With the 2022-23 season now underway for this revamped Red Wings group, hope spring eternal. But changes made this offseason look to have created more real potential than your typical early optimistic outlooks. Steve Yzerman has overhauled the roster, adding a lot of depth at every position, something that was sorely lacking for some time. Look no further than Pius Suter opening last season as the second line center to being a healthy scratch to begin this campaign.
But looking at the roster closer over the first few games, who could this year’s breakout candidates for the Red Wings be? Is there anybody that could follow up the sensational rookie campaigns by Seider and Raymond last year? Breaking down the candidates on this Red Wings group that could prove capable of surprising and reaching new heights.
First let’s preface the list by mentioning players who didn’t make the final list for a variety of reasons. Starting with the initial top line of Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin, and Lucas Raymond. Larkin has long since established himself, and while he could reach new highs, it’s hard to imagine a massive increase in production even with better depth behind him. Bertuzzi’s early season injury knocking him out until potentially December is going to limit his production in his contract year. Raymond is a victim of his own success in that just matching last year’s production and avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump would be considered a solid performance.
Andrew Copp and David Perron, while new to the squad, are well-established veterans, simply looking to carry over their level of play from their previous clubs. Something in the range of 50 points for Copp, and 20-30 goals for Perron will be quite welcomed in Detroit, but something both players have already accomplished.
Oskar Sundqvist is off to a hot start on the “Treesome” line. But it’s likely not something he can continue moving forward. He’s already 28 and his career high 14 goals and 31 points four seasons ago is likely a comfortable ceiling for him.
Adam Erne had his best season a couple of years ago and has seemingly settled into who he is at this point. A high energy bottom line type that isn’t going to ever post jaw-dropping numbers. That breakout season he had looks to be the anomaly not the rule. Pius Suter while a different mold in terms of type of player, might be in a similar situation as Erne. It looks like the experiment might already be over for him getting top six time. He is in only his third NHL season but he’s 26 and his career high 15 goals and 36 points last year may prove difficult to even match given his projected role.
Not to be forgotten among the forwards is the injured Robby Fabbri. While he’s been a solid performer in Detroit and was awarded a contract extension as a result, he’s already shown what he can do when healthy. He can be a 50 point player. But starting the season on LTIR is going to keep him from actually realizing that over an entire season. Also what his role will be on this revamped roster is unclear. He won’t be getting the same opportunities he did with a thin roster.
Detroit’s back end, while completely overhauled, doesn’t offer many options for breakout candidates. Moritz Seider burst onto the scene last season and assuming he can continue to improve, an ideal season will have him at least in the extended Norris conversation. But he’s made that the expectation now, it wouldn’t necessarily be a breakout season, that was last year for him.
Newcomers Ben Chiarot, Olli Määttä, Robert Hägg, and Mark Pysyk (LTIR) are all journeymen at this point in their careers and have enough experience under their belts to tell you exactly who they are. While they are a welcome change of scenery down the left side, none are expected to suddenly develop into an upper echelon defenseman. Although some may challenge that given Maatta’s production so far this season, but that likely can’t continue at anywhere close to his rate so far.
Carryovers Jordan Oesterle and Jake Walman are going to be among the rotating cast on the bottom pair and aren’t going to become top four defenseman. The same applies to Gustav Lindstrom, and although he’s still only 23, he’s another player that will be rotated in and out of the bottom pair as Lalonde sees fit. Lindstrom just doesn’t have the skillset to be more than a serviceable bottom pair player, which he’s already shown.
Potential AHL call-ups who are likely destined to just serve as short term fill-ins for injuries up front include: Givani Smith, Chase Pearson, Taro Hirose, and Pontus Andreasson. On the defensive end these players still have plenty of potential, but the depth chart in front of them leaves them to probably be breakout candidates in future seasons rather than this one. That includes: Donavan Sebrango, Eemil Viro, Albert Johansson, and Jared McIsaac.
