Detroit — There’s a lesson here from Red Wings forward Adam Erne that any young athlete can take to heart.
Heading into and out of training camp, Erne’s season didn’t appear to look rosy.
Coach Jeff Blashill didn’t have Erne on the power play. Erne’s role in the lineup was limited. And to top it off, Erne was coming off an extremely disappointing season.
On the surface, not a lot of hope.
But Erne didn’t mope or sulk. He went to work, capitalized on opportunities given and, suddenly, there were more opportunities. And increased success, as Erne capitalized on his playing time.
Erne, who scored a grand total of two goals in 56 games during his first season with the Wings in 2019-20, led the team with 11 goals in 45 games this pandemic-shortened season, including putting together a career-high eight-game point streak in April.
Without a doubt, Erne was one of the Wings’ biggest surprises and feel-good stories.
A tale of hard work being rewarded.
“I just tried to stick with it and earn more opportunities,” Erne said during a season-ending Zoom chat. “Luckily, I was able to do something with those opportunities when they came. For me personally, I was happy with my season.”
Erne’s role grew the second half of the season as he starred on a checking line with Darren Helm and Luke Glendening — arguably the Wings’ most consistent line — and became an effective presence on the power play (three goals, six points on the unit).
Just getting on the power-play unit alone showed the perseverance and diligence that Erne exhibited.
“He was on the power play a bit last year and made a few mistakes and got taken off,” Blashill said. “This year he earned it in practice. He was subbing in for somebody and he seemed to be doing a good job. We put him on and he did a good job time after time.
“That’s the essence of grabbing it. …He’s earned any of the opportunities he’s gotten. He’s had to earn his ice time, I haven’t given it to him.
“He’s earned more and more ice time as we’ve gone along. He’s got on the power play as guys were out and he did a good job with it, so he stayed on the power play and he’s earned it.”
General manager Steve Yzerman drafted Erne in the second round in 2013 (33rd overall pick) when Yzerman was with Tampa Bay.
“It’s very encouraging for us,” Yzerman said of Erne’s season. “I feel good for Adam. I was there in Tampa when we drafted him. I’ve gotten to know him since he was 18 and have watched him work through his final years as a junior, go to the American Hockey League, follow me to Detroit (the Wings acquired Erne for a fourth-round pick in 2019).
“He is really driven. He really wants to be a good player in the NHL. He puts the time and work in and it was good for him to earn a bigger role on the team and to thrive in it.”
Yzerman believes there is room for Erne to expand further, especially given Erne’s work ethic.
“We have a real good player who is a different dimension for us,” Yzerman said. “A big, thick kid who has good hands and can play in a lot of different situations. Honestly, I think there is a lot more there.
“I really like Adam’s determination and drive. We all feel good for him, because I know he has put a lot of work into it and I know he has really wanted it. He has been waiting for his opportunity, he got a good opportunity and made the most of it.”
Erne (6-foot-1, 212 pounds) found a home playing on a line with Glendening and Helm.
The line made life miserable for opposing scoring lines and supplied offense of its own with Erne’s emergence. All three forwards have the ability to wear down opponents physically and mentally.
“Those are two really hard-working guys,” Erne said of his linemates. “All three of us pride ourselves on that. A lot of the nights we played against other teams’ top lines, and we prided ourselves on not giving them much. When you can shut down the other team’s top line, it gives you a better chance to win. We tried to keep it simple and just kind of grind them, frustrate them, make them play in their zone.”
Added Glendening: “Adam has always been a guy who works extremely hard. You can see his confidence on the ice, and just because he’s scoring goals doesn’t take away from the player he was. But it’s an added dimension when he’s putting the puck into the net.”
Erne, 26, is a restricted free agent who has gone from a player who may have been a borderline choice to be left unprotected for the expansion draft to a player the Wings are likely to sign to a multi-year contract and could become a key veteran in the rebuild.
Erne believes the Wings’ future is promising, given the steps forward this past season and the talented young players arriving in the near future.
“We’re taking steps in the right direction, every practice, every game,” Erne said. “We put the work boots on and work hard in practice, work hard in the games and just get better. That’s what we’re trying to do.
“We know Steve is going to make moves he wants to make to make the team better. We’re a young team with some really good veteran presence in the room. As these young guys and everybody starts gaining confidence, you’re going to see us start to gain some traction like we did this season.”