Why Steve Yzerman believes Detroit Red Wings will be ‘a better hockey team’

Detroit Free Press

TRAVERSE CITY — The Detroit Red Wings are gathered for training camp for the fourth time under Steve Yzerman’s reign, with as much promise as they’ve had in ages.

A new hope permeates every aspect, from players brought in to strengthen every position to a new coach determined to implement better team defense. Yzerman isn’t one to get ahead of himself, but how can he not approach the start of the 2022-23 season in a good mood?

“We made several changes, we signed some free agents in the offseason with the idea that it would improve our team,” Yzerman said Wednesday. “We’re hopeful that all our young players continue to take a step forward. I believe we’ll be a better hockey team this year, I expect us to be.

“Having said that, with a lot of changes it can take some time for things to settle in, including a new coaching staff. It can some time for everybody to get familiar with one another, the coaches to really understand the players and how to best utilize them, get the most out of them. I’m cautiously optimistic. I expect us to be a better hockey team and I hope that translates to more wins.”

The Wings are in Traverse City through Monday, when they return home to begin an eight-game exhibition slate. The season opener is Oct. 14. Here are top topics as the Wings embark on camp:

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A new mindset

New head coach Derek Lalonde was hired in July, brought in from the Stanley Cup championship program Yzerman played such a big part in authoring with the Tampa Bay Lighting. Lalonde’s task is to improve the Wings’ team defense.

“I think we were 30th in goals-against in the league,” Yzerman said. “Our special teams were at the bottom of the league. We want to improve in all those areas, and that will translate to wins. Defensively, we have to cut our goals-against down, through better goaltending, through better defensive play.

“It’s not like we’re not going to try and score, we want to do that as well, but there is a certain responsibility for all players when they are on the ice, to have in the back of their mind regardless of where the puck is, to be on the right side of the puck, and sometimes the right side of the puck is defensively. All those things will be attributes that Derek and his staff have to really firmly implant in the players’ minds so when they’re out they’re playing, they have to think responsibly. That’s what good teams do.”

Trending in the right direction

Yzerman used free agency or trades to add forwards Andrew Copp, David Perron and Dominik Kubalik; defensemen Ben Chiarot and Olli Määttä, and goaltender Ville Husso. They join a lineup that took strides last season in large part because of the arrivals of Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond. Still, expecting the Wings to make the playoffs is a tough ask: The Lightning, Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs are frontrunners to claim the top three spots in the Atlantic Division, and the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators are at exciting stages in their rebuilds.

“Toronto, Tampa and Florida all have their nucleuses for the foreseeable future locked in and they’re pretty impressive nucleuses,” Yzerman said. “I think they’re going to be very good teams for the foreseeable future. Buffalo from where I sit, they’ve drafted extremely well and are moving their young players into the lineup. They are continuing to get better. Ottawa has an excellent group of young players and made some moves this summer to improve their team. They are a better hockey club. Montreal drafting so high, has so many draft picks coming in over the last year and this year. Our division is interesting. You’ve got the good teams at the top and the rebuilding teams starting to move their young players in. We’re in a tough division.”

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Top class of 2021

Defenseman Simon Edvinsson, the No. 6 pick in 2021, and goaltender Sebastian Cossa, No. 15, have expectations that match their 6-foot-6 frames. Edvinsson seems poised to be in the lineup opening night, having played last season in the Swedish Hockey League and helped Sweden win bronze at the World Juniors in August. The key will be that he is in the lineup — there’s no benefit to Edvinsson serving as a reserve in Detroit; if he doesn’t crack the top six, he’s better off in Grand Rapids.

“Simon is 19, one year from his draft. Moritz had the benefit of playing a year in the AHL and then going over during the pandemic and playing in Sweden, he got that extra year of development,” Yzerman said. “I think Simon has a good chance. I can’t sit here today and tell you he’s definitely going to be in the lineup on opening night, but we’re pleased with a lot of things we saw in prospects tournament. I do believe playing in the SHL is a very good league, very competitive. It’s a great stepping stone for the NHL. The world juniors is a tremendous tournament and a great preparation for camp. He’s a good athlete. We’ll see how he does.”

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Cossa was part of Canada’s gold-medal team at the World Juniors, but he wasn’t the team’s starter. He’ll get looks in exhibition season, and that will be crucial as management determines whether to send Cossa to GR, Toledo — or back to juniors.

“He needs to play games,” Yzerman said. “That’s most important. He just needs experience. We want him to be in a good environment and play a lot. I can’t tell you today where that is. We’re going to let that play out.”

Who is missing

Yzerman revealed Copp, expected to center the second line, won’t be available until the first week of the season because he has undergone abdominal surgery. Defenseman Jake Walman (shoulder surgery) is expected back in mid-November. Forward Robby Fabbri (knee surgery) and defenseman Mark Pysyk (Achilles surgery) are earmarked to return in mid-January.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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