Red Wings 2023 Training Camp: 5 Storylines to Watch

The Hockey Writers

The air outside is slowly getting cooler, and your local grocery store is starting to stock apple cider and Oktoberfest ales. The Detroit Lions have officially kicked off the National Football League season with their win against the Kansas City Chiefs. Costume stores are beginning to pop up again as Halloween draws closer and closer. All of this can only mean one thing:

It’s almost hockey season.

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For the Detroit Red Wings, that means all of the organization’s players and prospects are set to travel to Traverse City in northern Michigan to partake in the team’s training camp. That’s right: a new year doesn’t begin in January, it begins in September.

Detroit Red Wings Training Camp Storylines Marco Kasper, J.T. Compher, Andrew Copp, James Reimer
Marco Kasper, J.T. Compher, Andrew Copp, James Reimer (The Hockey Writers)

As you may have heard, the Red Wings had a busy offseason that saw general manager Steve Yzerman bring in no less than 11 new faces that should play a role in Detroit throughout this season. The team also has many prospects that should be able to make a good push for an NHL roster spot this season. Because of all the fresh faces, the first few days of training camp will consist of getting acquainted to all the new players and then figuring out how they fit in with the team’s returning players.

Needless to say, there will be a ton of things to keep an eye on as training camp progresses.

Husso Returns, but Who Plays Backup?

Ville Husso returns to Detroit after an inconsistent first year as a starter in the NHL. Through the first two months of the 2022-23 season, the Finnish netminder was the Red Wings’ most valuable player while stealing games with Vezina-caliber play. But once the calendar flipped to 2023, things went south pretty quickly, and they never really turned around.

Related: Evaluating the State of the Red Wings’ Goaltending Situation

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While Husso expects to rebound this season, his results from last season highlight just how important it is for a team to have a reliable backup (or two) on the depth chart behind their starter. Last season, the Red Wings struggled to find consistency out of both Magnus Hellberg and Alex Nedeljkovic, resulting in both guys being let go this offseason. In their place, Yzerman signed long-time NHLer James Reimer as well as 30-year-old Alex Lyon.

In terms of experience, no one on the Red Wings’ goalie depth chart has more than Reimer’s 476 regular season games. He is entering his 14th season in the NHL, and has plenty of experience being a part of a goaltending tandem – he has never started in more than 46 games in one season. He signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million in the offseason, and should be a steady influence behind Husso.

On the other hand, Lyon signed a two-year pact that carries an annual value of $900k, and has seen his stock rise in recent seasons. He helped the Florida Panthers complete their playoff push last season and even started in three games during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. Most people have him penciled in as the Red Wings third goaltender, making him one of the better third-string options across the league.

Alex Lyon Florida Panthers
Alex Lyon, pictured with the Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The safest bet is the Reimer starts the season as the Red Wings’ backup, with Lyon making NHL appearances if/when injuries occur. Training camp will likely confirm that plan, but expect Lyon to do everything he can to earn an NHL role out of camp. As was demonstrated last season, Yzerman is not unwilling to waive a goalie making an NHL salary if the results aren’t there. Nedeljkovic made millions of dollars while playing in the American Hockey League (AHL) last season because his play in the NHL simply wasn’t good enough. If Reimer falters this season, Detroit has someone else in their organization that should be able to shoulder the load as Husso’s backup.

Red Wings’ Defense Takes Shape

When the Red Wings take the ice for their home opener in October, their lineup will feature at least two new faces on the blue line, with potential for a third new face to be in the lineup as well. Given that the defense usually consists of six players, that means potentially half of Detroit’s blue line crew will be newcomers. That lends itself to a lot of questions, but the biggest question is what the defensive pairings will look like.

Last season, the Red Wings really only had one pairing that was successful on a nightly basis. That pairing, of course, was the top pairing of Jake Walman and Moritz Seider. Once those two were put together in January, they never left each other’s side and produced some highly encouraging results. It seems non-debatable that the Red Wings’ top pairing will consist of those two once again, but the debate does begin once you look beyond the top pairing.

The Red Wings’ defense will almost certainly consist of Seider, Walman, Ben Chiarot, Olli Määttä, Shayne Gostisbehere, Justin Holl, and Jeff Petry, at least to start the season. Outside of Seider and Walman, every one of these defenders have hundreds of NHL games under their belt, meaning that a proven NHLer will sit outside of the lineup on any given night (unless head coach Derek Lalonde moves toward using an 11/7 lineup format this season.) In regards to who plays with who, Chiarot and Määttä are returning players that played together at times last season, so perhaps Lalonde leans into familiarity in training camp, and then lets Holl and Petry decide who will play alongside Gostisbehere on the other pairing.

Related: Red Wings Lineup Projection for 2023-24

The Red Wings’ top pairing at the start of last season was Seider paired with Chiarot, and we saw that pairing first formed during last year’s training camp. We should get a good idea of what pairs Lalonde and his coaching staff are thinking about pretty early on in camp.

