Detroit Red Wings out to prove Steve Yzerman improved the team

Detroit Free Press

Dylan Larkin has heard it from Detroit Red Wings fans for months: This looks like it will be a fun season.

General manager Steve Yzerman executed quite the offseason makeover, bringing in new players at every position, and a new head coach. With that has come a sense of optimism, and eagerness for the season opener against the Montreal Canadiens.

“We’ve been waiting for this,” Larkin said. “It’s been a long summer. There’s been a lot of excitement around town, in talking to fans. Usually they say something along the lines that they love the moves Steve has made, which is good.

“They should be excited. I’m excited. It means something that we went out and acquired so many players. We have talent, but we have to go out and prove it. Finally, the day has come to do it.”

GOOD VIBES:Red Wings ready to emerge from rebuild with confidence and fresh look

OPENING NIGHT: Red Wings lineup vs. Montreal Canadiens: Elmer Söderblom in, Filip Zadina out

The Wings won’t be judged on whether they advance to the playoffs — given how competitive their division is, the postseason is unlikely. They will be judged, rather, on how competitively they play, especially late in the season when games grow more intense.

“I hope we’re in the fight all the way, and we’re not at the trade deadline and looking to send guys out,” Larkin said. “Maybe even looking to add players, you never know what can happen.”

The Wings have had four weeks to get used to the style new head coach Derek Lalonde wants them to play — being on top, reducing risky plays with the puck and managing the game efficiently. Lalonde, who takes over the job held by Jeff Blashill for seven years, has brought with him an aura of winning from his four years as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Practices this week have been hard and focused, leaving players anticipating opening night.

“It’s a work in progress, but feeling the energy in the locker room, everyone is really comfortable around each other,” defenseman Moritz Seider said. “We don’t have any egos. Everyone is putting a team-first mentality to the table, and that’s what we are all looking for.”

Seider has a new defense partner in free-agent signee Ben Chiarot, one of a handful of players added over the summer by Yzerman. The other veteran newcomers include defenseman Olli Määttä, forwards Andrew Copp, David Perron and Dominik Kubalik, and goaltender Ville Husso. 

Seider and Lucas Raymond were key to last year’s improvement, and this year the Wings will start the season with another recent draft pick, 2019 sixth-rounder Elmer Söderblom. Defenseman Simon Edvinsson, the team’s top pick in 2021 (and No. 6 overall), will begin his North American career in the minors, just as Seider did, but Edvinsson showed during exhibition season that with a bit more development, he has the goods to help the rebuild.

“It’s been some hard days to acquire those draft picks, and I’ve been around for it, but to see those guys come into the lineup and come into camp, there are guys that impressed,” Larkin said. “It’s certainly nice to see.”

Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, who both scored 30 goals last season, have had to carry the team offensively the past few years because attempts at forging a second line have faltered. Raymond added 23 goals last season as a rookie. Now there’s also a healthy Jakub Vrana, who is slated to play with Copp and Perron. Söderblom, who is 6 feet 8, looks like he can help be a factor on power plays.

Opening night, especially when it is at home, tends to be emotional. Whatever happens Friday, good or bad, the Wings will have to prove themselves all over again Saturday, against the Devils in New Jersey. Their depth will be needed right away, with Alex Nedeljkovic likely starting the opener and Husso going the next night.

Contact Helene St. James at 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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