Roster Decisions on the Horizon – Forwards

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The other day, I talked about how Ken Holland had some decisions to make regarding some of his prospects and their upcoming waiver eligibility. I determined that of the two defensemen who will be losing their waiver exempt status, Logan Pyett and Sergei Kolosov, that Pyett was the more likely of the two to be on the Wings opening day roster for 2011-2012. Now, let’s look at the forwards who are in the same boat.

First, as a refresher, here are the Wings forwards who are already signed for next year:

Zetterberg – Datsyuk – Holmstrom

Cleary – Filppula – Franzen

Hudler – Helm – Bertuzzi

Abdelkader –     X    –   X

X   – X

Since the Red Wings will likely carry 13 or 14 forwards, that means they can bring up to four players back from a pool that includes this years current group, free agency and the players who are out of minor league options.

The players the Wings have currently under contract who will be free agents this summer are Kris Draper, Mike Modano, Drew Miller, and Patrick Eaves.

The group of players on whom they need to make a decision since they will no longer be waiver exempt are:

Cory Emmerton

Jan Mursak

Ilari Filppula*

As you can see, Ken Holland has to somehow figure out how to squeeze 7 players into four spots, which means there are going to be some tough decisions.

Obviously, his work would be made much easier if the two elder statesmen of the group, Kris Draper and Mike Modano, decided to retire.

Since Modano was leaning towards retirement already before the Wings came calling, I have a feeling that this is his last go. If we win the Cup, I can virtually guarantee it will be his last season, but even if we don’t I can’t see him coming back.

Kris Draper is going to be a Red Wing for as long as he wants to be, that’s a given. He has done so much for this organization, that’s the least they could do to repay him. Also, as soon as he retires I have a feeling he has a job waiting for him working alongside his buddy Maltby. This could be his victory lap with the team.

So now that we’ve whittled it down from 7 players to 5, let’s see which of those guys will make it into our top 14 forwards for next year. We’ll be doing this assuming that we could fit any combination of four players under the cap, because all of them will likely be earning a similar salary.

Patrick Eaves

Strengths:

-Fantastic penalty killer

-Sneaky hard shot that, when he uses it, is very effective

-Plays with a reckless abandon

-Very quick on his skates

Weaknesses:

-Due in part to his reckless style and being undersized, is not very durable

-Has a tendency of getting demolished at least once per game

-Limited potential outside of a bottom 6 role

Drew Miller

Strengths:

-Also a very good penalty killer, especially at clearing the puck out

-Can play in a top 6 role if needed

-Very disciplined player (only has taken 2 minor penalties in 57 games played this year)

Weaknesses:

-Despite having the versatility to play in the top 6 and not be out of place, he doesn’t contribute much offense

-Very light for his height. He is 6’2″, but weighs less than 180 pounds

-Hasn’t given the coaches a reason to keep him in the every day lineup when everyone is healthy

Cory Emmerton

Strengths:

-Has the puck skills to be a top 6 forward one day

-Wings first pick in 2006, and they’ve spent three years developing him in the minors

-Responsible defensively, looked okay in a two game stint earlier this year

Weaknesses:

-His game didn’t develop much in his first two years in Grand Rapids, and there are questions about whether he has already plateaued

-One of the slower skating players in this group of 5

-Seems to have underachieved to this point in his career

Jan Mursak

Strengths:

-Second fastest player in the organization behind only Darren Helm

-Was very good in a fourth line role in the 18 games he played with the Wings this season

-Showed some good chemistry with Abdelkader, and could form a fantastic PK duo with Helm (has 2 SHG this season with Grand Rapids)

-Good hands and offensive skills, could be more than just a checker

Weaknesses

-Very generously listed at 5’11”, 170

-Gives the impression that with his wheels and hands he could do so much more offensively

-Has been known to have a tendency for undisciplined penalties, but didn’t show that during his time with the Wings

Ilari Filppula*

I have Filppula marked with a star, because he has already cleared waivers once before. Due to his age (29), he had to clear waivers to be assigned to Grand Rapids to start this season. He did clear, but given the season he has had, it is doubtful he would clear next year. He is leading the Griffins in points and was named to the AHL All Star Game.

Strengths:

-Might be even better offensively than his younger brother Valtteri

-Has years of pro experience, playing in Finland since 2000 and was named the top Finnish League player in 2010.

-Has proven his play can translate to the smaller, North American rink

-Could have easy chemistry with brother Valtteri

Weaknesses:

-Has never been an elite skater, which is what kept him from ever being drafted

-At age 29, he may have hit his peak

In the interest of full disclosure, I am going to let you know that personally, I tend to lean towards giving the prospects a shot at winning the spot over a guy whose already had a chance. I don’t know why this is, but it might be because of the excitement of a new player coming in and competing for a job. Whatever it is, if all other things are equal I’m probably going to give the spot to the youngster.

That being said, here is how I would put together next year’s forward group:

Hudler  – Datsyuk – Holmstrom

Cleary – Zetterberg – Franzen

Bertuzzi – V. Filppula – Eaves

Abdelkader – Helm – Mursak

Emmerton – I. Filppula

The odd man out for me was Drew Miller. I think him and Eaves would have a similar role on next year’s team, and I feel like Eaves is a better all around player and has more upside. Losing Miller frees up room for all three prospects to make the team, which is something I’m excited about. Our lineup got much, much younger from 2010 to 2011 so hopefully the kids can provide some energy.

I think there is a very good possibility that all five of the players I listed above will be re-signed and then it will truly be a battle for the final few spots on the roster. The odd man or men out will be waived, and most likely snatched up.

Do you agree with how I’m projecting next year’s lineup? Would you make any changes? Let me know in the comment section!

*Big thank you to Michael Petrella, who was very helpful while I was putting together the list of players losing their waiver exemptions*

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  • Paul

    I want Tatar there next season, hes ready, and should earn a spot over Emmerton.

  • gfa5eat

    I think Tatar could spend another year developing. After all, he is a Red Wing.
    Rob I love this lineup, and I would make the same choice with Miller.
    Great article!!

    • http://detroitsportsnation.com Rob Benneian

      Couldn’t agree more. The Wings never rush a guy up, and they especially won’t next year with Tatar considering we have way too many other guys who deserve and want a spot.

      Doesn’t make sense to rush Tatar up and potentially lose an Emmerton or a Mursak or a Miller, etc. Keep Tatar in the AHL, let’s see if he can be a dominant player there next year, and he’s still among the youngest players in the league since North Americans can’t play there until they’ve exhausted their junior eligibility.