The Detroit Red Wings are an improved team this season, hovering right around .500 for a majority of the season. They have done it without a key piece of the offense, Jakub Vrana, who is still recovering from pre-season shoulder surgery.
Where will the talented young winger slot into the lineup when he returns?
For the first few months of the season, it seemed as thought there would be no room on the top line for Vrana. Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond were scoring like a legit top-line unit, providing nearly all of the Red Wings offense. But in recent weeks, the lineup has shifted a bit.
The second line wasn’t too productive, and it’s struggles were only heightened Filip Zadina’s poor play. For a stretch, Zadina was bumped down to the bottom-six, while Vladislav Namestnikov was promoted to the second line. Shortly after the move, the lineup was reshuffled again. Zadina remained in the bottom-six, but Namestnikov and Bertuzzi swapped roles.
The move reunited Bertuzzi with Pius Suter and Robby Fabbri, who played together with the Guelph Storm. Bertuzzi’s position on the second line has made the entire unit better, with Suter and Fabbri playing some of their best hockey of the season.
Namestnikov has been solid on the top line, but he’s more a complementary player than a top-tier offensive threat.
If the lines remain in their current state, it’s likely that Vrana will replace Namestnikov on the top line. Again, Vladdy has been competent on the top unit, but Vrana just has a raw offensive ability that could make Vrana-Larkin-Raymond one of the best offensive units in the league.
Vrana could also replace Bertuzzi on the second line, sending him back to the top unit. This makes the most sense, as it reunites that highly effective top line while still keeping the second line strong.
Vrana is reportedly likely to return to the lineup at some point in February. Wherever he slides in, he’ll likely have an immediate affect on the offensive output of the entire team. While the playoffs will probably be out of reach, Detroit could finish strong and take some positive momentum heading into the offseason.