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Detroit Red Wings: 5 players to prioritize in Free Agency

After yet another intriguing draft, general manager Steve Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings now have their sights set on the free agency period, which opens Wednesday, July 13th at noon ET.

Yzerman used the no. 8 overall pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Level Draft on a centerman, Marco Kasper. Kasper isn’t considered to be the most offensively gifted forward in the draft, but he projects to be a valuable NHL two-way center.

The Detroit Red Wings spent five of their first six draft choices on forwards. This, after the previous three drafts, seemed to focus on the backend, at least in the early rounds, with a couple of exceptions, of course; Lucas Raymond and Sabastian Cossa.

The Detroit Red Wings should focus on bolstering the middle of their lineup and adding a left-handed defender through free agency.

When you look across Detroit’s roster, there are many needs but none more glaring than down the middle of their lineup. As it stands, Detroit is expected to field a lineup that will feature captain Dylan Larkin down the middle. Following Larkin will be Pius Suter, Michael Rasmussen, and possibly Joseph Veleno.

Detroit has a few pending free agent forwards, which include veteran Sam Gagner, Carter Rowney, Riley Barber, and Turner Elson. The restricted free agent forwards are Filip Zadina and Mitchell Stephens (not tendered).

Here are five free agents the Detroit Red Wings need to consider signing this offseason.

The Detroit Red Wings should consider signing Dylan Strome.

Recently it was reported that the Chicago Blackhawks would not be tendering former no. 3 overall pick Dylan Strome a contract making him an unrestricted free agent. This decision is a bit odd with Strome being just 25 years old, and his qualifying offer was set at $3.6 million.

Strome is coming off a 48-point campaign with the Blackhawks, where he netted 22 goals. This decision came on the heels of two other interesting choices made by the Blackhawks’ general manager Kyle Davidson.

Davidson traded away star forward Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for the no. 7 and 39th picks in the 2022 NHL Entry Level Draft, along with a 2024 third-round pick. Davidson also traded away center Kirby Dach to the Montreal Canadiens for the no. 13 overall pick. As the Hawks continue to clean house, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the likes of Patrick Kane and captain Jonathan Toews request a ticket out of town over the next few weeks.

Strome would fit nicely slated in behind Larkin heading into next season, and he’d provide the organization with a nice offensive boost. This also slides Suter down to the third line and Rasmussen down to the fourth unit.

The Detroit Red Wings should try to persuade star forward Evgeni Malkin to town.

This won’t make complete sense to many of you, and I understand. Why would a  highly decorated 36-year-old future Hall Of Fame forward even entertain the idea of joining a rebuilding franchise? On the other hand, why would Steve Yzerman want to add a high-priced 36-year-old forward to a multi-year contract? Both of these notions are entirely understandable. But let me explain;

I don’t expect Detroit will be ‘in’ on the Evgeni Malkin sweepstakes, but he’s at least someone the organization needs to kick the tires on as long as he remains available.

The Detroit Red Wings need to add an established, productive centerman that can complement captain Dylan Larkin. Malkin, at 36, when healthy, is still a top-25 player that averages a point per game. Last season over 41 games, the Russian-born star netted 20 goals and totaled 42 points. In 981 career games, he’s achieved 1,146 points, including 444 goals.

With Yzerman and the Wings finally parting ways with long-time head coach Jeff Blashill replacing him with Derek Lalonde, perhaps insulating Larkin, Bertuzzi, and Lucas Raymond with a star like Malkin wouldn’t be the worst idea. Detroit needs to vastly improve their power play in 2022, and Malkin does just that. Last season Detroit’s power play operated at a 16.3 clip, a mere 4% lower than the league average.

In my opinion, it would likely take a three or four-year deal that averages around $8 million per season to garner Malkin’s attention to join a non-contender. Cap space is something the Red Wings possess. The club currently sits with a projected $31 million in available space.  Imagine a first line of Larkin, Raymond and Bertuzzi followed by Malkin, Vrana, and Fabbri (when he’s healthy).

If the Penguins and Malkin cannot reconcile, I expect the Washington Capitals to make a significant push for his services. With Nicklas Backstrom‘s future a bit murky, Malkin could be inserted beside his countryman Alex Ovechkin and enjoy immediate success.

