Northern Lower Michigan in mid-September is reason in itself to be excited about the event, but this year’s camp is all the more welcome after last season’s truncated affair, the highlight of which was general manager Steve Yzerman anointing Dylan Larkin captain, and then revealing the two had broken COVID-19 protocol and shaken hands.
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There are letter issues to be resolved this season, too; that’s among numerous questions surrounding the Wings as they prepare for the 2021-22 season. Answers will begin to emerge during the practices and scrimmages that run Thursday-Sept. 28, with the Red-White game scheduled for Sept. 26. After that, the Wings return to Little Caesars Arena for an eight-game exhibition schedule that runs Sept. 29-Oct. 9.
With an eye towards continuing the improvement shown last season, here are the top points of interest headed into camp.
That’s Swedish for “hey you,” a handy greeting to know given the contingent of Swedish Hockey League alums vying for spots. Up front, that includes Swedes Lucas Raymond and Jonatan Berggren, and Canadian Joe Veleno. The trio, linemates at the prospects tournament, boast high-end skill and youthful vigor. Raymond, 19, was the fourth pick in 2020; Berggren, 21, the 33rd pick in 2018, and Veleno, 21, the 30th pick in 2018. Berggren said Friday that he and Raymond have been teaching Veleno “some good Swedish words, and he helps me with the English.” More importantly, given Swedes start learning English at age 7, Veleno serves as their chief transporter.
“He drives me and Lucas because he has a car here,” Berggren said. “He’s our Uber driver.”
Veleno did well in a five-game audition with the Wings at the end of last season. Berggren has spent three seasons in the SHL and Raymond two, so both are used to playing against men. They need to adapt to the smaller ice surface, but they project to be a big part of the Wings’ future, even if early odds have Raymond and Berggren starting the season in Grand Rapids.
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The other SHL alumnus is defenseman Moritz Seider, the sixth pick in 2019. Seider had a terrific 2020-21 season — he was loaned to Rögle, and played so well he was named defenseman of the year. Seider, 20, recorded seven goals and 21 assists in 41 games, followed by five points in 13 playoff games. He contributed five assists in 10 games for his native Germany at the World Championships. He’s a lock to make the Wings — the question is how many minutes he can handle, and whether he plays both special teams. At the very least he should be running one of the power play units.
The letter A
The Wings lost their alternate captains when Luke Glendening signed with the Dallas Stars in free agency and Frans Nielsen was bought out. Veteran defenseman Marc Staal wore an A at times last season, and served as an alternate with the New York Rangers for a decade. Veteran forward Sam Gagner is also an option; like Staal, he’s great in the locker room and an excellent role model for the young players. Veteran defenseman Danny DeKeyser could also be a fit. The Wings could opt to have three alternates and rotate one of the ‘A’s’, like Nielsen and Larkin did in 2019-20.
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Up to speed
The last time he was seen in a game, Larkin was in visible pain from getting whacked in the neck by Stars captain Jamie Benn’s stick. Larkin required hospitalization and a brace, but avoided surgery. Larkin, 25, endured a rough first season as captain, with just 23 points in 44 games. He’ll need to show in camp that he’s back up and running at full speed.
So will Tyler Bertuzzi, who didn’t play after hurting his back in late January, and underwent surgery in April. Will he still be effective grinding away down low and getting in opponent’s faces? That’s what the Wings need from their grittiest player.
Odds and ends
Where will Givani Smith fit in? The 6-foot-2, 205-pound second-round pick from 2016 is willing to keep opponents accountable for cheap shots, something no one else did when Benn injured Larkin. Yzerman protected Smith in the Seattle expansion draft, and now he needs to be in the lineup on a regular basis.
On defense, the top four spots project to be filled by Seider, Staal, Nick Leddy and Filip Hronek. That leaves Troy Stecher, Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Lindstrom and Wyatt Newpower to battle for the third pairing.
Read up on the Red Wings
What: “The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings.”
Author: Helene St. James, who has covered the Red Wings at the Detroit Free Press since 1996. Foreword by Chris Osgood, winner of three Stanley Cups as a Wings goaltender.
Publisher: Triumph Books.
Pages: 336 pages (paperback).
Availability: Available in leading bookstores and online from booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
About the book: “The Big 50” brings to life the men and moments that made the Red Wings such a dynamic and iconic franchise for nearly a century. The book features never-before-told stories about the greats such as Howe, Yzerman, Lidstrom and Lindsay, the near-greats beloved by fans and the great memories of Fight Night, the Fabulous Fifties, the Team for the Ages, the Grind Line, The Joe and much more.
Get it signed! For a personalized copy of “The Big 50,” contact St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.