Vrána feels like he almost belongs in the previous category of ineligibles. This season is his 6th in the NHL and his play has been fairly well-established, he is a legitimate goal scorer. What moved him to this category though was that in his injury-shortened time in Detroit so far, he’s shown the ability to potentially take his game to another level, scoring 21 goals in 37 games in red and white leading up to this season. If he proves that over a full season he can maintain that goal scoring rate, than a 40 goal campaign is certainly a breakout worthy season given his previous high was 25 goals. But it seems like he’ll end up more likely around 30 goals over a full season, which would still be a career high but not a major “breakout” season.
This week brought the added uncertainty that he has been placed indefinitely in the Player’s Assistance Program. We wish him and his family all the best in whatever he’s dealing with and hope to see him again soon, but not before he’s ready. While it is sad to see him enter the program, it is good that he was able to recognize he needed help and reached out for it.
Kubalik’s an interesting case as a breakout candidate. He already exploded into the NHL three years ago in Chicago with 30 goals. He then followed that up with diminishing totals the following two seasons before ending up in Detroit this summer. Kubalik has a lethal shot and has moved all over the lineup early in the season including a chance on the top line and powerplay unit. So it looks like the coaching staff think he has a skillset worthy of opportunity. The problem with calling Kubalik a breakout candidate is he is already 27 years old, and has that 30 goal season under his belt already. Even in a perfect case scenario he’s probably just coming close to that production again, albeit maybe doing a bit better in the assist category. It’s hard to see Kubalik scoring 30+ and approaching 60 points which is what it would take for him to reach a new level.
Hronek may have only made this list because it seemed odd to not include any defenseman from the opening night roster as even an outside candidate for a breakout season. But there is cause to include him on as a possibility. While his development has seemingly halted since he burst into the NHL in Detroit four seasons ago, he has still been able to consistently produce about half a point per game each year. The downfall with Hronek has been that he’s been labelled as a player who still hasn’t quite figured it out defensively, which obviously isn’t ideal for a defenseman in the roster’s top four. While this is his 5th season with Detroit, he is just 25 years old. Maybe some new chemistry with the overhauled defensive group can allow him to unlock that other side of his game and turn him into a better all-around defenseman. If he can do that, while maintaining his offensive production, it could be a leaping off point in his career moving forward.
Berggren showed well in the pre-season and was more a victim of the steep competition for spots rather than looking out of place on the ice. He opens the season with a chance to hone his game in North America in Grand Rapids. Given the aforementioned depth in front of him, that keeps him off the final breakout list as there doesn’t look to be an easy way to get an extended opportunity in Detroit, for now. What makes him still an outside shot as a breakout candidate is the injury bug. It has already snapped up Bertuzzi giving others who haven’t been mentioned yet an increased opportunity. If the Red Wings lose another body or two for extended periods, Berggren could be back with the club soon with a chance to establish himself. Berggren is loaded with potential and while next year might be more likely to be his proper debut, he could be called to action sooner. His talent makes him a matter of when rather than if a breakout season comes.
Alex Nedeljkovic/Ville Husso
These two have been considered together because their careers and opportunity are remarkably similar. Nedeljkovic has one season in Detroit in the books following his Calder level stint in Carolina. Husso comes over from St. Louis after taking control of the crease from Binnington before conceding it back to him in the playoffs. Both goaltenders have shown flashes of what they can be but haven’t established that they can do it consistently enough yet to be a bona fide number one goaltender. They are 26 and 27 respectively so it is certainly the time for them to demonstrate what they will be for the next 4-5 years of their careers. Essentially this comes down to one or the other proving they can be relied on to play to their capabilities on most nights. If one can prove to the coaching staff that they don’t need to keep rotating the two, or play the “hot hand” in net, it would qualify as a significant breakout season and set Detroit up in net until Cossa is potentially ready to make a push in a few seasons. Nedeljkovic may have an added bit of pressure as he is in the final year of his contract and will be playing for his next paycheck.
