Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series breaking down the Detroit Red Wings at each position group. Today: Defenseman.
Detroit — There’s likely no position group in the Red Wings’ organization that has as much promising depth as on defense.
Moritz Seider, after two years into his career, is beginning to be mentioned among the best in the NHL.
Veterans such as Jake Walman, Olli Maatta and Ben Chiarot are established veterans who round out the lineup, and in Walman’s case, the 27-year-old may have not reached his ceiling yet after a breakout past season.
Then, you have the young defensemen such as Simon Edvinsson, Albert Johansson and William Wallinder. All are recent draft picks who flashed intriguing potential at various levels this past season, and will likely wear Wings jerseys at some point.
In all, it’s a competitive group, one the Wings can grow from, and with.
Now, there likely will be upgrades and tweaks.
While Walman, Chiarot and Maatta nicely round out the left side of the defense, the right side currently has some holes after Seider.
Gustav Lindstrom is a restricted free agent and is thinking of returning to Sweden to play there professionally. After the trade of Filip Hronek to Vancouver at the deadline, there’s no clear-cut option after Seider.
Edvinsson plays the left side, if he were to make the opening-night roster, and Chiarot can effectively play the right side, also, if needed.
Regardless, one or two additions who can play the right side, are likely to be added via trade or free agency.
Veterans Jordan Oesterle, Robert Hagg and Mark Pysyk, who were on the Wings’ roster this season, are unlikely to be brought back.
Here are some individual keys within the defense:
▶ Seider: The point production dipped to 42 points from 50 in his rookie season, but nobody is saying there was any sort of fall in Seider’s overall play.
There wasn’t any. Seider was a better overall defenseman in his second season, played major minutes in every role, and is gradually shifting into a leadership role.
“I want everybody to listen to me, but you cannot just do that by opening up your mouth and speaking,” Seider said in a season-ending media conference. “You have to lead by example and repeat it every single day, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
“I want to be the hardest-working guy out there. I want to be out there in important situations. Obviously, it’s great when teammates recognize that. It gives you more trust to do even more.”
▶ Walman: Few people foresaw the jump Walman made from being a third-pair, or extra, defenseman to the top-pairing with Seider, and earning himself a three-year contract worth $10.2 million ($3.4 million cap hit). Walman had nine goals and nine assists, and formed an effective defensive pairing with Seider.
Walman has always had an NHL-caliber offensive game, with a hard shot and mobility to create offensive opportunities. But, it’s the defensive part of the game where Walman progressed, and that took him to another sphere.
Walman believes there’s more growth possible.
“I’m happy with it, but I know there’s a lot more than I can give,” Walman said. “I don’t have limits on what I can do. Not just me, but the team. It’s still going to be the same summer I’ve done every summer, train hard, thinking about the jumps and strides you’ve taken in the team game next year.
“(But) I’m not really relaxed and content; I’m more excited.”
▶ Edvinsson: The 2021 first-round pick (sixth overall) had 27 points in 52 games with Grand Rapids, earned the call-up to the Wings, and had two goals in nine games. Edvinsson underwent shoulder surgery after the season but could be available to begin the regular season (or close to it).
The 6-foot-6 Edvinsson displayed some of the characteristics that make him one of the Wings’, and NHL’s, best prospects. He’s a fluid skater, isn’t shy about being physical, and has good offensive tendencies. Edvinsson might be a work in progress defensively, but there’s little doubt he’ll be with the Wings next season.
“It’s tough not to get excited with what we saw in those nine games,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “He’ll need to have a great offseason. (But with) what he did between the American League and here, I certainly hope he’s going to be pushing for a spot on the team.
▶ Johansson, Wallinder: These two recent draft picks could emerge with the Wings this season if they continue to progress.
Johansson, 22, had 15 points in 53 games with the Griffins and appeared to be on his way to an NHL call-up before a season-ending injury in March (Edvinsson was promoted instead).
The Wings believe Johansson could battle for a roster spot in training camp.
“Albert actually had a great season,” said Shawn Horcoff, Red Wings assistant general manager/Griffins GM. “Albert last year made some adjustments to his offseason training. He’s always been a great skater, a smart player, good passer of the puck, but his frame was underdeveloped. He made some changes back in Sweden on who he was training with, and they paid huge dividends. He was stronger this year and able to sustain the wear and tear of professional hockey.”
Wallinder, a 2020 second-round pick, will turn 21 in July. Wallinder, with 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists) led all Swedish players under the age of 21 in scoring in the Swedish Hockey League.
Wallinder (6-foot-4, 190 pounds) made apparent progress while playing against good competition in Sweden.
“His skating has really improved, as has his puck-handling and his play,” general manager Steve Yzerman said. “He’s maturing as a young man as well, so we have optimism for him.”
▶ In the pipeline: The Wings signed Antti Tuomisto (a 2019 second-round pick) in March and he’ll play in Grand Rapids. A right-hand shot, Tuomisto played collegiately at Denver then turned pro in Finland, where the Wings saw development. Jared McIsaac, Donovan Sebrango and Eemil Viro are recent draft picks who had up-and-down seasons in Grand Rapids and Toledo. All three remain prospects, but need to take steps forward next season.
Shai Buium (2021 second-round), a junior at Denver, took modest steps last season but is several years from being NHL-ready.