Next big test for Detroit Red Wings’ Simon Edvinsson: Have a huge exhibition season

Detroit Free Press

TRAVERSE CITY — In a matter of days, the Detroit Red Wings will get their first look at how Simon Edvinsson handles himself against NHL opponents.

Exhibition games don’t count in the standings but they do count as a valuable evaluation tool. The Wings have eight on the slate, most immediately Tuesday at Pittsburgh and Wednesday at Little Caesars Arena vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. Coach Derek Lalonde said Saturday that Edvinsson could play in more than half of those. The Wings are in Traverse City through Monday; the daily practices will be broken up Sunday with the Red-White scrimmage.

“We plan on playing him a lot,” coach Derek Lalonde said Sunday. “We want to give him a ton of looks. The biggest thing for him is hard practice reps, and he’s had those. He’s handled it well. He’s been exposed a couple times, which is understanding of a young D-man, but this long exhibition schedule, along with camp, will give us plenty of opportunity to give him some good, hard reps.”

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General manager Steve Yzerman, who selected Edvinsson at No. 6 overall in 2021, has tempered expectations with facts: Edvinsson is 19, a year younger than 2019 No. 6 pick Moritz Seider was when he made his debut last season, and Seider had played a season in the AHL and spent the 2020-21 pandemic season in the Swedish Hockey League. Lucas Raymond, the No. 4 pick in 2020, stepped straight from the SHL to the NHL, but the forward position is not as demanding as playing defense.

“The beauty is, if Simon’s playing with us on opening night, we’d be very excited,” Lalonde said. “I think we’d also be very content if he’s not playing with us, and is in Grand Rapids on opening night. We’ll communicate that with him.”

Edvinsson’s assets include his 6-foot-6, 209-pound frame, his skating and his skill set. He posted 19 points in 44 games with Frölunda last season, and helped Sweden win bronze at the pandemic-postponed World Junior championship in August. Having played in the SHL will help Edvinsson in adapting to the physical test of facing NHL opponents.

“They are not going to think that you are a young guy and we don’t go as hard on him as veterans,” Edvinsson said. “I need to be harder than the veterans, I think. That’s one thing Seider has built really well and he’s really good at. I think he’s playing a kind of hard game that I want to develop. A lot of things that he does, I try to do as well.”

In addition to Seider, Edvinsson has leaned on Gustav Lindstrom, who has been his defense partner at camp, and on veteran Ben Chiarot, a newcomer to the Wings with nearly 500 NHL games to his credit. Lalonde described Chiarot as “an everyday guy who comes out to practice hard,” and Edvinsson already has picked up on the benefits of having such a role model as a teammate.

“One guy that I talk a lot with right now, Ben Chiarot has helped me with some stuff, and Olli Määttä has helped me on the ice,” Edvinsson said. “Dylan Larkin, too.

“The guys are on me, Larkin especially, to be harder, to win my one-on-ones, because I have a pretty big body, pretty long reach. To be more aggressive is what I need to be better at. If I work on that, feel comfortable about that, I am going to build my confidence from that. I want to earn my spot, I don’t want to have it given because of hype. I want to really feel that I can play my game in that league and against these players. That’s what I try to develop every day here.”

Yzerman has advised Edvinsson to just play his game and enjoy the experience of continuing his development stateside. Another supporting voice is that of Raymond, a fellow Swede who went through everything Edvinsson is going through last September.

“I remember how tough it was for me coming over here, everything is new, it’s a lot of new coaching, it’s new players,” Raymond said. “So I’m just trying to be a helping hand and help him out as much as possible.”

It hasn’t been all hockey for Edvinsson this past week; the Wings are done by early afternoon, and he took advantage one day to go fishing. He didn’t catch anything, but he made up for that when he and several of his countrymen went on another excursion.

“We played some mini golf and I won so that was the best thing,” Edvinsson said. “We were a lot of Swedish guys. So I would say that I am the best mini golf player here.

“There’s a lot of different things here in America. I start to feel like I have a home here. I start to dream in English, so that’s weird. But it’s starting to feel like home.”

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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