Wings hoping young forwards can provide boost for needed improved offense

Detroit News

Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series breaking down the Detroit Red Wings at each position group. Today: Forwards.

Detroit — The issue has been recycling itself for years now, as the Red Wings rebuild and work toward becoming a playoff team.

They don’t score enough goals. They haven’t for years now — and they sure didn’t this past season.

The Wings improved statistically to 2.89 goals per game (24th) and 237 goals for (24th), improving from 227 goals (25th) and 2.77 goals per game (25th) a year ago.

It was a marginal improvement, and it basically occurred because of an improved power play. Coach Derek Lalonde knows scoring is an area the Wings need to improve.

“Our offense did not improve,” Lalonde said at his season-ending media availability. “The overall number will (look better) because of our improved power play, but our bottom-line five-on-five offense, it’s 100% something we’ll look back at as a staff, look for some areas we can improve.

“Even if we return the exact personnel we have, we’ll want to improve on that.”

The Wings likely aren’t going to have the exact same personnel. General manager Steve Yzerman will be on the lookout in the coming days and weeks, as the trade market gets heated and free agency opens on July 1 for proven goal-scorers.

Then again, there will be needed improvement from some young players who showed the potential to be offensive factors.

Lucas Raymond, Michael Rasmussen, Jonatan Berggren, Joe Veleno and Filip Zadina had varying degrees of impact, but all will be looked upon to grow further in 2023-24.

The Wings dealt Tyler Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana at the trade deadline, two players who were expected to contribute heavily last season but did not — Bertuzzi due to an injury and Vrana spending time in the players’ assistance program.

Whoever the Wings acquire on the open market, they’ll still need internal improvement from their younger forwards.

“We’ll look at the free-agent market to potentially replace some of the offense,” general manager Steve Yzerman said during his end-of-season media call. “I hope within our own team, we get more production out of some of our younger players that’ll take on a bigger role. I’m not necessarily looking for guys to go from 8 to 10 goals to 50. But if we can take a guy from 8 to 9 goals to 14 to 15, the younger guys play a little bigger role and also contribute a little bit more on the offensive side, that will help.”

Here is how the Wings’ forwards shape up currently heading into the busy part of the offseason:

Mainstays: Captain Dylan Larkin is coming off a career-best 32-goal season, and armed with a new, eight-year contract, he could be ready to take his game to a level among the NHL’s elite offensive players. Lucas Raymond slumped to 17 goals in his sophomore season, but the Wings are confident he’ll rebound. David Perron (24 goals) and Dominik Kubalik (20 goals) were free-agent additions last summer who made immediate impacts, but are entering the final year of two-year contracts. Andrew Copp provided the steadfast two-way play the Wings needed, but ideally could provide more than the nine goals he slumped to.

▶ Injured: Robby Fabbri, Rasmussen and Zadina were three forwards who had season-ending injuries. Rasmussen (10 goals, 29 points) was on his way to a potential career-best season, using his 6-foot-6 frame to success at both ends of the rink, and is counted on to continue next season.

Fabbri has only played 84 of the 164 games in the last two seasons because of knee injuries, and Zadina (three goals in 30 games) may not have many more chances to justify the Wings picking him sixth overall in 2018, never yet showing the offensive skills expected of him.

Potential: This group includes Berggren, Veleno and Elmer Soderblom. Berggren had 15 goals and Veleno nine, but both appeared to tire during the long regular season. Berggren has more offensive potential, but he needs to get stronger physically. Soderblom is a 6-foot-8 giant who scored five goals in 21 games with the Wings before being sent back to Grand Rapids. Soderblom is a clever passer and possesses a sneaky shot, but his speed and quickness are areas to work on. Soderblom, who made the opening-night roster a year ago, is still considered a legitimate prospect.

Unknown quantities…but: Marco Kasper and Carter Mazur are intriguing wildcards. Kasper (2022 first-round pick) parlayed an impressive season in Sweden to signing a pro contract with the Wings and played one game before being injured. Still, the Wings are impressed with his all-around game and grit and will give him an opportunity to win a job in training camp. Likewise, Mazur, a former 2021 third-round pick who left college hockey (Denver) to play six games in Grand Rapids late in the season, then played for Team USA at the world championships, and he didn’t look out of place against pros. Mazur needs to get stronger physically, but he could land a bottom-six forward role with an impressive camp.

▶ In the system: Amadeus Lombardi and Cross Hanas are two forwards in Grand Rapids who figure to be monitored in the upcoming season. Lombardi was a prolific offensive player in junior hockey, but at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, can he take the pounding of pro hockey? Hanas had 17 points in 30 games in his rookie pro season in Grand Rapids before a season-ending injury.

“I like to believe every player comes to training camp — regardless of whether they were invited or a first-round pick — all have in their heart that they’re going make the team,” Yzerman said. “They have a hope and drive that, ‘I’m going play well enough and show them enough that I have a chance to make the team’.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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