With career-best season, Wings’ Walman takes advantage of opportunity

Detroit News

Detroit — Give Jake Walman all the credit.

Walman was still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery when the Red Wings began this season, and the way the defense was constructed, there sure didn’t seem like much of a chance for Walman to skate himself into ample playing time.

There were a lot of veterans ahead of Walman, and he’d either have to wait his turn or be patient and see how things would unfold.

Again, give Walman credit. When Walman got a chance to play, he was good enough that coach Derek Lalonde and his staff didn’t consider taking Walman out of the lineup. Walman was too effective and made enough things happen to warrant playing time.

And more playing time. And eventually playing on the top pair with Moritz Seider.

Walman, 27, earned his chance and was rewarded with a three-year contract extension — worth $10.2 million, with a $3.4 yearly cap hit — near the trade deadline.

Not getting an opportunity in St. Louis, where the Blues had a deep, championship-caliber depth chart ahead of him, Walman appreciated the trade to Detroit in March 2022 and has proven himself given the opportunity.

“People that have been with me since day one, family and close friends, they knew I had it in me,” Walman said during his end-of-season Zoom call with reporters. “I just had a chance to show it and I’m fortunate I got that opportunity and I’m just real excited to be here the next three years.”

Walman enjoyed being in St. Louis, with the organization that drafted him, in the third round in 2014, and won a Stanley Cup in 2019.

But, the lack of playing time, and inability to prove himself as an NHL player was getting frustrating. Coming to the Wings has been an overall positive experience, all of which has helped Walman thrive.

“A number of things,” Walman said. “I’ve had a good group around me, guys that wanted me succeed and kind of gave me an opportunity and gave me the chance to run with something. I owe it to them for believing me and giving me that opportunity, and I’ve prepared myself pretty well for these types of moments.

“The stuff I’ve been through and adversity I had to go through to get here, I was ready for the challenge. I’m going to keep running with it and I have more to prove.”

Walman played a career-high 63 games, with career-bests in goals (nine), assists (nine), and points (18). Walman also had a plus-10 rating, a testament to his defense.

That was the part of the game that often got Walman booted out of the lineup in St. Louis. But, it’s become one of his hallmarks since joining the Wings.

“There was probably some inconsistencies in his game,” Lalonde said late in the season when discussing Walman. “What I like about Jake is his dedication to the defensive side of the game. He’s getting defensive stops. He loves the matchup versus top (lines). You see the odd rush from him, you see the blueline offense creativity, but for me, it’s been his defense.

“He’s just managing his game better. He’s been real good for us.”

Given the depth of the Wings’ defense, Lalonde often admitted this season he wasn’t sure how Walman was going to be used. How far Walman rose up the depth chart even surprised Lalonde.

“We did not see that,” said Lalonde. “I did not have expectations of him being in our top pair and us using him like we are. That’s a huge credit to him.”

General manager Steve Yzerman, likewise, has been pleasantly surprised.

Walman was acquired along with Oskar Sundqvist (since traded to Minnesota) before the 2022 trade deadline, as the Wings sent defenseman Nick Leddy to St. Louis.

Yzerman saw a talented college player in Walman, back in the day, but wasn’t sure how Walman would develop with the Wings.

“I would love to tell you that I knew he was going to be this good, (but) that wasn’t the case at all,” Yzerman said. “I saw him play at Providence. He was a talented guy. I saw him play in the American League. We made a trade with St. Louis last year and he hadn’t played much in the NHL, so truthfully, we didn’t know.

“When he played at the end of the season for us, we were pleased with what we saw. We thought, ‘Geez, I think he can play in the league. He skates well, should be a solid third-pair (defenseman) for us next year,’ His game just continues to get better and better. He’s worked really hard. He’s competed really hard. His confidence is growing.”

Walman is excited being a part of the Wings’ nucleus going forward. He feels there is ample room for this particular lineup to grow.

“We have a group that is starting to build that standard, and we’ve talked about it all along, we have to build on it,” Walman said. “I know we’re a young team but down the stretch those games we played against playoff teams, meaningful games, a lot of those games were showed what we can do when we put a full 60 minutes together. Those are the types of teams we’ll find ourselves playing down the stretch late into next year and that’s the type of experience those young guys needed.

“I just want to keep pushing myself and this team. It’s a real exciting time right now and we’re trending upwards. I’m real excited to be part of that and this group going forward.”


Twitter: @tkulfan

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