent signee Thomas Greiss on board, I’d expect coach Jeff Blashill to settle into an every-other game routine with these two. 

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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