Ten things to watch as the Red Wings head into training camp

Detroit News

Detroit — For the first time in a long time, there’s a different sort of feeling surrounding the Red Wings.

With the team hitting the ice Thursday for their first practice of training camp — there will be a charity golf tournament and physicals Wednesday — general manager Steve Yzerman’s busy work in free agency has given the Wings, and their fans, hope.

The Wings have missed the playoffs for the last six seasons, and that, along with subpar defensive work last season, led to Yzerman not bringing back coach Jeff Blashill.

Yzerman named Derek Lalonde the new head coach on June 30, then went about remaking the roster, through trades and free agency.

Players such as forwards Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana and defenseman Filip Hronek have been core pieces in the rebuild. Add to that the fantastic rookie seasons from defenseman Moritz Seider (NHL’s rookie of the year) and forward Lucas Raymond, and the depth of talent was widened.

Adding forwards David Perron, Andrew Copp and Dominik Kubalik, defensemen Olli Maatta, Ben Chiarot, Robert Hagg and Mark Pysyk and goaltender Ville Husso deepened and improved the depth of the organization.

“I think we’ve improved the team,” Yzerman said after free agency. “But we have to go on the ice in September and then play in October. We’ve addressed some needs and I’m hoping we’re a better team.”

Yzerman is expected to address the media Wednesday in a pre-training camp address.

Here are 10 key issues facing the Wings as they begin camp and the exhibition season:

► Chemistry: A new head coach and new assistant coaches would be an adjustment in itself. But how quickly will the players adapt to the new schemes, new voices, just a new way of doing things? Then, add all the new arrivals and maybe some rookies surprisingly working into the lineup, and you have a big issue of blending all these players into a team. Lalonde, too, has never been a head coach in the NHL. There will be a lot of people getting familiar with one another.

Team defense: One of the biggest tasks confronting Lalonde is improving a team defense that got progressively worse as the season wore on, and ranked 31st out of 32 teams. Players like Copp, Perron and Chiarot and Maatta, specifically, are noted for their defensive work and should improve the lineup that way. Betting goaltending will also keep more pucks out of the net. But expect the defensive end of the rink to be a main area to be worked upon.

Joe Veleno: The 2018 first-round pick (30th overall) played 66 games last season but still didn’t put his stamp on a regular spot in the lineup. With the influx of new faces among the forwards, and the fact Veleno can be sent down to Grand Rapids without waiver ramifications, Veleno has to have an impressive camp/exhibition season and earn a spot on the roster.

► Filip Zadina: Interestingly, it’s the other 2018 first-round pick (sixth overall), Zadina, who will also be closely watched in the exhibition season. Zadina has been a disappointment from an offensive standpoint, and he appeared to take a step back last season in his development. A large segment of social media expects a Zadina turnaround with Lalonde and a new coaching staff aboard. It’s a possibility. If not, Zadina could become a trade piece.

 Contracts: It’s doubtful we’ll get a ton of clarity on the subject, but it’ll be interesting to see if there’s been any headway into contract extensions with Larkin and Bertuzzi. Both can be unrestricted free agents next summer, though it’s doubtful Larkin comes close to reaching that stage. But with Bertuzzi, there is a slight bit of uncertainty as to whether he’s a part of the nucleus going forward, or whether it would be beneficial to trade him, at age 27, and with his value possibly at his highest in terms of a trade.

► Rookies: The depth chart appears crowded, but young players such as defensemen Simon Edvinsson and Albert Johansson, goaltender Sebastian Cossa and forwards Elmer Soderblom and Cross Hanas impressed during the recent prospects tournament. Also, forward Jonathan Berggren impressed a season ago in Grand Rapids. Only Edvinsson and Berggren would likely be considered close to being NHL-ready, and odds are beginning to look slim they’ll be able to weave into the lineup. But it’ll be interesting to see how the other young players look like against the veterans

 Logjam on defense: You can assume Seider, Chiarot, Maatta and Hronek are the top four, and Hagg is likely to make the final roster. Edvinsson may or may not make the roster. If Edvindsson does, and the Wings decide to keep 14 forwards, that means one of either Jordan Oesterle or Gustav Lindstrom may not be there opening night. And then you have injured defensemen like Pysyk and Jake Walman waiting in the wings at some point. There are a lot of defensemen who will be looking to carve out spots in the lineup.

 Logjam among forwards: Along with Veleno, specifically forwards Adam Erne and Givani Smith are two players who suddenly have some uncertainty surrounding them. If eight defensemen are kept, or maybe Veleno has a really good exhibition season and solidifies his roster spot, there may not be room on the final roster for both Smith and Erne. Smith, in particular, is an interesting case because he’s young and has shown flashes of playing a rugged and skilled game. But Smith simply hasn’t been nearly consistent enough.

 Goaltending: On any hockey team, on any level, goaltending is always a vital position and this Red Wings team is no different. Husso and Alex Nedeljkovic are two goalies with excellent potential, but both are in the infancy of their careers and both have yet to establish proven NHL track records. Nedeljkovic and Husso (while in St. Louis) both had excellent stretches last season, but both slipped toward the end of the season. Both will be looking to establish themselves.

► Injuries: Forward Robby Fabbri (knee) and defensemen Walman (shoulder surgery) and Pysyk (torn Achilles tendon) will not be ready to begin the season. Pysyk is expected to be out until December at the earliest, while the timelines for Fabbri and Walman are unknown. There’s likely to be a clearer picture, or updates, on all three players in camp. Fabbri, in particular, with his offensive ability, is a key for the Wings.

Red Wings training camp

When: Practices Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday. There will be an intra-squad, Red & White scrimmage Sunday at noon.

Times, tickets: Daily practice times and ticket information is updated on www.centreice.org.

Where: Traverse City’s Centre Ice Arena.

First exhibition: Sept. 27 in Pittsburgh (home, Sept. 28 vs. Chicago).

First regular-season game: Oct. 14 vs. Montreal, at Little Caesars Arena.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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