Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series breaking down the Detroit Red Wings at each position group. Today: Defensemen.
Detroit — It was one of general manager Steve Yzerman’s intentions to give the defense a new look.
As the hockey world has veered into August, there’s no question the Red Wings’ blue line has undergone a distinct facelift.
It’s a crowded back end right now with 10 defensemen with NHL experience — and one potential rookie who could be quite impactful.
The Wings had one of those last season, as Moritz Seider broke into the NHL and played so well he won the Calder Trophy (NHL rookie of the year). Seider’s ability and potential make him a cornerstone and an integral part of the Wings’ future.
Can Simon Edvinsson make a similar impact?
Edvinsson, like Seider, is a first-round draft pick who dominated in the Swedish Hockey League — as Seider did before breaking into the NHL — and will arrive in September with a chance to make the NHL.
“Meeting him in person for the first time since we drafted him he’s thicker in a good way,” Yzerman said after seeing Edvinsson during last month’s development camp. “He’s very strong, his skating is excellent. We’ll give him an opportunity.
“If he’s ready to play and play a regular role, that would be great for us. We’ll let the whole thing play itself out.”
It appears the Wings will give Edvinsson every chance to make the opening night roster — yet it wouldn’t be shocking if Edvinsson gets a bit of pro seasoning in Grand Rapids, which Seider had during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season.
There’s also the fact there’s so much depth on defense.
Yzerman was aggressive in unrestricted free agency, signing Ben Chiarot and Olli Maatta to bolster the defense, specifically the left-side where the Wings had gaping holes in the lineup.
“(They’re) defense-first defensemen, bigger bodies, they get in the way and are kind of hard to play against,” Yzerman siad. “I would expect those two guys will play with Moritz and Filip (Hronek), they’re good complements for them. They’re big guys, good length, block shots and are a little harder to play against.”
Here’s a rundown of the Wings’ depth chart on defense, in alphabetical order, with training camp a little over a month away:
► Ben Chiarot: The four-year contract worth $19 million ($4.75 million cap hit) was a bit of a surprise, given its length. But Chiarot checks a lot of boxes Yzerman was looking for. Chiarot is big (6-foot-3, 230 pounds), plays a physical brand of hockey, and should be an effective complement to an all-around player such as Seider.
► Simon Edvinsson: Edvinsson plays the left side, and has the athleticism and skating ability that could be immediately NHL caliber. Edvinsson (6-foot-6) can transport the puck, has a big shot, creates offense, and doesn’t shy away from physicality. There’s no question Edvinsson is an exciting prospect.
► Robert Hagg: The Wings signed Hagg (one-year/$800,000) after announcing Mark Pysyk will miss ample time, creating a hole in the lineup. Hagg (left side) has NHL experience, can join the rush, but is most effective on the defensive end where his size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and instincts make him a prototypical stay-at-home defenseman.
► Filip Hronek: There was growing speculation Hronek was going to be trade bait, but that didn’t happen. So, Hronek (right side) heads into camp looking to reverse what was an inconsistent season. Hronek’s defense continues to be a question mark, with his decision-making still an issue.
► Steven Kampfer: The Ann Arbor native was signed, likely as a depth defenseman who fills a role in Grand Rapids and the Wings. At age 33, Kampfer has NHL experience (231 games), but his odds of making the opening right roster look short unless injuries hit the unit.
► Gustav Lindstrom: The 2017 second-round draft pick might be in danger of getting passed on the depth chart. Lindstrom plays the right side, and has the inside track on a third-pairing spot, until Jake Walman gets healthy. Lindstrom is known more for his defense, but he struggled with his defense last season, getting in and out of the lineup.
► Olli Maatta: Maatta, 27, has loads of experience and is expected to be a solidifying piece in the top four. Maatta slots in nicely on the second-pairing, playing a defense-first type of game. He’s not overly physical and Maatta isn’t likely to provide much offense. But his experience and veteran savvy upgrade this unit.
► Jordan Oesterle: With the additions of Chiarot and Maatta (and possibly Edvinsson), along with Hagg and Pysyk, it’s fair to wonder where Oesterle stands. Oesterle has one year left on his contract ($1.35 million cap hit), but he’ll be in a battle for playing time. Oesterle showed fine versatility last season and is a top-level skater.
► Mark Pysyk: Was signed to a one-year contract in free agency, but a torn Achilles tendon will make Pysyk unavailable until maybe January, which makes him a huge question mark for this season. Pysyk is a good puck-mover, and can play wing in a pinch, but how much he’ll help this season is debatable.
► Moritz Seider: After an award-winning rookie season, it’ll be interesting to see how far Seider takes his game. Seider said he watched Colorado’s Cale Makar during the playoffs, watching how Makar controlled the puck and navigated the blue line. Chiarot, for one, is excited about having Seider on his side. “He’s an impressive young defenseman,” Chiarot said. “Plays physical, which you don’t see a ton of any more with young guys coming in. He doesn’t back down out there. I look forward to getting out there with him.”
► Jake Walman: Walman made a favorable impression after arriving from St. Louis at the trade deadline, but offseason shoulder surgery will keep Walman out of the lineup to start the season. Inconsistency has plagued Walman in his young career, and he’ll battle for playing time on the right-side once he returns. Walman has great skating skills, and has a dangerous shot.