With training camp a month away, Red Wings have questions to answer

Detroit News

Detroit —  A month from now, the Red Wings will be on the ice in Traverse City as training camp commences.

If it feels as if last season just ended, that’s accurate.

As the NHL gets back on its regular calendar schedule — last season was pushed back and shortened due to the pandemic —  the full 2021-22 regular season looms.

How will the Red Wings look?

General manager Steve Yzerman was busy throughout the offseason. He retained coach Jeff Blashill, acquired defenseman Nick Leddy and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, and signed forward Pius Suter to strengthen an improving lineup.

More: Red Wings have chance to make a move in deep Atlantic Division

There appear to be jobs available and playing time to be earned. The immediate futures of some young prospects will also be determined.

Here are some pertinent issues facing the Wings:

►Health of Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Robby Fabbri and Danny DeKeyser: Larkin (neck), Bertuzzi (back surgery) and Fabbri (concussion) all missed the end of last season. Without them, the lack of offense was magnified.

The Wings need those three forwards to be healthy, and it’ll be interesting to see if all will be ready once camp begins.

Fabbri said recently he is fully healthy, and has been skating. Larkin and Bertuzzi, said Blashill, are skating and on schedule. But Blashill wouldn’t commit to saying both will be ready to practice at the start of camp.

DeKeyser is on this list for a different reason. He missed playing time early last season returning from back surgery. As the season progressed, DeKeyser appeared to gain strength and mobility, and looked closer to his usual self.

With several months off to rest and rehab, a healthier DeKeyser makes the Wings’ lineup stronger.

►The battle for playing time on defense: You have DeKeyser, Filip Hronek, Nick Leddy, Gustav Lindstrom, Jordan Oesterle, Moritz Seider, Marc Staal, and Troy Stecher available, eight quality, NHL-caliber defensemen.

But there’s only six who’ll play —  OK, certain nights Blashill is prone to use seven —  so that’ll make the competition intriguing.

Injuries are bound to occur, and some players will lose playing time by their performance. This is a good problem for Blashill to have.

►Will Moritz Seider stay with the Wings? The clear assumption is, Seider will start the season with the Wings.

After an outstanding season playing in Sweden, Seider appears more than ready for the NHL. He’s physically ready, and appears to have the mental makeup to get his NHL career going.

Seider starts the season in Grand Rapids if he suffers an injury during the exhibition season. Or if he gets passed on the depth chart and wouldn’t get the ice time the Wings want. Fans, the front office and coaching staff will be watching closely.

►How about Lucas Raymond, Jonatan Berggren? The two Swedish forwards are in a little different spot than Seider.

Both haven’t even had a taste of the AHL —  remember, Seider did play a season in Grand Rapids —  and that’s an important part of any young player’s development.

Raymond missed some of last season in Sweden due to injury, so further development in North America is crucial.

But another key point: so many spots in the top two or three lines are accounted for. It would be difficult for either Berggren or Raymond to win a job at this point.

Both are likely to start the season with the Griffins unless a run of injuries hits Wings’ forwards, and Raymond and Berggren play out of this world.

►And Joe Veleno? Another young player with a bit of a different twist.

Veleno did get five games with the Wings late last season and didn’t look out of place.

But he hasn’t yet dominated his way out of the AHL, and the competition for playing time in the NHL will be stiff.

Veleno will need to play outstanding hockey, along with some key injuries to Wings’ regulars, to start the season in the NHL.

►Any signs of a Filip Zadina breakout? The preseason will be a good time to see if Zadina can be more impactful offensively.

He scored six goals in 49 games, disappointing production that was offset by the fact he was noticeably stronger defensively.

But the Wings need improved offense this season, and Zadina becoming more of a force scoring is vital.

►Goaltending: In camp, the focus will be on Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss to stay healthy and get comfortable tracking pucks and get into condition.

Playing time isn’t going to be determined by how these two play in the exhibition games. That’ll be a decision made in regular-season games.

But for Nedeljkovic, specifically, camp and exhibition games will be key to get accustomed to new players in front of him.

►How will Michael Rasmussen look? Few players on the Wings progressed last season as much as Rasmussen, who showed glimpses of becoming a two-way force, using his size and ability around the net.

Rasmussen will be given every opportunity in camp to show he’s worthy of centering a line and taking another step in his young career.

►Alex Tanguay’s impact on power play: The new assistant coach will be watched closely to see if he can begin the process of jump starting a unit that has underperformed for several seasons.

Tanguay, the former Colorado Avalanche star, has shown the ability to improve power plays as a coach at the minor-league level, and this will be his first test in the NHL.

►Will Givani Smith make the roster? Smith must either make the roster out of the exhibition season or be exposed to waivers.

The Wings’ buyout of Frans Nielsen likely improved Smith’s chances of staying.

But Smith, 23, has yet to gain a consistent foothold in the NHL. He played 16 games with the Wings last season and showed glimpses of his ability to change games with his physical style.

Smith has to show he can be a physical presence consistently. There is a job for Smith to grab, but there will be several versatile players who could stake a claim for a spot and leapfrog Smith if he isn’t ready.


Twitter: @tkulfan

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