Folks, we’re on the cusp of the most-hopeful Red Wings season since… well take your pick. I’m a hopeful sucker, so I was probably last this hopeful before game 1 of the Frans Nielsen era.
… let’s not dwell on that. It was a different hope anyway. This year it’s a good thing because it’s not burdened with overly high expectations: Grow a team identity. That’s it. That’s what I want.
Anyway, we’ve been excitedly checking in ever since we learned Elmer Söderblom and Joe Veleno made Detroit’s opening-day 23-man roster trying to figure out what the lines would be for Friday’s opener against Montreal (who notched a stunning last-minute win in their opener against Toronto on Wednesday night)
After the last two days’ worth of practices running with the same lines and wondering how injury questions might play in, we have our first real expectation:
So there we have it: Elmer Söderblom will be making his NHL debut in the Red Wings’ home opener and his parents should be in attendance (hopefully not sitting in front of short people).
So nobody is raising any reactions about that top six or top four because that’s what we’ve been expecting to see since July. Jordan Oesterle as the 7th defenseman (with Walman still injured) also doesn’t surprise anybody, as that’s going to be his role until it makes sense to have Robert Hägg or Mark Pysyk there. Detroit needs an NHL-cabable 7th guy who can occasionally come into the lineup when Lalonde wants to play 11/7 but who isn’t rotting on the vine sitting in the ready spot.
Questions about Andrew Copp’s readiness are all pending answer starting tomorrow night and whether or not Oskar Sundqvist would be healthy enough to play have their answer here as well.
That Veleno and Söderblom are in the lineup should also go in the obvious category because one of the most-consistent things that both Steve Yzerman and Derek Lalonde have said in regards to the waiver-exempt kids is that they should be earning useful mintues on the team rather than educational scratches. Veleno has been practicing as what is essentially a PK3 role while Elmer has been the net-front guy on PP2.
Why aren’t high-pick-Filip-Zadina and reclamation-sometimes-last-year’s-2C Pius Suter in this lineup?
Let’s start with the biggest unknown and easiest excuse: Are they healthy? No idea! Nobody is reporting anything about those two looking pained or being in non-contact jerseys so I think if there is any speculation about an injury slowing them down, it’s likely of a more “nagging” variety thing and not a prime problem.
The most-obvious answer is because that’s where Derek Lalonde is right now with each of them: that there’s a guy doing the job Lalonde wants each of them to do in the lineup instead. For Zadina, that likely includes Dominik Kubalik and Elmer Söderblom. For Suter, that’s Michael Rasmussen, Joe Veleno, and Adam Erne.
When asked about Zadina after Wednesday’s practice, Lalonde had this to share:
“There literally could’ve been five or six guys that were in that 13 or 14 spot for practice today. Most guys, and I think he kind of reflects everyone, most guys had good camps but there was holes in guys’ camps. That’ll be a message for five or six of our guys throughout this week.”
The Bottom Line
That there’s healthy competition at the bottom half of the forward lineup and that I’m worried about a guy I think should be in the bottom six this year feels a lot better than my worry last year about a guy I thought should be in the bottom six lining up on the team’s 2nd line.
Zadina was discussed as a guy who needed a “fresh start” in Derek Lalonde’s early pressers and this is what that is. I personally liked how Zadina played during his heavy preseason uses, but there’s nothing in those games he played that reached out and stole a spot. He’s going to get chances to bring his skills sooner or later.
For Suter, I don’t have nearly as much emotional capital invested in him. I like his engine. I think he tries hard and skates hard and that he’s got good hands for disrupting other teams, but he’s like a less warm-and-fuzzy Darren Helm for me. He’ll get chances and I’ll cheer like hell when he does well, but I don’t see a future with a lot of #24 Suter jerseys in the crowd.
With Detroit’s 2nd game of the season coming on the night after their first, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both of these players on the road in New Jersey.
Either way, I just want to see some Red Wings hockey.