Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series breaking down the Detroit Red Wings at each position group. Today: Forwards.
Detroit — Nowhere in the Red Wings’ lineup does the improved depth show more than among the forwards.
General manager Steve Yzerman was intent during free agency on deepening the talent level among the top two or three lines, and on paper, he’s done so.
The signings of Andrew Copp, David Perron and Dominik Kubalik have given coach Derek Lalonde the potential of a highly competitive second line, and dropped other players to positions, or roles, they are possibly better suited.
“We had roster spots open and available with needs to be addressed,” Yzerman said after his free-agency shopping spree. “We felt we addressed, positionally, some needs. We needed simply to add players to obviously fill out a roster.
“You need good players to win games. And you need good players to be good offensively and defensively. It all comes down to that. It’s up to the coach and the coaching staff to try to maximize the talent they have and to find a way to be the most efficient in all areas with the players that we have.”
The Wings had a dangerous first line last season in Dylan Larkin centering Lucas Raymond and Tyler Bertuzzi, but offensive consistency was uneven after those three.
Many of the Wings’ forwards are still younger and learning their way in the NHL. Veteran forwards such as Perron and Copp can be a huge help in a variety of ways.
“There’s a core of young players that has a chance to be a potentially pretty good team one day,” Yzerman said. “The players recognize it. There’s a definite need in a role like an Andrew Copp, for example, to have an impact on and off the ice in a leadership role with a group of young players who are hopefully on the rise.”
Some returning Wings forwards will be hard pressed to maintain their ice time, given the new additions and rookies angling for an opening night roster spot.
Here’s a look at the Wings’ forwards who are expected to contend for roster spots:
► Pontus Andreasson: A Swedish undrafted free agent, Andreasson, 23, scored a career-high18 goals in the Swedish Hockey League last season and has made steady improvement in his career. Andreasson (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) will get a chance in the exhibition season, but appears destined to start in Grand Rapids.
► Jonatan Berggren: Berggren, 22, certainly showed in Grand Rapids (21 goals, 43 assists) he’s close to being NHL ready. But with Yzerman’s free-agent additions, and the deep forward corps, it’s difficult to envision Berggren being on the opening night roster unless there’s injuries.
► Tyler Bertuzzi: Bertuzzi had back surgery the season before, but showed no signs of it hampering him, with a career-high 30 goals on the first line. This is a big season for Bertuzzi, 27, who can be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
► Andrew Copp: The former Ann Arbor Skyline/Michigan standout had a career-best 21-goal, 53-point season, and brings the type of two-way game that anchors a potentially formidable second line.
► Adam Erne: Coming off a disappointing season, it appears Erne will be battling for playing time heading into opening night. Erne, 27, can be an unrestricted free agent next summer and his future in this organization is far from certain.
► Robby Fabbri: Fabbri will be interesting to watch. Following knee surgery late last season, Yzerman gave no indication of when Fabbri could be ready to play. This will be the third ACL surgery of the 26-year-old Fabbri’s career. Beginning a three-year, $12 million extension ($4 million salary cap hit), Fabbri has been a consistent offensive producer.
► Dominik Kubalik: Kubalik scored 30 goals his rookie season in Chicago, but slumped to 17 and 15 goals the past two seasons. Kubalik is only 26, and has the size (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) and skating skills that intrigue teams. This could turn into a shrewd signing.
► Dylan Larkin: The Wings’ captain is coming off a big rebound season (31 goals, 69 points) and ignites what should continue to be a dangerous first line. Larkin, 26, can be an unrestricted free agent next summer, but a deal is expected done long before then.
► David Perron: Perron is 34, but has shown no signs of slowing down, scoring 27 goals last season and continuing to play an agitating, gritty style. Perron should be a huge benefit on and off the ice.
► Michael Rasmussen: Rasmussen, 23, exploded with a career-best 15 goals last season and appears penciled to anchor what could be a promising fourth-line. It’s fair to wonder whether the 6-foot-6, 220-pound grinder has figured out what kind of productive, NHL player he can be.
► Lucas Raymond: Raymond and eventual Calder Trophy-winning teammate defenseman Moritz Seider sparked the Wings with tremendous debuts. Raymond (23 goals, 57 points) found instant chemistry with Bertuzzi and Larkin and there’s no reason to think Raymond’s output will slip given his instincts on the ice.
► Givani Smith: Smith, 24, is in the final year of his contract and his future in the organization is cloudy. It’s difficult to envision Smith being more than a healthy scratch, at this point, given the crowded lineup. Smith hasn’t been able to carve a regular role in the lineup.
► Elmer Soderblom: The 6-foot-6 Soderblom, 21, is likely going to need seasoning in Grand Rapids, but he’ll be a player to keep an eye on in training camp. Soderblom scored 27 goals between two teams last season in Sweden, and his improvement since being drafted has been eye-opening.
► Oskar Sundqvist: Sundqvist proved to be a useful, versatile piece for the Wings after being acquired in the Nick Leddy trade. Sundqvist could be more of the same this season, somewhere among the bottom-six forwards.
► Pius Suter: Could Suter thrive in a third-line center role, after being too inconsistent in a second-line spot last season? If Suter, 26, is more comfortable in his new home, it only strengthens and deepens the Wings that much more.
► Joe Veleno: The former first-round pick isn’t assured of a roster spot, and will have to impress in training camp to hold off the likes of Erne and Smith, among others, in the lineup. Veleno, 22, has shown flashes of being an NHL contributor, but there’s going to be a lot of competition within the organization in the near future.
► Jakub Vrana: Since being acquired from Washington in the Anthony Mantha trade, Vrana has scored 21 goals in 37 games with the Wings. Shoulder surgery limited Vrana to 26 games last season. What can Vrana do over a full season? The Wings are excited to find out.
► Filip Zadina: This is an important season for Zadina, 22, who has yet to become the offensive force projected to be when drafted in 2018. Can playing for a new head coach and understanding the organization’s patience with him is dwindling suddenly spark a Zadina turnaround? The Wings are hopeful.