Red Wings 2023-24 Player Preview: Lucas Raymond

The Hockey Writers

Let’s be honest here: Lucas Raymond did not have the sophomore season anyone was hoping he would have. For him, the 2022-23 season was a learning experience.

“I feel like this year was a little bit different for me,” Raymond told the media following the end of the Detroit Red Wings’ season. “I think I grew a lot on the ice and off the ice as well….you just learn a lot about yourself.”

After a successful rookie season that saw him finish fourth in the Rookie of the Year race, Raymond came back down to Earth in his sophomore season. He recorded six fewer goals and 12 fewer points in his second season, finishing with 17 goals and 45 points in 74 games.

For most players in their age-20 season, those totals would be perfectly acceptable and even a source of optimism for the fans. Raymond, however, is the highest-drafted player of the Red Wings’ rebuild (fourth overall in 2020) and is expected to become a pillar of Detroit’s lineup for the next decade and beyond. Fair or not, that’s where the bar is set for him, so his decline in production this past season gets characterized as a disappointment on social media and other outlets.

Lucas Raymond Detroit Red Wings
Lucas Raymond, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But like any 21-year-old, Raymond still has a ton of room to grow and much to learn on and off the ice. With the Red Wings’ offseason moves this summer, there are a few reasons to expect a resurgence from him in what will be his third season in the NHL. But in order to figure out where we can expect him to grow, we first have to figure out where his game is at right now and what brought him to this point in what will be a crucial season for the young winger.

Raymond Was Outmuscled & Inconsistent in 2022-23

At 5-foot-11, 176 pounds, Raymond is one of the smallest forwards on the Red Wings’ roster. His game isn’t meant to be a physical one; instead, he is at his best when he can control the puck and create opportunities for himself or his teammates. For the most part, he was able to do that in his rookie season as he caught opposing teams off guard despite playing on the team’s top line.

That was not the case in 2022-23. Instead of becoming a puck magnet, Raymond was often found scrambling on the ice as he looked to quickly move the puck to another teammate and evade defensive pressure. Hockey is a sport of time and space, and opposing defenses were able to identify that Raymond was not very effective when he wasn’t afforded much of either. To compound the issue, opposing teams seemed to gameplan around messing with him after the whistle in an attempt to get him off his game – though that particular gameplan was utilized against the Red Wings as a whole rather than just Raymond specifically.

Related: 4 Reasons to Believe Alex DeBrincat Will Bounce Back in Detroit

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“I’m young, my body is still developing,” Raymond said. “The gym is going to be a big part for me this summer to get bigger and stronger but don’t lose my agility on the ice. I think that combination is huge.”

When he was able to create in the offensive zone, Raymond was not as successful at cashing in on chances this season as he was last season. He had 50 fewer shots on net in eight fewer games, a result of teams eliminating his time and space. However, his shooting percentage (12.7) was a slight improvement over last season’s mark (12.5), which more or less suggests that his goal regression stems from his struggles getting shots off this season.

Raymond’s most successful stretch of the season came early, beginning with a two-goal night on Oct. 29. Over his next 12 games, he put up four goals and 10 points while being held off the scoresheet four times. That 13-game stretch featured him at his best; he was a consistent threat to score, and if he wasn’t doing that, he was creating opportunities for his teammates. But from the beginning of February to the end of the season, he scored just twice. He did continue to collect assists (11) over that stretch, but it did show how vanilla his game can become when his shot isn’t a part of his game.

“It was a grind,” Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman said of Raymond’s season. “In fairness to him, David Perron comes in as a right winger in the spot Lucas played last year. David went into that role and did it quite well for us and that forced Lucas to adapt and at times play on the second power-play unit, which in the NHL, it’s a huge difference playing on the first unit to the second unit. I think he adjusted well to that, the new coaching staff, playing on different lines and different situations. I expect him to grow from it. I expect him to be better next year, but overall, I think he played very well. I think [Raymond] is an excellent young player who is only going to continue to get better.”

Raymond Poised for Breakout Season

The sophomore slump is a real thing, especially for players as young as Raymond. Even Moritz Seider, Raymond’s teammate who beat him out for the Calder Trophy, struggled at times last season until he found the right blue line partner. While Raymond’s most frequent linemate was top center Dylan Larkin, he also spent a fair amount of time alongside second line center Andrew Copp. Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde juggled Perron and Raymond on the top line, but this season he’ll have another right-handed winger capable of playing alongside Larkin on the top line, and this player comes with some legitimate scoring punch.

Lucas Raymond Detroit Red Wings
Lucas Raymond, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Recently acquired Alex DeBrincat figures to receive top line minutes alongside Larkin to begin this season as the 25-year-old winger arrives in Detroit with a reputation for scoring goals. He scored 10 more goals than Raymond last season while playing with the Ottawa Senators, and DeBrincat already has two 40-goal seasons to his credit. Given that, Raymond may find himself on the second line alongside Copp and/or recent signing J.T. Compher. Raymond will likely be counted on as the main playmaker on that line similarly to his role this past season. However, DeBrincat’s presence in the lineup should allow Raymond to face lesser competition, and that should allow his offensive game to thrive with the right linemates.

Lalonde will also have the option of loading up the first line with Raymond, Larkin and DeBrincat. That line could/should be dangerous in the offensive zone, but could also cough up a few too many chances the other way. If nothing else, the three of them may very well play together on the team’s top power play unit. Regardless of where Raymond is in the lineup with this season, he’ll have plenty to play for. Not only is he looking to cement himself as a legitimate top six threat in the NHL, he is also due for a new contract at the end of this season.

Coming off of his entry-level contract, he will undoubtedly receive a nice raise given how quickly he assimilated to the Red Wings’ lineup upon arrival. How much of a raise, however, likely depends on this season and what steps he does or doesn’t take. If he can rebound from last season and enter the 30-goal, 70-point conversation this season, that will set him up for a big payday on what could be a long-term deal. Staying in the neighborhood of 40 or 50 points, however, will likely result in a shorter term “bridge” deal that affords him and the team more development time without being shackled to a long term agreement.

Related: Red Wings Not Done Yet With Offseason Moves?

The 2023-24 season is going to be a big one for Raymond. It could be the season where he confirms he was the right pick at fourth overall back in 2020 (he enters the season with the second-most points in his draft class) and silences any questions about his place in the next era of Red Wings hockey. It could also be a season where we begin to question his upside if he encounters the same type of struggles he had during the 2022-23 campaign. In some ways, it might be accurate to say that as his season goes, so too does the Red Wings’ season.

“It pushes you and gives you motivation every day when you’re waking up and going to the gym and going on the ice to do things that’s going to separate you,” Larkin said of Raymond not having the season he hoped to have. “He’s got a great attitude into this offseason that he wants to be better.”

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