Coming off of a stinging 8-3 defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres, attention has been drawn to the Detroit Red Wings’ defense.
The Red Wings have given up the ninth-most goals in the NHL (32), though their recent loss heavily inflated that total. Prior to that game, Detroit held an oftentimes explosive Minnesota Wild offense to just a single goal in what was a 2-1 victory. Under new head coach Derek Lalonde, the Red Wings have shown some progress in their defensive game, but they are still far too inconsistent to be able to hang with the best teams in the Eastern Conference this season.
Given the options on their roster, there doesn’t seem to be a change the team could make that would magically fix everything. Yes, the team was missing several key players such as Tyler Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrana and Michael Rasmussen, but the defense is completely healthy, except for Mark Pysyk and Jake Walman, the latter of which should be fully recovered and ready to return to the lineup in a matter of weeks. But if the Red Wings were to look outside of Detroit for help, they might find that the best possible solution currently plays for the Grand Rapids Griffins, their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate.
I’m talking, of course, about their top prospect, Simon Edvinsson.
The 19-year-old defenseman is off to a good start with the Griffins, and it begs the question of whether or not the Red Wings should give him a look in the NHL. If they are serious about playing competitive games all the way through April, they need to consider all of their options.
Assessing the Red Wings’ Defense
As it currently stands, the Red Wings’ defense ranges from solid to downright troubling.
The Red Wings’ second defensive pair of Olli Määttä and Filip Hronek has been the team’s best pairing through nine games. The Red Wings have outscored their opponents 6-3 at even-strength while they are on the ice, and they have a combined plus/minus of plus-7 (plus-3 for Määttä and plus-4 for Hronek), and they are both tied for third in team scoring with six points. Määttä specifically has been a pleasant surprise; in 66 games with the Los Angeles Kings last season, he had just eight points.
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The Red Wings’ top pair of Ben Chiarot and Moritz Seider have been inconsistent to start the season. They have been outscored 8-7 at even-strength, and there have been times where they look completely out of sync in the defensive end. Seider, in particular, seems like he’s still adjusting to things this season, whether it’s the new coaching staff or something else. However, they aren’t necessarily a “chaotic” pairing, and they both still individually make good plays throughout any given game.
Their third pairing of Robert Hägg and Gustav Lindström have struggled to start the 2022-23 season. They have been outscored 8-3 at even-strength to start the season, and they generally spend the bulk of their ice-time hunkered down in their own zone. Both players generally excel when they play “quiet” games so that you barely even notice them. Unfortunately, people are noticing them, and not for the right reasons. If the Red Wings are going to remove someone from the blue line to make room for someone else, it’ll be one of these two.
Their only current option to switch things up is Jordan Oesterle, a returning defenseman from last season’s team that has mostly been used as a fill-in for injured or underperforming players. Walman will be returning to the lineup soon, and his play in 19 games last season likely warrants at least a look to see if he can be a part of the solution. But if both of these players can’t show much more than they have already shown in the NHL, they likely aren’t going to move the needle much for a Red Wings team that could use a jolt.
That jolt likely has to come from outside of Detroit, but the Red Wings don’t have to worry about bringing someone new into the organization.
Edvinsson off to Strong Start with the Griffins
Among the final moves the Red Wings made before the conclusion of the preseason was the decision to cut Edvinsson and send him to Grand Rapids. He showed a ton of promise, showcasing his puck-moving abilities as well as the offensive instincts that have led him to a point per-game pace to start the AHL season (six points in six games). It was easy to see why the Red Wings made him the sixth overall pick in the 2021 draft.
But as is the case for many teenaged players, Edvinsson’s game was wildly inconsistent. One night he would impose his will on the opponent, and then the next he would make unnecessary, risky plays with the puck, and he would look like a talented kid playing against talented men. Consistency is key in the NHL, and he showed that he wasn’t yet reliable enough to be plugged into the lineup on a nightly basis.
“I don’t want to be up (in Detroit) and survive, I want to be the best me over there,” Edvinsson said following his debut with the Griffins. “It’s going to take time. Right now I’m (in Grand Rapids), I want to win with this team.”
In his six games with Grand Rapids, Edvinsson has looked like one of the best players on the team. He naturally stands out thanks to his 6-foot-6 frame, but he generally has been effective at facilitating things on offense and hitting his marks on defense. He skates on the Griffins’ top defensive pairing with Steven Kampfer, and he’s had nowhere to hide while playing big minutes in the AHL. Though six games is admittedly a small sample size, that sample has looked quite encouraging.
Red Wings Can Bide Their Time
The Red Wings are in a spot where they don’t necessarily have to act right away. Reinforcements are on the way – Rasmussen has served his two-game suspension, Oskar Sundqvist remains day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, and Walman will be able to give them a different look on the blue line soon. If they can level out their play over the next few games as bodies return to the lineup, they can justify keeping Edvinsson in the AHL where he will continue to play in a top-line role.
But if they can’t even things out, the team will need that aforementioned jolt more than ever. The Red Wings’ defensive troubles are what ultimately doomed their efforts last season, and the many changes that happened over the offseason were made with the intention of making the team a better and more consistent group in the defensive zone. Lalonde and his staff can only do so much – he needs players that can execute when they are called upon.
The Red Wings picked Edvinsson with their first pick in the 2021 draft because he has the potential to transform their defensive group. If he continues to thrive in the AHL, he may give the Red Wings no choice but to give him the opportunity to do just that.
The guys in Detroit better right the ship fast because the kid in Grand Rapids is still very much knocking on the door.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.