New Detroit Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde made it official after four straight practices: Elmer Söderblom will make his debut Friday when the Wings open their season against the Montreal Canadiens – and Filip Zadina and Pius Suter will be watching.
“It was a tough decision,” Lalonde said Thursday. “Went back and forth. We expect both those guys to see some time sooner than later, and keep that competition going.”
The decision recognizes how well Söderblom, 21, played during preseason, when he used his 6-foot-8 body to protect the puck, screen goalies, and score goals. He is slated to debut on a line with 6-6 Michael Rasmussen and 6-3 Oskar Sundqvist. Sundqvist joked he “is the smallest guy on the line.”
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The other lines have Dylan Larkin with Tyler Bertuzzi and Lucas Raymond; Andrew Copp with Jakub Vrana and David Perron; and Joe Veleno with Adam Erne and Dominik Kubalik.
With Lalonde replacing Jeff Blashill behind the bench, some thought that would be a fresh start for Zadina, 22, drafted No. 6 in 2018 by former general manager Ken Holland. GM Steve Yzerman signed Zadina for three years, $5.475 million in the offseason.
“There are some things in his game,” Lalonde said. “He has to manage his game a little more. He’s an offensive guy that judges himself on offense. Obviously we’d love him producing offense. But just managing his game. There’s some risk, some turnovers in his game. All skilled players are going to have those turnovers, but I think just limiting them. Suter would be in that same boat.
“Those were really tough decisions. A lot of went into it. That’s where we are going to be on Friday – I see it changing a little, especially early on in the season.”
Lalonde emphasized Zadina and Suter, “got beaten out of Friday night.” The Wings play again Saturday, at the New Jersey Devils.
Lalonde said Zadina took the message well.
“He basically repeated the three, four things I had asked of him,” Lalonde said. “He has handled it well. He’s been a good teammate. I know it’s a little thing, but on Monday, he wasn’t in our top 12, and he ate some pucks in practice. That’s him telling the coaching staff and telling his teammates, that I’ll be a good teammate, and I’ll watch Game 1, but I am not going to accept it. That’s what you want from competitors.”
Söderblom impressed with his competitiveness during preseason, and when he found out Monday he had made the 23-man roster, he told his parents, who arrived in Detroit on Wednesday from their native Sweden.
The Wings drafted Söderblom at No. 159 in 2019.
“It’s a long journey,” he said. “I’ve been improving my game for the last three years, so I feel ready. It’s going to be fun. NHL has always been a dream, so ever since I got draft, I’ve worked to get here. I’m really honored and excited to be in the lineup.”
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