This late in the season, it’s becoming clearer that defenseman Moritz Seider appears to be a slam-dunk choice to win the Calder Trophy.
Given to the NHL’s rookie of the year, Seider has gradually pulled away with his stellar play. But teammate Lucas Raymond shouldn’t be easily forgotten.
The rookie forward will almost certainly be a finalist for the Calder. And in any other year, Raymond could make a strong argument to be the winner.
Raymond scored his 23rd goal during Tuesday’s victory in Tampa. Raymond trailed Nashville’s Tanner Jeannot (24 goals) by one Thursday, among all rookies.
Raymond ranked fourth in assists (33) and third in points (56) in what has been an equally impressive season.
“He has huge potential here,” forward Jakub Vrana said of Raymond. “He’s a really talented player that can put the puck in the net. It’s not easy in this league, but he’s been proving a lot.”
A couple of plays during Tuesday’s game stood out as to how Raymond can see the ice and use his deceptive offensive skills.
Twice Raymond got control of the puck for the Wings, the second time stripping Lightning star defenseman Mikhail Sergachev at the blue line, sliding the puck forward and gathering it for an odd-man rush before sneaking a shot past goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“He has good vision and real good poise with the puck,” coach Jeff Blashill said of Raymond’s strengths. “Where he’s gained through the course of the season is his confidence level in those situations, where he can spend a little more time with the puck and make some plays.
“He has a real ability to do that.”
Another of Raymond’s strengths, right from opening night, is his competitiveness.
Raymond wasn’t awed right from the start, played with confidence, and showed a willingness to be trustworthy at both ends of the rink.
“Lucas has been a real good all-around player for us and he’s just going to continue to grow,” Blashill said. “He’s got a great competitiveness. He wants to be a great player and he wants to win and those are great qualities.”
It’s been a small sample size, but the line of Pius Suter centering Filip Zadina and Vrana has had signs of being an effective trio.
The keys are Zadina and Vrana maintaining good defensive habits and not cheating on that end of rink while looking for offense.
Instead of getting the line away from unfavorable matchups, Blashill has played them against opponents’ scoring lines with Vrana’s effectiveness at both ends sparking the line’s success.
“I don’t want to have to hide them,” Blashill said. “I’ve done that a little bit and I said I’m not, you have to play the right way. He (Vrana) did an excellent job of that, and it’s really helped Zadina’s game, too. Zadina has done a good job of trying to play the right way, and Suter is a pretty responsible guy.
“I was pleased with the way they approached the game (Tuesday against Tampa’s matchups).”
Defenseman Danny DeKeyser has played more than 18 minutes five of the last six games, and he’s showing some flashes of his ability to erase opposing scoring chances as he did early in his career.
DeKeyser, 32, missed 10 games with a lingering injury before returning on March 30 and has remained in the lineup, often being paired with Seider.
There was a real chance DeKeyser’s career with the Wings had come to an unceremonious end with the injury, but he was able to get relatively healthy and finish the season on the ice.
Since having back surgery two seasons ago, DeKeyser has struggled to remain healthy and regain the effectiveness of earlier in his career.
DeKeyser is a potential unrestricted free agent this summer, and his 10-year Wings career is likely coming to an end.
“He’s worked real hard to try and maintain his back, but it’s not easy,” Blashill said. “Certainly there is some permanent damage. People need to understand what he’s going through to try to play every single day and he’s done a good job.
“What Danny is, is he’s smart and he knows where to stand. On defense, especially, experience matters, going through the league and knowing where to get to the right spots.
“Danny does a a good job of erasing others’ mistakes, whether it’s a two-on-one or finding a way to get a stick on puck and ending the play.”