Detroit — Ready or not, it’s hockey season.
If it seems the Red Wings just finished, you are right to a certain extent. The Wings finished the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season on May 8 in Columbus, then took part in a shortened offseason that kept them, and the NHL, in the news with the expansion draft (welcome Seattle Kraken), the entry draft and free agency in rapid fire.
Now, the NHL is quickly back again, readying itself for what it hopes it a normalized, 82-game regular season.
Everyone hopes that’ll be the case.
For the Wings, general manager Steve Yzerman retained coach Jeff Blashill, and again overhauled a roster that has missed the playoffs the last five seasons.
The Wings begin training camp Wednesday, with physicals and their annual charity golf tournament. The first on-ice day is Thursday, with daily practices (Sunday is the intrasquad scrimmage), until beginning the exhibition season Sept. 29 in Chicago — the first of eight exhibition games.
There are plenty of potential story lines as the Wings head north to Traverse City. There are plenty of new faces, exciting rookies, and holdovers who need to continue to progress for the Wings to begin climbing the standings.
Here are 10 story lines to follow as another Wings hockey season begins:
► 1. The health of Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi
These are two critical players for the Wings’ success, and both finished last season with significant injuries — Larkin to the neck, and Bertuzzi had back surgery. Both have been rehabilitating steadily and working out over the summer, and the expectations have been that both will be ready to be on the ice for the start of camp.
If, for some reason, one or both aren’t quite ready and maybe won’t be to begin the regular season, that would deal the Wings a severe blow.
► 2. How will Moritz Seider look?
Coming off a tremendous season in Sweden, and now with two years of pro hockey under his belt at age 20, Seider is projected to be in the starting lineup on opening night. It would be a shocker if he weren’t, with injury likely the only reason Seider to be left out. Most projections have Seider being one of the impactful rookies in the NHL this season; these next few weeks might give an indication just how impactful.
► 3. Are Lucas Raymond and Jonatan Berggren NHL ready?
This is will be an intriguing story to watch unfold. Both Swedish forwards were among the best players at the recent Prospects Tournament before sitting out the third and final game as a precaution. Berggren appeared to hurt himself on a collision, while Raymond’s injury is unknown.
Can these two young players make a push to make the roster? It’s doubtful on the surface, given the available bodies on the top two lines, especially if everyone is healthy. Also, the Wings’ organization likes to see young players master the American League before reaching the NHL.
But if these two prove during the exhibition season they’re worthy of the NHL, the Wings could make room for them.
► 4. Joe Veleno’s immediate future
Veleno is in a slightly different situation than Raymond and Berggren. Veleno did have a cup of coffee in the NHL late last season (five games) where he showed a capable two-way game.
Similar to Raymond and Berggren, the Wings don’t want Veleno to see minimal playing time if he does make the NHL roster. If any of these young players are to play in the NHL, it’s best they get substantial opportunity; otherwise the Wings feel it’s best for them to play in all situations and gain plenty of experience at the AHL level in Grand Rapids.
A natural center, Veleno has plenty of competition ahead of him on the depth chart (Larkin, Pius Suter, Michael Rasmussen, Mitchell Stephens).
► 5. Playing time on defense
There are plenty of NHL-caliber players and only six positions in the lineup, so the competition beginning in training camp will be intense. Seider, Nick Leddy, Filip Hronek and Marc Staal figure to man the top-four spots.
But, they will be pushed by Troy Stecher, Danny DeKeyser, Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Lindstrom and minor-league free agent Wyatt Newpower, who all at least figure to battle for the two spots on the third-pairing.
It’s a good situation to be in for Blashill, who might have some tough decisions to make on playing time. The Wings have more quality options on defense than they’ve had in recent seasons.
► 6. Welcome to the Wings
There will be plenty of new faces to welcome into the locker room and lineup this weekend in Traverse City.
Leddy, Suter, Oesterle, Stephens, goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, and forward Carter Rowney are all players brought in during the offseason, as the roster again saw changes.
These next several weeks will be important for Nedeljkovic, as goaltenders, in general, have plenty to work on this time of year.
For Nedeljkovic, coming over to a new team, getting comfortable and familiar with the players in front of him, and getting acclimated again to tracking pucks will be vital during the exhibition season.
► 7. Who will wear the ‘A’?
There are plenty of options.
Veterans such as Staal (who wore the A on occasion last season), DeKeyser and forward Sam Gagner are all viable options. Each was, or has been, a respected veteran in the locker room in recent seasons and would be obvious choices moving forward.
► 8. Where will Givani Smith play?
After signing Smith to a two-year contract last week, it’s likely Smith has an NHL roster spot basically secure.
Smith now 23, played in 16 games with the Wings last season and showed glimpses of being a useful physical, grinding presence, willing to protect teammates and also being a force around the net.
But Smith isn’t going to be just handed a lineup spot. And given the competition among the bottom six forwards, Smith will have to show he deserves a prolonged NHL opportunity.
Smith has to show consistency and the ability to stay in the NHL long term.
► 9. Tweaks to the power play
Few areas in the Wings’ world have been as troublesome and ineffective as the power play, which ranked 30th (out of 31 teams) last season at a 11.4% clip.
To that end, the Wings have brought in assistant coach Alex Tanguay, who will have a big role in tweaking and getting more out of a unit that simply hasn’t been good enough in recent seasons.
Training camp is the time to begin implementing new looks, or changes.
► 10. Is there a spot for Bobby Ryan?
The Wings extended a tryout Tuesday to Ryan, an unsigned unrestricted free agent, who scored seven goals for the Wings last season.
At age 34, and coming off triceps surgery, and given the depth of the lineup, it’s doubtful there could be a roster spot for Ryan by the end of the exhibition season.
But Ryan was a respected presence in the locker room last season, and showed glimpses of still possessing one of the more dangerous shots in the NHL.
It would make for a good story if Ryan could somehow beat the odds and make the roster.
Red Wings training camp
► Where: Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City.
► When: Daily practices Thursday through Sept. 28, beginning at 9:30 a.m., excluding Sunday’s intrasquad Red & White scrimmage, which takes place at noon.
► Games: The Wings’ first exhibition game is Sept. 29 in Chicago, and first preseason game at Little Caesars Arena is Sept. 30, against Buffalo.