Detroit — There was no automatic belief that Adam Erne was going to be a regular in the Red Wings lineup heading into this season.
On paper, there were a lot more forwards than roster spots. Though Erne appeared likely of getting a spot on the roster, it might have been as an extra forward, getting into the lineup sparingly.
But there was Erne on Saturday, all the way on the Wings’ top line with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond. And maybe that wasn’t a shock, either.
Given Erne’s doggedness on the ice, his team-first attitude and ability to play on any line, he has more than found a spot in the lineup.
“He had a real good camp and he played great early on, physical throughout,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “Sometimes with the way we are with our lineup, with Ras (Michael Rasmussen) and Sunny (Oskar Sundqvist) out, we don’t have many heavy bodies.
“He gives us a heavy game.”
Lalonde was an assistant coach in Tampa Bay when Erne (6-foot-1, 212 pounds) was beginning his career. Even then, Lalonde saw the benefit of having a versatile player like Erne, whose size is an added bonus.
“He’s good enough to play up in your lineup and, for us, he’s one of our few heavy players,” Lalonde said. “He’s been complementing our bottom six (forwards) and he’s had times where he has complemented our top guys. At times when he goes and complements the top guys, he changes his game a little bit and tries to turn a little more into a skill game. (Saturday) he didn’t do that.
“I really liked that line (the Larkin line). Analytically they’re going to come out with real high numbers in every situation and he’s a big part of it.”
Erne has five points (two goals, three assists) in eight games, and he made a nifty pass to set up Lucas Raymond’s first goal in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Minnesota.
“Lucas can attest to it as well, it’s real nice to play with him (Erne) when he’s forechecking and moving his feet,” Larkin said. “There were a couple of times in the first (period) when he flew by to get the puck on the forecheck. It’s great when he’s hungry for it. You can see the play on Lucas’ first goal, and it’s rewarding for him to feel that.”
Erne’s team-first approach has been evident from the time general manager Steve Yzerman acquired Erne from Tampa in the summer of 2019, but Lalonde saw another example Thursday in Boston.
“It’s a little thing but we take a penalty at the end of the Boston game and it’s only 30 seconds left and we had to have someone serve it,” Lalonde said. “He (Erne) jumped off our bench and went and served it, and that’s a team ahead of self (type of) thing there.
“It’s a little thing, but it made it that much easier to put him on that top line.”
Depth comes through
The Wings were without Tyler Bertuzzi (upper body), Jakub Vrana (NHL/NHLPA assistance program), Robby Fabbri (knee surgery), Rasmussen (suspension) and Sundqvist (upper body) on Saturday, and Lalonde replaced Gustav Lindstrom with Jordan Oesterle (season debut) on the third-pair defense.
There were a lot of new bodies, but the depth and determination came through for the Wings.
“A team win,” Lalonde said. “Everyone was chipping in. This is a real hard league to win in, let alone without having five of our top seven or eight (top) minute guys. I don’t care who you are, it’s going to be a real tough challenge. I don’t know how sustainable it is as a team to have those guys out, but it took everyone. Everyone gave a little bit extra in their game to give ourselves a chance and that’s what happened.”
Players like Oesterle and forwards Givani Smith (recalled from Grand Rapids earlier in the day) and Matt Luff stepped into the lineup and contributed meaningful minutes.
Lalonde said Lindstrom has played well and there was no real reason to take him out, but Oesterle “gave us a little spark.”
“He had some defensive stops, managed the puck well and he’s big part of our team. It was important for us to get him in (the lineup),” Lalonde said.
As for Smith, Lalonde said: “He was excellent. He gave us some forecheck, gave us good minutes. I was real happy with all four lines. Our depth is why we won. Everyone did a good job no matter who they were up against.”
Luff left in the third period when a puck rolled up his stick and caught him flush in the face.
“He should be fine,” Lalonde said. “He has a lip the size of a watermelon right now, but he’s fine.”
Lalonde steered away from his alternating goaltenders Saturday by playing Ville Husso for a second consecutive game.
The move paid off as Husso made 30 saves in the victory, settling into a groove after allowing an early goal to Wild star Kirill Kaprizov off a two-on-one rush.
“He was excellent,” Lalonde said. “We put him in a bad situation to give up an odd-man (rush) early, especially to the type of players we did. They’re picking corners, there’s deception in their play, and play east-west. They’re hard on goalies.
“Ville played exceptionally well.”
Red Wings at Sabres
▶ Faceoff: 7 p.m. Monday, KeyBank Center, Buffalo
▶ TV/radio: BSD-extra/97.1
▶ Outlook: The Sabres (5-3-0) are coming off a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime victory Saturday against Chicago, which ended a two-game losing streak. … This will be the first game between the Sabres and Red Wings this season. … Rasmus Dahlin has played elite hockey in the first month, with 10 points (five goals, five assists) in eight games. LW Victor Olofsson and RW Alex Tuch each have six goals.