For the first time in nearly a decade, the Detroit Red Wings will enter a season with a realistic shot at the playoffs. They need to prove they belong first.
On an individual level, a few Red Wings have something to prove as well. These players have a chip on their shoulder for a variety of reasons, and have extra motivation entering the new season.
After signing a five-year, $5.1 million AAV contract this offseason, Compher needs to prove that he can be an effective middle-six—if not second-line—forward for the Red Wings. He’s no longer riding shotgun next to all-world talent Mikko Rantanen.
Instead, Compher spent training camp alongside Robby Fabbri and either Daniel Sprong or Lucas Raymond. Don’t get me wrong – Raymond is a talented player and could have a breakout year for the Red Wings. He’s not Rantanen, though.
So this year, Compher must prove that he’s more than Rantanen’s sidekick – that his 52-point campaign was a result of his own abilities and not Rantanen’s aura.
It’s no secret that the Red Wings have a logjam on defense. Ben Chiarot’s training camp absence alleviated this to a degree. But he’s set to return this week. And Red Wings management likes his physical presence and approach to the penalty kill.
Moritz Seider and Jake Walman will be in the lineup every night. Jeff Petry likely will be, too. Justin Holl and Shayne Gostisbehere have roles on special teams. So where does that leave Olli Määttä? It’s easy to assume that he’ll be out of the lineup more often than not.
Not so fast.
During the Red vs. White game and the preseason, Määttä played confidently and it showed in his decision-making. He didn’t look like the odd-man out on the crowded blue line. Not in the least bit. Määttä looked like someone who should be in the lineup every night. And he’ll need to prove this on a daily basis heading into the season to maintain that spot.
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Last season, Ville Husso played more games (56) and minutes (3,220) than any prior season in his amateur or professional career. And from the sound of it, he’s in for the same treatment this year.
“I just felt like last year we pushed him into some games just because of where we were, with what we weren’t getting out of some of our depth in that position. I think we knew we probably overused him, maybe took him beyond his threshold. This is the reason why: get him a little more comfortable with playing more games, more minutes. … I foresee him getting a similar amount of games, that 55-56-58 range.”
–Derek Lalonde (from ‘Red Wings training camp observations: Jake Walman could take another step’ – The Athletic – 9/22/23)
It’s clear that Husso is being given a huge opportunity. Now it’s on him to prove that he’s a bonafide starting goalie that can effectively handle the lion’s share of starts.
Entering the 2023-24 season, these three players will be eager to prove their value. Compher must demonstrate that his career year wasn’t a fluke, Määttä needs to secure a spot in a competitive defensive lineup, and Husso will aim to be a more reliable starting goalie. Their performances will not only shape their individual futures but also play a pivotal role in the Red Wings’ pursuit of playoff success.