Niyo: Moritz Seider’s opening act a beacon of hope for Red Wings

Detroit News

The accolades all point in the same direction. The adjectives do, too.

And when the subject is as central to the bigger picture as rookie Moritz Seider is to the Red Wings’ future, that’s an encouraging development.

Seider is now 10 games into his NHL career, and the early returns are both “good” and historic, depending on your measuring stick. Or just “pretty OK” if you’re the 20-year-old German defenseman everyone is trying to size up as he tries to fit in with a new team in a new league at the top of his game.

“I’ve played, I think, pretty OK,” was Seider’s self-assessment Wednesday after practice at Boston’s TD Garden, where the Wings will face the Bruins on Thursday night.

“But it’s definitely not about me,” he added quickly. “I don’t want to put myself in front of the team or want to talk about myself. … All in all, I just want to win hockey games.”

That’s fair, and understandable. But everyone else is talking about him now precisely because Seider seems pretty OK with the attention he’s drawing on the ice in an impressive start to his NHL career.

On Tuesday, he was named the league’s rookie of the month for October — “A nice little appreciation,” as Seider put it — after leading all rookies in ice time (nearly 22½ minutes) and assists (eight) while helping the Red Wings (4-4-2) get off to a better-than-expected start. Seider edged out his teammate for that honor, as 19-year-old Swedish winger Lucas Raymond also has emerged as an early Calder Trophy frontrunner, leading all NHL rookies in scoring with nine points, including four goals.

Together, they’re arguably the two most important pieces in general manager Steve Yzerman’s plans to build a Stanley Cup contender again in Detroit. And in the case of Seider, it’s literally where it all began, as Yzerman surprised nearly everyone in hockey by making the big German kid his very first draft selection back in 2019, a few months after he replaced Ken Holland as the Wings’ GM.

So far, it looks like Yzerman made the right call. In May, Seider was named the top defenseman in the Swedish Hockey League, where he spent the winter on loan following an abbreviated 2019-20 season with Grand Rapids in the AHL. In June, Seider was named top defenseman at the IIHF World Championships, where he led Germany to the semifinals. And now he’s asserting himself at the NHL level in ways even his coach couldn’t have predicted.

“The fact that he got those accolades … gives you confidence that he can come in and do a good job,” Jeff Blashill said. “How good and how quick that he’d be an impact player, we didn’t know coming into the year. And we’re still kind of seeing that.”

If seeing is believing, there’s a lot to like here, obviously. From the aggressive, physical play in his own end to the confidence and offensive skill Seider shows in the attacking zone and on the power play, where half of his assists have come thus far.

Seider is the first defenseman in Red Wings history to score eight points in his first nine games. The previous high of seven belonged to none other than Hall of Famer Nick Lidstrom.

“He’s just smooth out there,” said veteran defenseman Danny DeKeyser. “He’s smart, the way he skates, he’s strong. And you can tell he gets it: He’s got a great hockey mind, he thinks the game very well, he sees the ice well, he makes good plays. He’s got good poise, and he’s confident out there. So he looks like he’s going to be a real player, and hopefully he keeps it up.”

That’s a point Blashill keeps reiterating, as you’d expect. He’s giving Seider the ice time, but he’s also demanding the rookie learn how to make the most of it.

“Well, he’s got tons of physical ability,” Blashill said. “Now our job is to help him continue to (develop) from a really good talent to a great player ultimately. That’s what we’d love him to be here. I think without improving, Moritz could be a good player in this league. But that’s not what anybody wants, him or us. So we just want to make sure that we’re continuing to push him, even as he has early success.”

That means calling him out when Seider makes an unforced error like he did Saturday night in the loss at Toronto, sending a blind backhand pass across the ice on a power play that led to a breakaway for the Maple Leafs. Seider also was on the ice for both of Montreal’s 5-on-5 goals Tuesday in a lackluster effort by the Wings that Blashill described as “inexcusable.”

“We were just bad,” Seider said. “It was a tough one for us. But I think we’re done. We turned the page.”

Indeed, Seider talked Wednesday about how “hungry” he and his teammates are to finish this four-game road trip with wins in Boston and Buffalo. But he also knows the Wings will get their fill with 10 games over the next 17 days — a stretch that ends with four games in six nights, hopscotching from Columbus to Dallas to Las Vegas and Phoenix.

And if we’re talking about Seider then the way we are now, things will be pretty OK, all right.

“I had a lot of belief that he could be a really good player in this league — I just didn’t know how fast and how good,” Blashill said. “And I think that story is still to be told.”

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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