Joe Veleno rose above a few others to crack the roster to start the season, and while he was a scratch early, it looks like the door is open for him to hold down a lineup spot. While he is starting out as the fourth line pivot he is the type of player that can slot all over the lineup as needed. With a better supporting cast around him than last year there’s plenty of reason to believe Veleno could jump from 15 points to 30 points. But more importantly, a breakout season for him would see him not only double his production, but become a key penalty kill contributor using his speed to cause havoc for opposing players. The ceiling for Veleno is very much in the cast of a Darren Helm type. Whether he reaches that or not remains to be seen, but he certainly has all the makings of it.
The big fella has been a lightning rod for criticism to this point as the poster boy of the underwhelming Red Wings 2017 draft class. But late last season it was like a switch went off for Rasmussen. A move to the wing seemed to free him up to do what he was best at and he closed the season with decent enough production, totaling 15 goals and 27 points. But he gave a tease that there is more there. Through the preseason and first couple of games he looks ready to re-establish himself as a solid bottom six center. He’s been pivotal in the early success of the “Treesome” line and Rasmussen could be ready to show why he was drafted as high as he was 5 years ago. There is a lot of hesitation among fans to believe in him given what he’s been so far, but Rasmussen could be primed to reward the team for continuing to push his development. A 20 goal, 40 point season while being difficult to play against could quickly make him a very valuable 3rd line player.
If you think Rasmussen is a polarizing player to this fan base, Zadina is on another level. Some have already labelled him a bust, while others still hold out hope he can be an annual 30 goal winger. The reality is likely somewhere in between. He started the season as a scratch but with the sudden absences of a couple of key players, he has just as quickly been given an opportunity in the top six. Zadina has breakout candidate written all over him, unfortunately that’s been the case for several seasons now. He has developed a decent two-way ability for a player projected to be a bit of a one trick pony with his shot and scoring. But therein lies the problem, while the rest of his game has been better than advertised, his supposed strength of scoring and finishing has been woefully lacking so far in his career. Zadina is on a low-cost three year deal, so he’s been given some runway and a show of faith that he can take a leap in his production. Will this finally be the year for a breakthrough or has Zadina’s already shown who he is at this point?
The big Swedish boy was the surprise off the preseason proving worthy of holding down a roster spot to open the season. Just weeks prior he was dubbed as a near guarantee for Grand Rapids for some seasoning as he gets acclimated to the North American game. He is the likely favorite on this list for a breakout campaign because he’s already surpassed expectations. Through the first few games he has fit in nicely with his beefcake line and has shown the combination of size and skill that are so rare to find. His reach gives him a very noticeable advantage with and without the puck. He’s able to poke pucks away from opposing players but essentially catching them off-guard as there aren’t many players who can make a play like he can without closing the gap between himself and the player he is defending. Although his line will be tasked with some defensive assignments a lot of the time they’ve shown they can be a capable offensive unit as well already. It also doesn’t hurt Soderblom’s case that he is getting playing time with the powerplay as the net front player. Given everything trending in his favor and how quickly he’s exceeded expectations, he is the clear frontrunner at this time.
Last season’s high draft selection showed some of his tantalizing skill in preseason, but also that the speed of the NHL game was something he would need time to adjust to. The end result was being sent down to Grand Rapids to open the year, which wasn’t unexpected, but Wings fans held hope he might sneak onto the opening roster. He has at least done his part looking very strong in the AHL already, along with great production so far. He could be coming back up to the big club much sooner than thought if he keeps tracking this way, which is what puts him on this list. The Wings haven’t dealt with the injury bug yet on the back end, aside from those who are out for a little while to open the year. If one or two guys go down it might well be Edvinsson getting the first callup to try and take hold of a spot and never let go. He has such incredible potential, that you have to think once given the opportunity and enough rope to work through some early mistakes, he could become a key part and contributor from the back end for Detroit. So even though he’s the only player among the list of finalists to start the year in Grand Rapids, he’s probably among the favorites to be the Wing’s breakout player this season.