Throughout the Detroit Red Wings’ rebuild, there is perhaps no player that inherited a greater burden of responsibility than Lucas Raymond.
Despite many seasons where the Red Wings finished well outside of the playoffs, including the 2019-20 season where they were arguably the worst team of the expansion era, Detroit never won a draft lottery. Heck, the NHL felt that the Red Wings missing out on a top three pick in 2020 was so egregious that they changed the rules of the draft lottery to be more favorable for the league’s worst team…starting the following season. That did not help the Red Wings in 2020, however, and it hasn’t helped them in the years since.
Instead, the Red Wings had no choice but to make the most of the fourth overall selection in that 2020 draft. That was the organization’s highest pick in decades, and to this day, it remains the team’s highest pick during their playoff drought.
As you almost certainly know by now, Raymond was selected with that fourth overall selection. With the distinction of being the highest-drafted Red Wing in a generation, he became a focal point of the rebuild. Fair or unfair, the expectation was pretty clear: he needed to become a pillar of the franchise moving forward, because that’s what you expect out of a top five pick. After a successful rookie season in 2021-22, Raymond stumbled a bit in his sophomore season. Entering his third NHL season, fans across the hockey community expected a bounce-back season from the talented, young Swede.
We are now a little over a third of the way through the 2023-24 season, and Raymond has certainly delivered.
Raymond Creates & Finishes
Since the beginning of the 2020 draft cycle, Raymond was described as a playmaker, someone that finds and creates passing and shooting lanes from all over the offensive zone. Goal-scoring was always considered to be part of the package, but it was secondary to his overall offensive IQ. Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, among others, would come up as a comparable for Raymond and what he could bring to an NHL lineup.
Latest News & Highlight
With over two seasons to draw conclusions from, it is clear that, for one reason or another, Raymond may not be as high-octane offensively as Marner, but they try to do a lot of the same things on the ice. Also, an underrated part of that comparison is the two-way ability of both forwards. While Raymond probably won’t be utilized as a defenseman anytime soon, he isn’t a detriment to his team in his own zone and could very well become a solid penalty killer as his career continues.
But this isn’t about comparing Raymond to Marner, this is about judging Raymond on his own merits. To this point in his third NHL season, Raymond is on pace for 27 goals (would be a career-high) and 66 points (would also be a career-high), and his current Corsi-For percentage (57.1) would cement two-straight seasons of improvement of his possession metrics from one season to the next. Perhaps the most impressive part of his early numbers this season is that he hasn’t done it while playing exclusively with Dylan Larkin on the top line, as was the case in Raymond’s rookie season.
As is the case with any 21-year-old in the NHL, you hope that they continue to progress and show how they are going to make a difference in their prime. Raymond’s prime is still years away, but we’re already seeing a player that can bend the offensive zone to his will. On a team featuring difference-makers like Larkin, Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane, Raymond has already proven himself to be among that group this season – and he’s the youngest among that group.
Raymond Can Learn from Kane
Speaking of Kane, the entire hockey community took note when the longtime Chicago Blackhawk joined the Red Wings on a one-year deal. Most people were quick to point out the connection between him and DeBrincat from their days together in Chicago, and deservedly so – their chemistry together is undeniable as they seem to have picked up right where they left off. But perhaps the most underrated “boost” that Kane provides to the Red Wings’ lineup is what Raymond can learn from the 16-year veteran.
Like Raymond, Kane is a playmaker known more for his creativity and hockey IQ than his ability to score. To that point, throughout his illustrious career, Kane has managed to score 30 goals or more in just five of his 16 seasons prior to this one. But, over those same 16 seasons, he averaged a point per-game or more in 11 seasons. He has made a career out of elevating his teammates and putting them in a position to score.
Kane’s ability to read the defense and find open lanes is something Raymond should be trying to absorb like a sponge. At 35 years old, Kane won’t be a factor for this team long-term, but that doesn’t mean his impact should or will be limited to the time he spends in the winged wheel. For the Red Wings to really get the most out of their time with Kane, they need as many of their long-term players, such as Raymond, to learn what they can from him and then implement those learnings on the ice now and into the future.
Raymond was already on a path to stardom, but learning from a player of Kane’s caliber could be what vaults him into superstardom.
Raymond Improved, but Still Has Room to Grow
The biggest thing Raymond needed to work on over the last offseason was adding strength and weight to his frame. At training camp, much was said about the 10 (sometimes it was eight, other times it was 12) pounds he put on over the summer and how much stronger he looked on and off the ice.
Raymond has been able to draw many penalties this season just because he is stronger on the puck than he has been in previous seasons. That was an especially lethal trait of his game early on in the season when the Red Wings’ power play was among the top special teams units in the league. Even now that their power play isn’t quite that formidable, it doesn’t hurt to give your team as many opportunities with the man-advantage as possible. This is a facet of his game that should only continue to get better as he gets older, stronger, and more experienced.
But make no mistake, Raymond is far from a finished product, and he still has room for improvement. As much as he is a playmaker, he still has opportunities to increase is scoring output by putting the puck on net. He also occasionally gets in his own way when he can smell a goal and he tries to force it without letting the play develop naturally. If anything, this is a product of trying too hard; as he continues to learn to slow things down, that shouldn’t be a lingering problem for him.
After a sophomore slump that led some fans to become skeptical of the winger’s ultimate potential, Raymond has rounded back into form and better than ever. If he didn’t develop any further, he would be a bona fide top six winger that can draw penalties and make smart plays all over the ice. But he will continue to develop, and you can see flashes of what his future looks like.
Right now, much his team, Raymond’s future looks brighter than ever.