Inconspicuous newcomers prove welcome additions to Red Wings’ roster

Detroit News

Ted Kulfan
| The Detroit News

Detroit — When general manager Steve Yzerman went on his free-agent signing spree in the offseason, some fans had a collective yawn.

Yzerman signed five unrestricted free agents — and acquired defenseman Marc Staal in a trade and signed undrafted free agent defenseman Mathias Brome — but none were marquee signings.

Forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov, defensemen Troy Stecher and Jon Merrill, and goaltender Thomas Greiss weren’t high profile — Ryan was the biggest name, but some felt he was way past his elite days — and some analysts weren’t sure how much they’d help.

So far, through one week and four games of the regular season, the new Red Wings have been impactful — both on and off the ice.

More: Red Wings’ first road trip of season will be new ‘reality’

“Everyone is buying into the system and doing it the right way,” forward Tyler Bertuzzi said. “They’re all great guys and they’re fitting in perfectly.”

Ryan became the first player in Red Wings’ franchise history to score four goals in his first three games with the organization, supplying needed secondary scoring.

More: OctoPulse podcast: Red Wings (2-2) off to Chicago, Murray Howe interview

Namestnikov has shown the versatility that makes his presence in the lineup so valuable, while Staal, Stecher and Merrill (presently on the COVID-19 protocol list) have solidified a defense that badly needed a makeover.

Plus, Greiss is forming a competent tandem with Jonathan Bernier, and Brome has been a welcome addition to the bottom-six forwards.

“I can’t talk enough about their attitudes, their mindset,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “They’ve all been in big games and they understand some things are going to go against us, and it’s all right. We’re going to play hard.”

Larkin mentioned the passion that Ryan is playing with, and Ryan, himself, talked about how special it was to wear an Original Six sweater.

More: Red Wings ‘feeling good’ after four games, as newcomers steady the ship

But all the newcomers, said Larkin, have displayed the same passion.

“They love being Red Wings,” Larkin said.

Another game

Given all the restrictions for teams going on the road this NHL season, amid a pandemic, it would seem like it’s both a mental and physical challenge.

But coach Jeff Blashill sees it as an opportunity to be a better overall team.

“For each team in the NHL right now there’s differences than what we are used to,” Blashill said. “But we start the game with 20 players each, we drop a puck, and whoever executes better wins, for the most part, especially over the long haul.

More: Wings’ Michael Rasmussen takes advantage of last-minute call to join lineup

“I’m only just thinking about the things that we can control. I’ve preached that time and again to our players and certainly preach it to our own staff. Worry about what we can control and that’s what is in front of us.”

No morning skate

The Wings flew to Chicago Friday, on the day of the game, which is unusual in the NHL. They didn’t have a morning skate, instead going straight to the hotel, then bussing to United Center for the game later in the afternoon.

Part of the reason was the fact it enabled the Wings to be at home one more night, and one less night in a hotel and another city, with the virus continuing to rage throughout North America.

Flying day of the game is usually the norm if a team has a game the day after coming back from a three-day Christmas break.

“We’ve done it after Christmas (break) at times but that’s different,”  said Blashill, of the times when the Wings would play on December 27, in the past. “When you’re in the hotel you’re secluded to your room and that’s going to get old after a while. So, the more nights you spend in your own bed is a positive thing.”

Roster moves

With forward Sam Gagner and Merrill both put on the COVID-19 protocol list, the Wings recalled forward Givani Smith from the taxi squad.

Smith (6-foot-2, 210-pounds), the Wings’ 2016 second-round draft pick, played in 21 games last season with two goals and one assist, with nine penalty minutes.

The Wings also reassigned forward Taro Hirose to the taxi squad, from their minor league affiliate Grand Rapids.

Hirose, 24, has played in 36 games with the Wings since signing as an undrafted free agent in March 2019, with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists).

…Gagner and Merrill join forwards Robby Fabbri and Adam Erne on the protocol list. None are traveling on this four-game road trip.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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