When Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider joined the Detroit Red Wings last season, it signaled that the team had entered the fun part of their rebuild. No longer is it just about accumulating picks and prospects; now it’s about integrating those young players into the Red Wings’ lineup, so long as they are ready. That process continued at the start of the 2022-23 season, as forward Elmer Söderblom made the opening night roster and has played in 13 games since then. The latest prospect to make his way into Detroit’s lineup, however, arrived with a ton of fanfare.
You see, fans have been excited about Jonatan Berggren for quite some time.
A former second round pick, Berggren has regularly been featured as one of the organization’s top prospects since he was added to the system in the summer of 2018. In our most recent Red Wings prospect rankings, he ranked second behind 2021 first round pick Simon Edvinsson. Prior to that, he was the topic of feature pieces and several other prospect reports on this site as well as others. If you’ve read about the Red Wings’ prospect at any point in the last three years, you were probably already familiar with Berggren when it was announced Detroit was calling him up from their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins.
That is why it is so exciting to not only see Berggren wearing the winged wheel this season, but to see him thriving early on as well. Whether it’s expected or not, the Swedish winger is already making a strong case that he should stay in Detroit from here on out.
Berggren Already Producing
Through his first three NHL games, Berggren has already collected two points, including his first goal which came against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 15.
It wasn’t anything pretty or highlight real-worthy. Berggren was simply in the right place at the right time, and he was able to quickly kick the puck from his skate to his stick and bury it past John Gibson. The goal came on the power play, and the fact that he was already seeing time on a special teams unit speaks volumes of what the Red Wings’ coaching staff thinks of Berggren and his offensive capabilities.
“Skillset comes as advertised,” Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde said of Berggren during training camp. “He probably plays with a little better pace than I anticipated too.” As things progressed into the preseason, Lalonde remained bullish on Berggren’s play, noting that the winger’s consistency level was the thing the NHL coaching staff was looking for as the preseason came to a close.
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Berggren began the season with the Griffins, where he was on the receiving end of a hit from behind that knocked him out of the AHL lineup for a week’s worth of games. Since returning to their lineup, he recorded seven points in six games. That offensive production carried over from last season; his 64 points in 70 AHL games set a Griffins franchise record for most points by a first-year player. It’s no wonder, then, that the Red Wings looked to Berggren when their lineup was depleted due to injuries throughout their forward group.
Berggren Adds Depth to Red Wings’ Lineup
Berggren’s arrival has had a direct effect on Joe Veleno and the Red Wings’ overall ability to play a puck possession game. In all three of their games together, the Red Wings’ fourth line of Veleno, Berggren, and either Austin Czarnik and Pius Suter have been able to create chances and sustain pressure in the offensive zone. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Berggren and Veleno are on the ice together, the Red Wings have outshot their opponents 13-8 in 25 five-on-five minutes. They have outscored their opponents 1-0 as well.
“I think it’s just playing his game,” Veleno said of the message to Berggren. “Obviously he’s a really talented player. He’s very creative with the puck. (He) works really hard as well, I think that’s what bring him the most success.
“Last year when I (was sent) down, I played with (Berggren) and developed a bit of chemistry there. I had to drive him (around) that whole Traverse City Rookie Tournament…so I got to know him a bit. He’s easy to play with.”
This is particularly huge for Veleno, as the 22-year-old center (who the Red Wings drafted just three picks ahead of Berggren) seemed to be stuck in neutral on the team’s fourth line. He showed good instincts at both ends of the ice, and his work ethic was never in question, but he struggled to produce tangible offense in a depth role. Since Berggren arrived, Veleno’s game seems to have found another level, and both players were elevated into the top-nine during the Red Wings’ game against the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 12.
While nobody is going to mistake Berggren and Veleno’s line for Detroit’s top line of Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and Lucas Raymond, it is important for the Red Wings to have contributions coming from up and down their lineup, especially with offensive players such as Jakub Vrana, Robby Fabbri and Filip Zadina still on the mend. The best teams in the NHL are able to attack in waves, and they rely on more than one power play unit to get the job done. That Berggren scored his power play goal without the Red Wings’ top players on the ice is a big positive considering their power play is currently converting on just 19.7 percent of their opportunities.
Red Wings May Have a Hard Time Sending Berggren Back Down
The fact of the Red Wings’ roster situation is that Berggren is only in Detroit because injuries created a roster spot he could fill. There’s a reason he was left off the opening night roster: he simply would not have received the amount of playing time he has received, to this point, with the Griffins. He earned the call-up with his play in the AHL, but it’s easy to look at his current situation and deduce that he’s operating on borrowed time.
Söderblom was recently placed on injured reserve, but reports suggest that his absence won’t be a long-term one. The Red Wings will have to send someone back to the AHL when he returns to the lineup. Vrana’s situation remains fluid, and the scoring winger could return to the Red Wings anytime between today and the end of his contract. Though this is further down the road, Fabbri is skating with the team and is still projected to join the Red Wings in the new year, and Zadina should be returning to full health sometime in the new year as well.
A lot can happen between now and then, however. The Red Wings have already faced the cruel reality that injuries are unavoidable, and they tend to pile up over time as well. Perhaps they will be forced to return Berggren to the AHL, or perhaps he’ll continue to perform as he has in his first three games and the positive impact he brings to the team will only increase. Heading into this season, many fans thought that he might make the Red Wings’ roster out of training camp. It didn’t happen that way, but now Berggren has a golden opportunity in front of him to show the decision-makers in Detroit that he belongs in the NHL – and so far, he’s off the a pretty good start.
“I think we have the players, the staff and the play to be a playoff team,” Berggren said following Tuesday’s loss to the Ducks.
But, for now at least, Berggren is soaking in the realization of accomplishing two of his dreams: playing and, of course, scoring in the NHL.
“Since I was a little kid playing on the road with my friends, it’s the thing I always dreamed about,” Berggren said of scoring his first goal. “It’s an unreal feeling that it happened today.”
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.