After years of struggling to score at a level befitting a playoff team, the Detroit Red Wings sought to solve that issue this offseason with the additions of Daniel Sprong, an incredibly efficient five-on-five goal scorer, and two time 40-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat. The dream was for these two to simply help improve the team’s overall goal scoring potential, with a pipe dream that they could combine for 50-60 goals. Who knew it would pay off so quickly?
After the team’s first four games, DeBrincat has scored five goals (and eight total points) with Sprong pitching in with two goals of his own, both at even strength. These early contributions have been important to Detroit’s 3-1-0 start to the 2023-24 season, and while they are obviously not sustainable across a full 82-game season, this is a really great sign that the Red Wings may have found some solutions to one of their biggest problems. What are some realistic expectations for these two snipers over the course of the season and how likely are they to be difference makers all year?
DeBrincat Trade is Looking Pretty Good
When Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman made the move to acquire DeBrincat from the Ottawa Senators, the trade was viewed with a mixture of excitement at his goal scoring potential and nervousness as he was coming off a down year with the Senators. Nobody was quite sure if his elite goal scoring was a result of playing big minutes with Patrick Kane back with the Chicago Blackhawks or if he was capable of replicating those numbers with other linemates.
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Early returns are looking . . . better than Detroit could have ever hoped for. As of Tuesday night (Oct. 18), DeBrincat leads the NHL in points with eight, and is second in goals with five (behind only Auston Matthews). He has already scored twice on the powerplay, helping to take Detroit’s powerplay group from below average to well above average early on this season.
Let’s pump the brakes a little though because DeBrincat has scored his five goals on just 13 shots. A 38.5% shooting percentage isn’t sustainable for any player in the league, no matter how elite of a shooter they are. DeBrincat is currently on pace to score roughly 102 goals this year so I don’t think I need to argue that he’s not going to keep this pace up for the next six months or so. However, his career shooting percentage is well above average, sitting just below 15% which is a very strong mark. Debrincat has also shown that he is capable of maintaining a shooting percentage in the 18-20% range over a full season in his best years.
If DeBrincat is able to maintain his career average over an 82-game season this year, he would be on pace to score roughly 38 goals, which would almost certainly lead this Red Wings team. There will be slumps, and there will certainly be frustrations, but DeBrincat is still a very capable goal scorer who has proven himself capable of scoring goals in the NHL like very few can. I believe 35 goals is a very realistic possibility for him but I’m going to set my prediction at 39 goals for his first year in Detroit.
Sprong Not Looking Back After Last Season’s Breakout
Sprong broke out last year with the Seattle Kraken, scoring a career-high 21 goals and 46 points in a depth role with very little power play ice time. He averaged just 11:25/game in Seattle and managed to be an excellent depth scorer in the Kraken’s middle six forward group. His career shooting percentage is right around 12%, but he clicked at 14.3% last season and is sitting at 20% after four games this season.
Sprong’s 21 goals last year would have placed him third on the 2022-23 Red Wings for goals, behind only Dylan Larkin and David Perron. He had scored 14 goals in three separate seasons before rising to 21 last year, so there’s no reason to think he can’t at least approach 20 once again, especially if he gets serious ice time on Detroit’s second power play unit. While he has 69 career NHL goals, just 11 of them have come with the man advantage so he has proven himself capable of producing offense even when he isn’t put in prime scoring position.
I think Sprong is going to take another measurable step forward this year, hitting 24 goals by year’s end for a new career high. Detroit doesn’t have a ton of reliable offensive weapons right now so I expect Sprong will get more power play ice time this year than ever before, leading to a few more goals. That would put the total goals for DeBrincat and Sprong at 63 by my predictions which would be an incredible mark since their acquisitions only resulted in the team’s loss of Dominik Kubalik (as far as NHL players are concerned) who scored just 20 goals last year.
Can the Red Wings Finally Score Enough Goals?
The season is still very young but the Red Wings have looked different so far, in a very good way. Last year they finished with the ninth fewest goals scored, behind teams like the New York Islanders and the St. Louis Blues. They scored an average of 2.92 goals/game in the 2022-23 season which is simply not good enough for this team to contend for a playoff spot given their goaltending quality.
While it’s still early, it is really encouraging to see this Red Wings team scoring a lot more goals, with 19 goals scored through the first four games of the year (4.75 goals/game). DeBrincat and Sprong were both brought in for the express purpose of scoring goals and they have found a ton of success early on in Hockey Town. This level of scoring won’t last forever, but I know Red Wings fans will enjoy it nevertheless.