Lucas Raymond, Ville Husso among key players for Wings to snap playoff drought

Detroit News

Detroit — The talk of making the playoffs and ending that seven-year drought becomes louder as the start of Red Wings training camp approaches in a month.

Much of the Atlantic Division appears to have slipped a bit, while the Wings possibly have gotten stronger and deeper.

Still, there’s going to be a lot of things that need to go right for the Wings to make the playoffs. Some players on the present roster need to rebound from shaky seasons while others need to prove their seasons weren’t flukes.

For the Wings to break through and play into the spring, there are several players on the roster that stand out as ones who need to have quality seasons. Here are seven players who will be under the spotlight:

Lucas Raymond: Sophomore jinx? Maybe not full-fledged, but Raymond did see his goal total drop (from 23 to 17), assists (from 34 to 28) and points (from 57 to 45), while missing eight games with injuries and generally not being as much of a consistent offensive factor as the season before. It’ll benefit the Wings greatly if Raymond, 21, can return closer to that rookie level. A restricted free agent next summer, Raymond certainly has motivation on many levels to have a big season.

Ville Husso: The Wings’ starting goaltender played a career-high 56 games last season. The toll, along with a depleted roster in front of him, seemed to affect Husso late in the season. Simply put, Husso was much more effective earlier in the schedule. The Wings are hoping Husso is better equipped this time around to handle the workload, and with a capable backup (James Reimer), maybe he doesn’t even have to play close to 60 games. This season is an opportunity for Husso, 28, to clearly demonstrate he’s a top-tier NHL goalie.

James Reimer: The Wings signed Reimer in free agency for the purpose of solidifying the goaltending position behind Husso. Reimer, 35, should be mentally capable of handling the reserve role, understanding how to be ready and sharp in limited games. But Reimer struggled on a poor San Jose team last season, going 12-21-8, with a 3.48 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. Obviously, he has to play better than that.

Alex DeBrincat: The Wings finally have an elite goal-scorer, someone who has scored 41 goals in a season twice in his career and is viewed as one of the most dangerous players in the NHL with the puck on his stick in scoring situations. The Farmington Hills native is back home, has a new contract (four years, $31.5 million, $7.875 million annual average value) and joins a team dreaming about the playoffs. To get there, though, DeBrincat must be closer to that 30- or 40-goal scorer he’s been and not the player he was last season in Ottawa (27 goals with a minus-31 plus-minus rating). DeBrincat, 25, is one of the players expected to strengthen what has been a spotty Wings power play.

Justin Holl: There were some surprised looks around the NHL when the Wings signed Holl, 31, to a three-year contract worth $10.2 million. Holl was a lightning rod for Maple Leafs fans’ frustrations with the team, and his play at times earned him those headaches, ultimately being a healthy scratch in the playoffs. But largely speaking, Holl was a steady defensive defenseman and away from the glaring, hot spotlight of Toronto, he’ll be able to provide defense, size and physicality to the back end.

Klim Kostin: Acquired in a trade during the NHL Entry Draft, Kostin has a chance to be one of those shrewd under-the-radar acquisitions that can spark a team. Kostin, 24, is a former first-round draft pick who may have begun putting some things together last season in Edmonton (11 goals) while using his size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) to frustrate opponents. Kostin and Christian Fischer are two new forwards who are expected to make the Wings a tougher team to play against. Kostin has the physicality but also possesses some skill, which makes him an intriguing project.

Jake Walman: He appears on this list solely for the reason he had a career-best season and ascended to the top defensive pairing with Moritz Seider when few would have predicted that outcome in October. Walman’s breakout season earned him a three-year contract worth $10.2 million and basically made him a piece of the core going forward. Now it’s up to Walman, 27, to show last season wasn’t a mirage and that he can be counted on consistently. There’s plenty of competition and options this season on defense, but Walman was adamant late last season that he’s found a home with the Wings and turned a corner in his career.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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