Can Any Rookies Make the Red Wings’ Roster?

This is perhaps the biggest question on the minds of Red Wings fans because of all the bodies Yzerman brought in during the offseason. Just a few months ago, the Red Wings were still considered a rebuilding team that is in the process of adding young talent to their roster. After loading up on veterans and swinging big by trading a first round pick to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Alex DeBrincat, it’s hard to still call the Red Wings a rebuilding team in the traditional sense. Does that mean, then, that the team’s top young players are being forced to begin the season outside of the NHL regardless of how “ripe” they are?

Not quite.

Simon Edvinsson Detroit Red Wings
Simon Edvinsson made his NHL debut last season (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

There are a handful of prospects that could be knocking on the NHL’s door as early as training camp including, but not limited to, Simon Edvinsson, Marco Kasper, Albert Johansson and Carter Mazur. Edvinsson and Johansson will find it challenging to make the team given all the NHL talent on the blue line (not to mention the surgery that Edvinsson is still recovering from), but a strong showing in training camp and in the preseason could force some interesting decisions to be made.

On offense, the Red Wings’ forward group is about as crowded as the defense is, but there is still room for forwards that look like they can bring different elements to the team on a consistent basis. With that in mind, a player to watch is Kasper, especially after making the jump to the NHL immediately last season after his season in the Swedish Hockey League ended. The Red Wings’ top pick in the 2022 draft could provide a spark all over the lineup as he has the skill to play an offensive role, the grit to play in a checking role, and the competitiveness to contribute all over the ice. Edvinsson might be the team’s best prospect right now, but Kasper may very well be the Red Wings’ most NHL-ready prospect.

A Glimpse Into the Griffins’ 2023-24 Season

Most of the Red Wings’ prospects and young players that fall short of making the NHL roster will report to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. The Red Wings’ AHL affiliate is entering a new era of their own this season as head coach Ben Simon was dismissed in the offseason and Dan Watson was hired to replace him. Watson arrives in Grand Rapids after six seasons as the head coach of the Toledo Walleye, the Red Wings’ ECHL affiliate.

Watson will play a role in Traverse City (the head coach of the Griffins usually coaches the Red Wings’ prospects during the Traverse City Prospects Tournament) and that’s where his familiarity with Lalonde – going back to Watson’s days as an assistant on Lalonde’s staff in Toledo – will come in handy. Not only will Watson get a clear idea of what Lalonde and the Red Wings want to see out of the Griffins, but he will also get his own idea of which players he’ll have in Grand Rapids and how to use them.

Fans will want to take note of every line the Red Wings roll out during training camp and the preseason, regardless of where the NHL talent stops. The Griffins have not won a playoff series since their championship in 2017, and a clear sign of a healthy, successful rebuild is a flourishing AHL team. We already know which players will be pushing for NHL time this season, but training camp should give us an idea of who will be stars for the Griffins this season on their way to push for NHL time next season.

Who is the 2C?

During the 2022 offseason, the Red Wings signed Andrew Copp to a five-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $5.625 million with expectations of the Ann Arbor-native becoming the team’s go-to second line center (2C). After undergoing core surgery, he missed all of training camp, but still made his Red Wings debut on opening night of the season. Naturally, he was slow to find his footing in Detroit, but he still managed to finish the season with a respectable 42 points in 82 games. Not exactly 2C numbers, but also not bad considering the circumstances.

During the 2023 offseason, Yzerman seemingly doubled-down, signing J.T. Compher to a five-year deal with an AAV of $5.1 million. Comparing Compher to Copp produces a lot of similarities, even down to the fact that they attended the University of Michigan together almost a decade ago. They are both versatile, two-way forwards that can play on the wing and on special teams. The biggest difference between the two of them is their handedness; Copp is a lefty while Compher is a righty.

J.T. Compher Colorado Avalanche
J.T. Compher, pictured with the Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As things stand right now, it appears that either Copp or Compher will be the Red Wings’ 2C to start the season, while the other one holds down the fort on the third line. Throughout the season they may switch places based on performance, chemistry, injuries, etc., but both figure to play key roles and steady minutes for Detroit this season. Both players signed with the Red Wings after posting career-best numbers (Compher had 52 points last season; Copp had 53 back in 2021-22) so you’d like to see both players replicate the efforts that earned their paydays.

Perhaps the biggest variable in this discussion is Kasper and whether or not he can force Copp or Compher over to the wing. In Kasper’s one NHL game last season, he filled the 2C role with Copp and Lucas Raymond on his wings. If the Austrian forward can force Yzerman and Co. to make room on the roster for him, it will be interesting to see where Copp and Compher – the team’s two “big-money” free agents – sit in the lineup.

What storylines are you watching during the Red Wings’ training camp? Let us know down in the comments section below!

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