Red Wings’ Edvinsson & Kasper Put 2023-24 Roster Into Focus

The Hockey Writers

Back in January when THW released a new top-25 Detroit Red Wings prospects ranking, the top two players were, perhaps unsurprisingly, the team’s top picks in the 2021 draft (Simon Edvinsson) and the 2022 draft (Marco Kasper). The thought was that both players had high upside and both were close to shedding their prospect status and joining the Red Wings on a long-term basis. What we didn’t know at the time is just how close both players were to giving ans a glimpse at what they are both capable of at the NHL level.

In case you haven’t heard, Edvinsson and Kasper have arrived. All four of general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman’s top picks are now on the Red Wings’ roster (Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond, Edvinsson, Kasper). It’s one thing to talk about how bright the future is when you’re talking about prospects that are playing against lower-level competition. It’s another to talk about a bright future when those prospects and young players are doing their thing in the toughest and most difficult hockey league in the world.

The Red Wings continue to have their eyes focused on that future. After dealing out four players at the trade deadline in moves that yielded several draft picks (including two first rounders), it has been obvious over the last month that planning for next season has already begun. Part of that planning is deciding whether or not players like Edvinsson and Kasper are truly ready to take on a full season in the NHL.

Related: Red Wings Have Identified Their Core at the Trade Deadline

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If the early returns are any indication, it appears that the Red Wings will be receiving another injection of youth into their lineup next season.

Edvinsson Has Elevated the Defense

Going back to the beginning of this season, it was pretty clear that Edvinsson was already knocking on the NHL’s door. After all, he was one of the final cuts made to the roster at the end of the preseason and training camp, and his ability to impact the game as a puck mover and a big body was evident in most preseason games he played in. When he was assigned to the American Hockey League (AHL), the expectation is that he would report to Grand Rapids and become a minute-muncher for the Griffins the same way that Seider is for the Red Wings.

While it wasn’t always smooth sailing, Edvinsson generally impressed this season with the Griffins. The 6-foot-6 defender had 27 points in 51 games, and his ability to process the game and make impactful, confident plays set him apart from the AHL’s general population. He was such a stand out that Yzerman was asked if Edvinsson would get a look in Detroit following the trade deadline.

“If [Edvinsson] plays well enough to earn a call up and for us to think ‘hey it’s worth taking a look at him…’ or we think he can help our team, or we want to take a look at him to see where he’s at for next year, he’s going to have to play well enough for us to decide that we want to take a look at him,” Yzerman answered.

Exactly two weeks later, Edvinsson was called up to Detroit.

Simon Edvinsson Detroit Red Wings
Simon Edvinsson, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Since arriving in the NHL, Edvinsson has played six games and has recorded a single point, a goal scored against the St. Louis Blues on Mar. 23. But his stat sheet doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story of his first few games in the NHL.

Edvinsson began his time in the NHL on the Red Wings’ bottom pairing where he hovered around 14 to 15 minutes in ice time. After three games, he was promoted to the team’s second pairing alongside veteran Ben Chiarot. In that role, Edvinsson had a 17-minute night before and after the Red Wings’ recent matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a night in which the Swedish defender logged over 22 minutes. By utilizing his long reach and keen awareness on the ice, he is earning the coaching staff’s trust, and that could lead to bigger opportunities down the stretch and into next season.

But make no mistake: Edvinsson is still a young player that is learning what it takes to thrive in the NHL. He has 12 penalty minutes through six games, which could mean that he’ll still need some time to grasp what he can and can’t get away with in the NHL. There have also been times where his defensive game looks unpolished, but that is to be expected from a young offensive defenseman.

Still, despite the learning curve that Edvinsson will endure for the rest of this season and beyond, it is obvious that he provides certain elements that the Red Wings’ defensive group simply did not have before he arrived. He is big, he is mobile, he is supremely skilled and already has a good idea of how to use it, and he won’t back down – a fact that was on full display during that game against the Maple Leafs.

That game against the Maple Leafs was perhaps the best example so far of what Red Wings fans can expect from the team’s top pick in the 2021 draft. And yet, despite that fact, Edvinsson did not dominate headlines and social media chatter after that game. Why?

Because a not-so-friendly ghost made his NHL debut on that night as well.

