The Grind Line: Predicting The Red Wings’ 2021-22 Top Lines

The Hockey Writers

What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. This week, Devin Little, Patrick Brown, Kyle Knopp, and Jeff Middleton are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

It’s almost here! The preseason has wrapped up, teams have made their final roster decisions, and the NHL season will be kicking off tonight. That got us thinking — with so many different line possibilities this season, what do the ideal top lines look like this season for the Detroit Red Wings?

Related: Red Wings Daily Download – Recap, Stats, Injuries & News

There’s already been no shortage of drama coming out of camp, whether it’s Jakub Vrana’s injury, Tyler Bertuzzi’s vaccination status, or anything in between. So, what do our top Wings writers see unfolding on the bench this season?

Let’s dive in.

Devin Little

Top Line: Bertuzzi-Larkin-Raymond
As far as this group goes, I am the leader of the Lucas Raymond hype-train, and I am going to embrace it. Not only did the 19-year-old forward lead the Red Wings in scoring this preseason, but he spent time playing on both the power play and the penalty kill, signaling that the coaching staff has some level of trust in him to play in those key situations. As for the other two, I’ll let head coach Jeff Blashill explain:
“I like the two (Larkin and Bertuzzi) together,” he said. “They’re a pair that I’d like to keep together all season if I can.”

Top Defensive Pairing: Leddy and Seider
For me this comes down to two factors:
1. Nick Leddy is, without question, the team’s top left-handed defenseman. 

2. Moritz Seider and Filip Hronek are a lot closer than I anticipated. It may be a lot to ask of the team’s top pick in the 2019 draft, but I believe Seider is going to be ready to play north of 20 minutes a night sooner rather than later. I’ve liked the idea of this pairing from the moment the Leddy deal was announced, and they’ve looked promising thus far. Even if Blashill doesn’t necessarily intend for this pairing to be the top one at the start, I think their ice time will reveal that they’re the coach’s most trusted right off the hop.

Moritz Seider Grand Rapids Griffins
Moritz Seider will make his much-anticipated Red Wings debut. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Dark Horse For Breakout Year: Taro Hirose
Like Evgeny Svechnikov last season, this is the year I will be banging the drum for Hirose to see meaningful time in the NHL this season. His advanced stats have always shown a player that is capable of creating and sustaining offensive pressure. His playmaking abilities are something this team needs, especially as injuries begin to pile up. To top it off, he looked like a man on a mission during the preseason, creating a number of chances while also looking like a more physically mature hockey player. He’s never going to be a top line player, but if given the chance, the former Michigan State Spartan would provide an instant offensive boost to the team’s middle six. Now’s the year to see what he can do.

Kyle Knopp

Top Line: Raymond-Larkin-Vrana
This is supposed to be our ideal lineup we would like to see this season, right? There isn’t much that would be more electric than watching Raymond and Vrana playing alongside Larkin at some point during the year, so that’s the line I’m going with. Larkin’s playmaking paired with the natural scoring abilities of Raymond and Vrana could make this trio one of the highest scoring lines in recent Red Wings history. 

Top Defensive Pairing: Leddy and Seider
Pairing the Wings’ best left-handed defenseman, who also happens to be a seasoned veteran, with the Wings best right-handed defenseman seems like a no-brainer. While I think this pair could end up as the second unit to start, they will eventually overtake Hronek and Danny DeKeyser as the top pair. Leddy’s experience will go a long way with helping Seider develop in his first year as an NHL professional.

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Dark Horse For Breakout Year: Mitchell Stephens
For Mitchell Stephens, this is his year to prove that he is an NHL-caliber player. Lost in the shuffle behind a loaded Tampa Bay Lightning roster, Stephens will get the opportunity for a fresh start on a team that is lacking the depth that has kept him out of the lineup. He will likely start on the fourth line, but by the end of this season expect to be having conversations about whether he is a top-six forward.

Jeff Middleton

Top Line: Bertuzzi-Larkin-Raymond
I can’t say that I started the Raymond hype train, but I’ve certainly been on it for a hot minute. He’s such an electric player with a dazzling hockey IQ. He has the ability to take over the game with such ease, and it’s something that I’m sure many of his peers envy. As for Bertuzzi and Larkin, adding them to the mix with a young player is sure to benefit all three. They’ve played on the same line for a few seasons now, and they have play styles that are different but are cohesive. If it wasn’t for the Vrana injury, I would say that he should play on this line, but sadly, we will have to wait and see what Blashill decides when it comes to his deployment.

Top Defensive Pairing: Leddy and Seider
Everyone is excited for Seider. How could you not be? He’s a big defenseman with the strength of a bull, but a player that has excellent instincts in both the offensive and defensive zones. Everyone was shocked at the pick in the moment, but as time has worn on, Steve Yzerman has looked like a genius. It’s certainly not the first time.

Nick Leddy New York Islanders
Nick Leddy, pictured here with New York Islanders, should make an impact with the Red Wings. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

However, one trade that I admittedly wasn’t a fan of was the trade for Leddy. It seemed like they were giving up a bit too much for an aging defenseman, but at the end of the day, the invaluable advice he can give to a franchise cornerstone is enough to at least understand the move. There is also the fact that the subcategory of left-handed defenseman on the Red Wings roster is pretty weak. These two together could do some really great work.

Dark Horse For Breakout Year: Filip Zadina 
Maybe it’s not as much of a dark horse as I think it is, but with all of these new young players infiltrating the roster, Filip Zadina needs to be talked about more. He showed signs of tangible improvement towards the end of last season, but the scoresheet didn’t really help his case. I think that changes this season. He has all the tools in front of him. At this point, it’s figuring out how to use them to his advantage. With the addition of more threats, it should be much easier as well.

Patrick Brown

Top Line: Fabbri-Larkin-Zadina
OK, so you can blast me in the comments, and I’ll understand, but I HAD to at least try and deviate a little! In all seriousness, the combination of Bertuzzi-Larkin-Raymond is super attractive, but I am concerned about expecting too much from Raymond early on. I think he deserves time to acclimate to the NHL level, and going up against the opposition’s top players is not the way to ease into it. The Fabbri-Larkin-Zadina line surrounds Larkin with scoring and playmaking threats (Fabbri was third on the team last season with 10 goals, despite only playing 30 games, and Zadina’s 13 assists were third-best), and is the best option to help the team gel early on this year.

Robby Fabbri Detroit Red Wings
Is Pat crazy for including Fabbri on the team’s top line? (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Top Defensive Pairing: Leddy and Seider
Yeah, even I can’t come up with anything different on this one. Seider has proven himself at every level, and is set to step in as the team’s most anticipated arrival in decades. Leddy’s the perfect partner for him, considering his ability to help the youngster adjust to life in the NHL. Nothing more to add here.

Dark Horse For Breakout Year: Michael Rasmussen
Rasmussen impressed toward the end of the season last year, and if he can build on the strong finish, the sky is the limit for the former ninth-overall draft pick. It’s evident that he has gotten much more comfortable in the league since making his NHL debut in the 2018-19 season, and the 22-year-old is poised to contribute 20-30 points this season. If Adam Erne plays on his wing and manages to come close to his production last season, the Red Wings may have a little scoring depth beyond their top six for the first time in a very long time.

What do you think about the Red Wings’ potential line combinations this season? Sound off in the comments!

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