On Thursday, the Detroit Red Wings announced that forward Jakub Vrana will undergo shoulder surgery and miss the next four months. *Insert Pete Campbell “Not Great Bob” gif*
With Vrana out until at least February, the Red Wings will need to find a way to compete without him. Luckily, they have some options, though none will likely be able to match Vrana’s offensive prowess.
Vrana’s Role in the Red Wings Lineup
Before Vrana’s injury took him off the ice, Detroit’s lines were trending toward the following:
|Filip Zadina||Dylan Larkin||Tyler Bertuzzi|
|Robby Fabbri||Pius Suter||Jakub Vrana|
|Vladislav Namestnikov||Michael Rasmussen||Adam Erne|
|Givani Smith||Mitchell Stephens||Sam Gagner|
Instead, we’ll have to wait until 2022 to see Vrana in action.
Now, the Red Wings need to adjust their plans. And this goes beyond a spot in the lineup. They may need to revert to last year’s low-event game strategy to minimize quality chances against knowing their offense won’t be operating at 100 percent (if that wasn’t already the plan). Time will tell – the remaining preseason games will serve as a litmus test for Detroit’s offensive capabilities. That, and as an audition for the collection of players who could step into Vrana’s role.
Red Wings’ Options to Replace Vrana
Right now, it appears that the Red Wings have three options to replace their top goal-scorer: promote a top prospect, sign Bobby Ryan, or adjust their current lineup.
Starting with the prospect route, Detroit could give Joe Veleno, Lucas Raymond, and/or Jonatan Berggren a long look in a top-six role. Veleno, in particular, could be a solid bet, as he did not look out of place last year in a similar role during his five-game stint with the Red Wings. Raymond and Berggren may need time in the AHL to adjust to the North American game. Still, they could surprise us and dominate during the preseason.
As for Ryan, he’s made a strong case for a new contract so far. He was impressive in training camp and was one of Detroit’s best players in their preseason opener against the Chicago Blackhawks. Ryan is also a class act who has been a great leader in Detroit’s young locker room.
Finally, the Red Wings could plug an internal option into Vrana’s top-six role. Adam Erne looks like he’s on a mission to prove his 2020-21 season was no fluke. His abrasive, puck-retrieving style of play could complement playmaker Pius Suter and shooter Robby Fabbri well on Detroit’s second line. Sam Gagner and Vladislav Namestnikov are other options, though their offense isn’t exactly top-six material.
The Red Wings could also employ a combination of these strategies. They could move up Erne and sign Ryan to play on the third line. Likewise, Detroit could bring back Ryan in a depth role and rotate Veleno, Raymond, and Berggren in the top six. Plus, there will be other injuries at some point, so having depth throughout the lineup is important.
Make no mistake, this is a huge loss for the Red Wings. Vrana was supposed to be a major contributor this year and likely lead the team in goals. None of the replacement options will be able to match his capabilities.
That said, this is a scrappy team. Jeff Blashill will figure out a way to make this team competitive most nights, even if that means low-scoring contests. Plus, for this rebuild to succeed, others need to step up their game, whether that’s Erne, Veleno, Raymond, Berggren, or Michael Rasmussen.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.