Kasper Looks Like a Bull in a China Shop in NHL Debut

For the first time since Martin Lapointe did it back in 1991, the Red Wings’ top pick in the draft made his NHL debut the following season as an 18-year-old. Yes, Kasper is officially a Red Wing, and he made that fact known for everybody watching that matchup against the Maple Leafs.

Related: What Can the Red Wings Expect From Marco Kasper?

While he did not collect a point in his first game, Kasper’s presence was felt nearly every time he was on the ice. He went to the crease with regularity, an early indication that he may score a lot of “garbage goals” in his career. He seemed to display some chemistry with his linemates, Raymond and Andrew Copp, despite having little time to practice together as a unit. And when things started to get ugly on the ice, Kasper didn’t back down – he was right in the middle of it.

Perhaps most impressive was the head coach Derek Lalonde felt confident enough in Kasper to slot him in as the team’s second line center in his first NHL game. Kasper’s ice-time of 14:59 illustrates a player that was not being handled with training wheels; Lalonde decided Kasper could handle the heat, so he threw him right into the fire. After the game, Lalonde was pretty satisfied with the results.

“I think he’s a very responsible, smart hockey player,” Lalonde said. “He never got himself into trouble. He was actually around the net with some chances, so the underlying numbers are going to look really good for him. Under the circumstances, a really good debut for him.”

While one game is not nearly enough to go off of, it is enough to get excited about what he might bring to the team next season – and it will have to be next season as a lingering injury unfortunately forced the team to shut him down for the rest of this season.

But if one game is enough to get people excited about what Kasper can bring to the Red Wings, then one game is also enough to get him excited about what next season has in store for him.

2023-24 Focus

The Red Wings are in a pretty enviable spot heading into the offseason. Their biggest piece of business (an extension for Dylan Larkin) is already done. They have seven pending unrestricted free agents (not including Mark Pysyk, who wasn’t able to play a single game this season) they need to make decisions on, and their biggest restricted free agent is Joe Veleno, a center whose next deal won’t break the bank at all. They have a projected $29.7 million in cap space available, and they have to spend at least $7 million just to hit the cap floor for next season. The biggest decision they have to make will probably be who joins Ville Husso in goal for next season.

With four spots on the Red Wings’ blue line already locked down, Edvinsson should be a virtual lock to make the team next season, especially considering what he’s done in the final month of this season. This means the Red Wings, in theory, have one spot on the blue line to work with, whether that means bringing somebody in during the offseason or promoting another prospect from the AHL. From the moment Edvinsson was selected in the 2021 draft, fans have been frothing at the mouth at the idea of a blue line that features him and Seider. That idea is now a reality, and it should continue into next season.

As for Kasper, it is probably a good sign that the Red Wings didn’t opt to assign him to the Griffins, instead choosing to bring him to Detroit right away. Still, there aren’t as many forward spots readily available, especially after accounting for a Veleno extension and the possibility that winger Elmer Söderblom returns to Detroit next season after making the team out of training camp this season. Assuming no other moves are made, that means 11 of 12 forward spots are taken. Kasper probably has the inside track on claiming that spot as of today, but a lot can happen between now and training camp, especially when considering Yzerman may be tempted to add a big piece to improve the roster in the offseason.

And without dwelling too hard on a small possibility, what happens if the Red Wings land one of the top two picks in this year’s draft? That Connor Bedard kid sure looks like he’ll require an NHL roster spot next season; presumptive second overall pick Adam Fantilli could make a good push for an NHL job as well.

All of this is to say that, like Raymond and Jonatan Berggren before him, Kasper will still have to earn a spot on next season’s roster, regardless of the fact that he looked like he belonged in his first game of NHL action.

What is most exciting about all of this is that the future is now coming into focus. Just like the 2021-22 season, it looks like the Red Wings are poised to add two high-caliber prospects to their lineup next season, one forward and one defenseman. For better or for worse, the status of Yzerman’s rebuild will be put on display next season.

The Red Wings’ GM has consistently preached patience since taking the job, selling the dream of a better tomorrow by enduring the pain of today. For one night in an Original Six matchup against the Maple Leafs, the future and present collided and the results were impressive, scrappy and, above all else, exciting. In those moments and in the days the have followed, it’s hard not to feel like the future – the idea that has been sold to us since the the spring of 2019 – is just around the corner.

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