The Detroit Red Wings should target Andrew Copp in free agency.

The Detroit Red Wings should consider bringing Andrew Copp home. Copp, a former Michigan Wolverine, has excelled as a big-bodied centerman that is not only a reliable two-way center but someone that can chip in offensively.

Copp recorded 21 goals totaling 53 points over 72 games last season, split between the Winnipeg Jets and the New York Rangers. He seems to fit the profile GM Steve Yzerman covets. Copp enjoyed a respectable postseason with the Rangers recording six goals and 14 points over 20 games.

Copp doesn’t only have the ability to be an efficient penalty killer but can also chip in on the second power-play unit. The 28-year-old Ann Arbor native maintained a Corsi For Percentage of 53.7% last season while averaging over 19-minutes of ice time per game. He also won 53.2% of his faceoffs last season and has averaged 52% throughout his career.

I expect the former Wolverine will be looking to cash in on the open market, and six years averaging $6 million per season wouldn’t be out of the question. It may seem a bit rich for Copp, but he impacts the game in areas a GM and former player like Yzerman will appreciate.

The Detroit Red Wings should consider a reunion with Marc Staal.

This opinion likely won’t ‘wow’ you, but veteran defender Marc Staal has been a valuable mentor on the backend for the Detroit Red Wings over the past two seasons. When Yzerman traded for Staal, I didn’t think it was anything but a one-year experiment centered around the Red Wings taking on a bad salary and obtaining a second-round draft selection for doing so.

As it turned out, Marc Staal wasn’t Jonathan Ericsson 2.0 and still had plenty in the tank to give. Staal is the definition of a defensive defender but proved not to be a liability. In 127 games played over the past two seasons with Detroit, Staal has recorded six goals and 26 points while averaging nearly 18 minutes per night. He also skated to a minus -6 over that span and amassed 120 blocked shots.

The Red Wings could use a couple of experienced left-handed shots to compliment Moritz Seider and Filip Hronek. The organization has former first-round pick Simon Edvinsson and second-round pick William Wallinder knocking on the NHL door. Both are 6-foot-4, 19-year-old left-handed shot defenders.

It’s never a bad idea to insulate the youthful players, especially defensemen, with a couple of quality veteran players. Staal fits that bill perfectly and is far more efficient than Danny DeKeyser, albeit three years older. DeKeyser is an unrestricted free agent, and his time with Detroit is all but over.  Another one-year deal for Staal worth $2 million wouldn’t be the worst thing.

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The Detroit Red Wings need to consider making an offer to Brett Kulak.

Brett Kulak is likely a priority for former Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and the Edmonton Oilers following Duncan Keith‘s retirement announcement earlier this week. The 28-year-old is expected to test the open market Wednesday despite being an Edmonton native.

Frank Seravalli of The Daily Faceoff reports: “Expectation is Brett Kulak will explore the market on Wednesday. Oilers and Kulak’s camp met on Tuesday in attempt to keep the Stony Plain native in Oil Country, but haven’t found common ground to this point. Edmonton has some decisions to make on the backend.”

Kulak, a left-handed shot, and a player head coach Derek Lalonde can plug in alongside Moritz Seider or Filip Hronek, making up the team’s top-four to begin the year.

The veteran defender recorded 21 points, including five goals between Montreal and Edmonton. Kulak averaged just shy of 18-minutes per night and maintained a Corsi For Percentage of 51%. Even if the Red Wings decided to add Kulak, I wouldn’t rule out a reunion with Marc Staal. As previously mentioned, the Red Wings could use a couple of proven left-handed defenders to mix in with their young up-and-comers.

Written by Bob Heyrman

Bob currently serves as the Editorial Director at Detroit Sports Nation. Bob's writing is comparable to the third starter in a rotation. Sometimes he throws junk that finds the barrel of the bat and gets smacked over the fence, but the odd time he can toss a complete game shutout. Bob is a passionate lifelong Detroit sports fan. Bob loves the city and can often be found downtown taking in a sporting event or a cold beverage at a local watering hole.

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