The Detroit Red Wings need to prioritize finding a second line center

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Finding a top center needs to be the main priority for general manager Steve Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings before the start of next season.

Before you start screaming at your device, I am okay with Dylan Larkin as Detroit’s top center, but it takes two. It seems half of the Red Wings fan base feels that Larkin is not a first-line center, and the other half believes he already is or can be, but regardless of how you feel, it’s apparent that the organization needs to find someone to pair him with moving forward. This can work for both crowds.

This past summer, Yzerman added veteran Andrew Copp to fill that role. Still, he’s proven, even before he arrived in Detroit, that he’s best suited as a third-line two-way center that can be utilized as a second center in short spurts if needed filling in if injuries occur. The Detroit Red Wings gave the former Michigan Wolverine a five-year deal that averages $5.625 million per season. Copp, 28, has totaled eight goals and 37 points over 67 games this season, averaging nearly 18 minutes per night.

Although he’s a reliable two-way center, the Detroit Red Wings need to see more offensive production from Copp moving forward. The veteran center has maintained a Corsi For Percentage of 45.6% this season, which is nearly 5% less than his career average, but he’s skating to a plus-5 rating. Copp’s 0.4 goals per 60 minutes this season is also the lowest of his career. Adding a better center, regardless if said player is a first or second-line center, will slide Copp down to Detroit’s third group, where he’s better suited.

The Detroit Red Wings need to find a proven, scoring second-line center this offseason.

Sliding Copp down to the third unit also lengthens Detroit’s lineup so they can move Joe Veleno down the fourth line. I know; the older Red Wing fan’s blood pressure just went through the roof. The fourth line is usually considered a checking line, and Veleno definitely doesn’t fit the role of a fourth-line shutdown center, but the Detroit Red Wings can use that third line centered by Copp as more of their checking line. Perhaps flanking Copp with Michael Rasmussen and Elmer Soderblom will do the job, but they also can chip in offensively to support Detroit’s top two groups. Veleno, 23, has recorded seven goals and 16 points through 66 games, averaging just a touch over 12 minutes per game this season.

The Red Wings currently sit with two first-round and three second-round picks in the 2023 NHL Entry Level Draft. Detroit also has a pair of first-round selections in 2024. Yzerman may be able to turn some of this draft capital into a top-two center over the summer. A circumstance may arise that team in cap hell that needs to clear cap space ahead of the new league year in exchange for some draft capital.

Yzerman may also sift through free agency once again, looking to fill the void, but the options are limited. A few names to consider are Max Domi, Alex Killorn, Ryan O’Reilly, J.T. Compher, Sean Monahan, Jonathan Toews (if he doesn’t retire), and Ivan Barbashev.

After reading those names over, I hope Yzerman finds a trade partner. Sometimes things work out strangely. I wanted Yzerman to pursue a trade for Bo Horvat before the New York Islanders landed the scoring center ahead of the trade deadline. After receiving a first-round pick for Horvat, the Canucks sent the pick to Detroit as a part of the Filip Hronek deal. I wish Detroit had been able to use Hronek as leverage for Horvat about a month earlier, but what’s done is done.

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