In a lot of ways, every player on every team has something to prove. But some, for one reason or another, have more to prove than others. Maybe they’re coming off of a down season. Maybe they haven’t announced themselves as an NHL player. Whatever reason it is, there’s always always a player or two (or three or four) on the team that find themselves at a bit of a crossroads in their career.
For the Detroit Red Wings, every player has something to prove, not just to their general manager and new head coach, but to the rest of the NHL. Naturally, there are a few players that enter the 2022-23 season feeling just a bit more pressure than the rest of their teammates. These players are entering “make it or break it” seasons, and their future with the Red Wings will likely be decided based on how they perform this season.
(D) Jared McIsaac
It almost feels unfair to include Jared McIsaac on this list. The 2021-22 season was the first season he was able to play more than 30 games since the 2018-19 campaign – the first season after the Red Wings drafted him with the 36th pick in the 2018 draft. Since then he has struggled to remain healthy, suffering three separate shoulder injuries over a two-year span. Meanwhile, the Red Wings have stocked their cupboards with many defensive prospects; in our latest rankings of the Red Wings’ prospect pool, five defensemen placed ahead of him.
The 2022-23 season marks the final season that McIsaac is exempt from waivers. After this season, the Red Wings will risk losing him for nothing on waivers should they send him back to the American Hockey League (AHL). Still just 22 years old, he had himself a solid season in the AHL in 2021-22, recording 24 points in 70 games. He showed that he could be a contributing member of the blue line in what was technically his rookie season as a professional hockey player. Now the next step for him is to assert himself as one of the best defenders for the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings’ AHL-affiliate, and then earn a call-up to Detroit at some point in the season.
With the likes of Albert Johansson and Eemil Viro joining the Griffins this season, the pressure is on for McIsaac to stand out. This is an unfortunate situation for a prospect who has handled his rotten injury luck with poise beyond his years. While it must be frustrating, all he can do is control what he can control, and then go out and have another healthy, productive season. Stagnation is not an option.
(D) Gustav Lindstrom
Despite playing 63 games for the Red Wings during the 2021-22 season, Lindstrom has yet to truly establish himself as an everyday NHLer. It’s a shame, too, because he looked really good during the first half of last season.
Lindstrom is a no-frills, defensive-defenseman whose game, when he’s at his best, can best be described by that old cliché about how a good defenseman is one that you don’t notice. In his 92 NHL games, he has just 17 points while averaging just 16:11 in ice-time. He doesn’t have to be a stand-out like Moritz Seider; he just has to be a net-positive on defense. Heck, considering how bad the Red Wings’ defensive play was last season, a net-neutral effort from Lindstrom would be welcome.
Lindstrom has value as a right-handed defensemen. The ideal blue line features three left-handed defenders alongside three that are right-handed. If Lindstrom can prove himself this season, he may very well play on the Red Wings’ bottom defensive pairing for the foreseeable future. If not, his spot in the lineup would be relatively easy to find a replacement for – after all, Detroit signed Mark Pysyk to provide competition for Lindstrom’s spot. Unfortunately, Pysyk underwent surgery on his Achilles tendon last month, so the 23-year-old Lindstrom should have a clear shot at “making it” this season.
(RW) Filip Zadina
When it comes to this topic, this is probably the low-hanging fruit of the group. The Red Wings’ top pick in the 2018 draft has proved that he is an NHL talent; now Filip Zadina needs to show the consistency needed to hold down a spot in Detroit’s top six.
As all the chatter that surrounded Zadina continued on last season, the 22-year-old winger certainly suffered from some rotten puck-luck, but there were plenty of instances where the problem was self-inflicted. The 2022-23 season is probably the his last to show that he can be that winger that put up 15 points in 28 games before suffering an injury during the 2019-20 season. After all, with 61 points through 160 games, he has certainly flashed the offensive potential that made him such a high draft pick in the first place. It’s now just a matter of whether or not he can do more than flash it.
Most media outlets project that Zadina will start on the Red Wings’ third line alongside Pius Suter and newcomer Dominik Kubalik. Even if that is the line/situation Zadina starts in, there should be ample opportunity for him to climb back up the depth chart so long as he rights the ship and starts producing at a consistent pace. If the Red Wings are going to take a leap forward in their rebuild this season, they need players like him to address the questions that still linger. If he cannot deliver and finds himself spinning his tires again this season, chances are high that his next opportunity to realize his potential will come in another city.
What do you think? Are there any players entering make it or break it seasons that weren’t discussed here? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.