As the Detroit Red Wings advance through the exhibition season, one of the key issues is sorting out the power-play units.
Saturday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets is one of six remaining before the regular season, and the first of a back-to-back-to-back. The Wings had four power plays in Thursday’s 6-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, which provided opportunity to see newcomer Moritz Seider and veteran Nick Leddy each run a unit. With limited NHL players in the lineup, the units weren’t what they’ll be when the Wings open the season Oct. 14 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but there were numerous candidates for spots who did audition.
“You’re more evaluating individuals than you’re evaluating the unit,” coach Jeff Blashill said Friday. “What we’re trying to do is put individuals in spots where we think they can be successful. That’s one of our biggest things on the power play. So we’re putting them in those spots and then they have to execute. The challenge is they may have only practiced that morning in a pregame skate, so you don’t have a whole lot of chemistry.
“Right now, we have a whole lot of guys trying out for spots on the power play and if a guy is not excelling in a certain spot on the power play, we might try him somewhere else as the camp moves along. Guys have to grab those spots and find a way to show us that they’re going to make our power play better. There’s a lot that goes into that.”
Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi haven’t appeared yet in exhibition season, but Blashill said they’re cleared for contact (Larkin suffered a neck injury in April; Bertuzzi hasn’t played since January and underwent back surgery in April) and that “we’d like to get those guys in a game here soon.”
That’s two spots accounted for. There’s also Pius Suter (a newcomer who looked dangerous on his unit Thursday), Robby Fabbri, Filip Zadina and Sam Gagner. Presuming he earns a contract, add Bobby Ryan. (That’s all the more likely with Jakub Vrana sidelined at least through January because of shoulder surgery.)
Michael Rasmussen, Adam Erne and Givani Smith are candidates for the net-front spots. Lucas Raymond and Joe Veleno, recent first-round draft picks, skated with the Grand Rapids group Friday, a sign that’s where they are likely to start the season.
In addition to Leddy and Seider, Filip Hronek has run a power-play unit, but Blashill indicated Hronek may not play the point.
“At some point we’ll try Hronek on the flank, where he shoots the one timer,” Blashill said. “So we could have a unit with two D, potentially.”
Defenseman Jordan Oesterle is also slated to get a look running a unit.
It’s key for the Wings to get the units sorted during the preseason. Their power play has been atrocious the past two seasons – 14.9% in 2019-20; 11.4% last season. Injuries have been a factor, but it was dismal last season when the team’s most skilled players were all on one unit.
With an influx of new faces, and a new assistant coach in charge in former NHL forward Alex Tanguay, the hope is it will actually look like the Wings have a man advantage when they are on the power play.
“It’s good, but ultimately we don’t want 13 solid power-play guys, we’d like five great ones,” Blashill said. “So we need to find out which guys can show us they can be great.
“It’s one thing to be a guy who can be on the power play, we need people who are going to make our power play way better. Guys have to find ways to excel when they are getting those opportunities. Certainly there are more guys than we have spots for that can be on the power play, but who’s going to grab it and who’s going to be great, that’s what we’re looking for.”
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.