Where free agent signings leaves Detroit Red Wings prospect Simon Edvinsson

Detroit Free Press

When Steve Yzerman signed two defensemen to replace the one veteran he traded at the deadline, it had implications for top prospect Simon Edvinsson.

The Detroit Red Wings gave Edvinsson, their top first-round pick in 2021, a nine-game audition from March 18-April 10, taking advantage of their fading playoff chances to get a look at a player who carries significant expectations for helping the rebuild. Edvinsson acquitted himself pretty well for a 20-year-old defenseman, posting two goals. But he also made some doozy mistakes, which is partly reflected in his minus-7 rating. Edvinsson, who won’t turn 21 until February, got caught playing up too high at times and was exposed to the speed of the NHL level.

It wasn’t surprising, then, that Yzerman brought in some free-agent defensemen — Shayne Gostisbehere for his power-play prowess and Justin Holl because he shoots right. Those two replace Filip Hronek, the right-shot, run-the-second-power-play defenseman who Yzerman traded to the Vancouver Canucks in March. (The return included a 2023 first-round pick that Yzerman used on right-shot defenseman Axel Sandin Pellikka, but he’s not going to be NHL-ready for a number of years.)

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That swelled the defense corps to seven veterans — Moritz Seider, Ben Chiarot, Olli Määttä, Jake Walman, Gustav Lindstrom, Gostisbehere and Holl — and indicated the Wings still see Edvinsson as needing to grow his game at the AHL level.

“We have high hopes for Simon,” Yzerman said. “I’m not prepared to put him on the team in a top-six role. I don’t think it’s beyond a possibility that Simon comes in and has an outstanding training camp, an outstanding preseason, and simply forces himself into the lineup. That’s what everyone of us would love to see.

“If that happens, great. And we’ll figure it out. But at this stage to say we are going to put him in our top six, I’m not prepared to say that. It’s unfair to him and it’s not the right thing for any of our young players or the team itself.”

It’s a well-established pattern: Just this past season, Jonatan Berggren started the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins before a mid-November call-up to ameliorate the absence of several skilled forwards. Berggren played so well, he forced the Wings to make room to keep him.

Edvinsson (6 feet 6, 216 pounds) is in a good spot in Grand Rapids, where he will be a go-to player used in all situations. He played 52 games in the AHL last season, his first as a pro in North America, and posted five goals, 22 assists and a minus-3 rating. He has an offensive skill set but still needs to improve his reads on plays and decisions with the puck. Signing Gostisbehere (one year, $4.125 million) and Holl (three years, $10.2 million) buys the Wings time while Edvinsson develops into a more well-rounded player.

“We think Simon is an excellent young prospect,” Yzerman said. “I don’t think the right approach is to just throw him out there. Let’s let him earn that spot and god forbid we have too many good defenseman and we have to deal with that problem — wouldn’t that be a great situation.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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