What’s at stake for Detroit Red Wings in preseason? A beautiful spreadsheet

Detroit Free Press

Jeff Blashill likened his Detroit Red Wings coaching staff’s approach to the exhibition slate to writing a bunch of formulas and then wondering which work.

Juggling eight games in 11 days, beginning with Wednesday’s test at the Chicago Blackhawks, matters because this next week and a half will go a long way toward determining several players’ futures. Can veteran Bobby Ryan turn a tryout into a contract? Is 2020 first-round pick Lucas Raymond ready for the NHL? Is Moritz Seider, the most exciting defense prospect in the organization, a good fit with veteran Nick Leddy? And who belongs on which special teams?

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The Wings broke camp Tuesday after six days in Traverse City. There’s still no update on Jakub Vrana, who is unavailable because of a shoulder injury serious enough to require a visit to a specialist.

The expected top-six group is further depleted as Dylan Larkin (neck) and Tyler Bertuzzi (back) won’t play the first couple exhibition games because the team wants to ease them back into physical contact. Likewise, veteran defensemen Danny DeKeyser and Marc Staal are unavailable at least through Thursday’s home game against the Buffalo Sabres.

Those absences aren’t a big deal lineup-wise, because Blashill already knows he wants Larkin and Bertuzzi on the same line, and DeKeyser and Staal are both stay-at-home defenders and penalty killers. Blashill has a set number of exhibition games desired for each player — younger ones like Raymond and Veleno may get in as many as five or six — but the schedule is compact, and injuries are a regular setback.

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So, on and on the lineups change.

“It’s a little bit like that movie, ‘A Beautiful Mind,’” Jeff Blashill said Tuesday. “You have all these numbers and that, and we have an Excel worksheet we work off and we plan it ahead of time; and then three guys get hurt and you have to replan it. We’re in the replanning stage right now.”

General manager Steve Yzerman already has said the team will carry eight defensemen: Seider, Leddy, Staal, DeKeyser, Filip Hronek, Troy Stecher, Jordan Oesterle and Gustav Lindstrom. In addition to Seider and Leddy, the top four tentatively numbers DeKeyser and Hronek, but the most competition the Wings had in Traverse City was the Red-White scrimmage.

“I like Moritz Seider and Nick Leddy right now,” Blashill said, “but we haven’t played a real game, so let’s let them have a game and see where they’re at and continue to judge moving forward.”

Never more comfortable: Why Bobby Ryan held out for tryout with Wings ]

Ryan, 34, has the advantage of having played with the Wings last season. He’s a 6-foot-2, 208-pound right-shot winger with a knack for getting into scoring positions.

At the other end of the career spectrum is Raymond, a 5-11, 182-pound winger who has spent the past couple seasons in the Swedish Hockey League. Blashill joked that “it should be clear to my wife that (Raymond) should be on the hockey team” — meaning the 19-year-old will have to dominate his shifts, more so than a veteran.

“They’re both going to get chances with good players, and then they have to go out and grab jobs,” Blashill said. “Bobby has been through this before; Lucas is new to it but I think he’s a kid who would love a job and wants a job. Wants to do everything he can. He certainly understands if he’s not ready to play a primetime role for us, that he’ll start in Grand Rapids, and if that’s the case, he’ll be determined to work his way back up. That’s the type of person he is.

“Both of them are going to get opportunities, both of them are going to get a good number of games, and that goes for a number of guys. We have guys like Taro Hirose and Riley Barber that had really good years in the AHL. They’re going to get a number of games.”

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Blashill debated dividing the 40-odd players into Detroit and Grand Rapids squads, but “I don’t know who’s on that Detroit team yet. We’ll use exhibition season to determine who’s on that team.

“Whoever can grab a job, grab a job. I think it’s as competitive as it’s been here in a long time.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.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 AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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