Red Wings’ Fringe Players Must Seize Opportunity with Bertuzzi Injury

The Hockey Writers

In the game of hockey, opportunities are rarely given to individual players. Most of the time, they are earned through strong play in game situations as well as hard work during practice. However, sometimes opportunities arise through unfortunate means, with the most common example being injuries. Every team experiences injuries throughout an NHL season, and every team’s ability to overcome those injuries is usually determined by whether or not a team has players that are capable of stepping up.

Though it is early on in their 2022-23 season, the Detroit Red Wings have already reached a crucial point in their season. It was revealed that winger Tyler Bertuzzi will be out four-to-six weeks with an “upper-body” injury after blocking a shot with his hand in Detroit’s second game of the season. As a key fixture of the Red Wings’ top line alongside Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond, Bertuzzi’s absence is not insignificant.

Tyler Bertuzzi Detroit Red Wings
Tyler Bertuzzi, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But with that misfortune comes opportunity for others. The Red Wings entered this season with more NHL-caliber forwards than they had roster spots for, leaving Filip Zadina, Pius Suter and Joe Veleno on the sidelines through one or both of their first two games. While Bertuzzi offers a unique skillset that few on the roster can duplicate, this is the opportunity some of the Red Wings’ fringe forwards have been waiting for.

This is their opportunity to show that they belong on the roster on a nightly basis.

Zadina, Suter, Veleno Healthy Scratched in Key Season

Every player across the NHL has something to prove. However, some have more to prove than others, and that certainly applies to the three forwards that have been in and out of the Red Wings’ lineup to start the season.

Suter is in a contract year and has gone from being Detroit’s second line center last season to spending his time on the team’s fourth line or out of the lineup completely.

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Veleno will be a restricted free agent after this season and still has yet to prove that he not only can be an everyday NHLer, but an effective one at that.

And Zadina, well, you know the story.

That all three of them have spent time outside of the lineup to start this season is both a testament to the forward depth the Red Wings entered this season with, as well as the uncertainty of where they fit in Detroit’s lineup. The Red Wings won both of their first two games of the season (Suter played in one game, Veleno played in the other; Zadina didn’t play in either) so it’s hard to suggest that the team really felt their absences.

Now that Bertuzzi is out for a significant amount of time, head coach Derek Lalonde and his staff have no choice but to give those three guys more looks than they have received to start the season. Heading into their game against the Los Angeles Kings, Dominik Kubalik got the first look on the top line with Larkin and Raymond, but all three of Zadina, Veleno and Suter found themselves in the lineup as well. (It is important to note that another spot was opened up by the absence of Jakub Vrana, who was unavailable due to personal reasons.)

While none of those three players managed to get on the scoresheet in the contest against LA, there will be plenty of opportunities over the next month to add some points to their career totals.

Players Must Force Yzerman’s Hand

As my colleague Tony Wolak noted, the Red Wings seem like they will have to make a move in the trade market sooner rather than later. As has already been mentioned, they have too many NHL-caliber forwards, and that’s without accounting for players like Jonatan Berggren and Givani Smith that are biding their time in the American Hockey League until they receive the call to head to Detroit.

Related: Red Wings Due for a Trade

There is no such thing as having too much depth. In years prior, Bertuzzi suffering this injury (combined with Vrana’s absence) would have been a death blow to the Red Wings’ chances of icing a competitive roster. That is not the case this season as being able to insert a player like Zadina into the lineup is a nice luxury to have, and the Red Wings should still be a competitive hockey team so long as the injury list doesn’t extend too much further. However, there’s no question that the onus is now on Zadina and his fringe-of-the-lineup counterparts to give Lalonde something to think about once Bertuzzi returns to the lineup.

Most of general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman’s offseason moves were made with the intention of adding to Detroit’s depth, so you have to figure that he’s in no rush to subtract from it. But if players show that they belong higher on the depth chart, the Red Wings’ GM will be happy to accommodate them by selling off an extra body in exchange for future assets that will fuel Detroit’s ongoing rebuild.

Red Wings’ Roster Reaches a Turning Point

When Zadina and Suter were left off the Red Wings’ opening night lineup, social media was ablaze with reactions that ranged from excitement about the team’s depth, to questioning the Red Wings’ decision to draft Zadina sixth overall back in the 2018 draft. While social media has never been known for producing level-headed takes, there is something to be said for how important this opportunity is for some of the Red Wings’ forwards:

Whether he’s part of Detroit’s future or not, Suter needs to play in order to prove his value to the Red Wings as well as any other team in the NHL.

Veleno is still early on in his NHL journey, but with the Red Wings’ center depth looking the best it has since Yzerman took over as GM, the time is now for him to prove that he’s more than just a good foil to Moritz Seider on the “MoJoe Show“.

Zadina signed a three-year pact with the Red Wings during the offseason, and you have to think that the plan wasn’t to have him be an extra forward for the duration of the deal. There’s a top-six spot with his name on it right now, and it’s up to him to grab hold of it and never let it go.

Filip Zadina Detroit Red Wings
Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

How the next few weeks unfold could and likely will go a long way towards determining what the Red Wings’ roster looks like once Robby Fabbri returns from injury in the new year. Moves are undoubtedly coming, but the magnitude of those moves will be decided by whether or not fringe players like Zadina, Veleno and Suter can make a name for themselves this season.

The loss of Bertuzzi hurts no matter how you spin it. But if the Red Wings are going to have success in his absence, they need their depth players to step up and prove that they can make an impact when given the opportunity.

Otherwise, there may not be another opportunity – at least in Detroit.

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