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Looking Ahead: Red Wings 2015-16 Season Preview

In the 2014-15 season, we saw an improved Detroit Red Wings team who was one year removed from an incredibly injury-riddled season. While they were still eliminated in the first round, they took a very good Tampa Bay Lightning team to a 7th game in the series. If it wasn’t for a suspension to Niklas Kronwall in that game, amongst other factors, the series could have easily went the other way. The Lightning would eventually end up losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar continued to establish themselves as goal-scorers for a second year in a row, and we also saw an incredible year from Justin Abdelkader. He really became an “X” factor for the Wings, providing a physical presence as well as scoring 23 goals. He made the Red Wings a much more difficult team to play against.

Turning the page to this season, the Red Wings are experiencing some pretty big changes for the first time in a number of years. Former head coach Mike Babcock left to become the Maple Leafs’ savior, and Jeff Blashill, who was the head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, replaced him behind the bench.

While Blashill shares some similarities to Babcock, with his tireless work ethic and expectations, that is where the similarities end. He is a much more player-friendly coach who also commands respect from all of his players.

The off-season also saw the Red Wings bring in some new faces via free agency (Mike Green and Brad Richards) as well as some players from within their own system (Dylan Larkin).

Here is a good look at your 2015-16 Detroit Red Wings:

Forwards

Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Riley Sheahan, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Dan Cleary, Joakim Andersson, Luke Glendening, Drew Miller, Teemu Pulkkinen, Brad Richards, Landon Ferraro and Dylan Larkin

As you can see, we have a TON of depth on forward. With Stephen Weiss’ buyout and Pavel Datsyuk having off-season ankle surgery, the Red Wings went out and signed 35-year old center, Brad Richards. Richards is an excellent playmaker and an experienced playoff performer. He looked great in the preseason, playing most of it next to Tatar.

The Red Wings also have a teenager on their roster for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. Dylan Larkin, who was the Red Wings’ 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft has become a premier prospect in the league behind the likes of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. He was up to the task at every level of hockey he played, and he cemented his spot on the team after several great showings in the preseason. He is set to start on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Abdelkader.

This allows us to spread the wealth throughout the lineup with Richards, Tatar and Nyquist on the second line, and a third line that could have any combination of Riley Sheahan, Johan Franzen, Tomas Jurco, Teemu Pulkkinen or Darren Helm. That is a very solid top 9 that could pose a lot of issues for opposing teams.

The 4th line is where there is a pretty big log-jam, we have Dan Cleary (He just never goes away…), Luke Glendening, Drew Miller, Landon Ferraro and Joakim Andersson to choose from. To me it is a no-brainer; I believe that Andersson and Cleary should be the odd-men out, but it seems like the brass can’t part with either of them.

It will be interesting to see what ends up working and what doesn’t by the end of the season. There are so many different combinations, but it will all depend on the health of the veterans like Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Franzen. Franzen was limited to 33 games after suffering yet another concussion, and he is seemingly one big hit away from retiring. I am hoping he is able to stay healthy this year and produce.

Defense

Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Danny DeKeyser, Kyle Quincey, Brendan Smith, Mike Green, Jakub Kindl, Xavier Ouellet and Alexey Marchenko.

After a few seasons of striking out in the off-season, the Red Wings were finally able to get a right-handed offensive-defenseman, and a good one at that. Mike Green, who was signed for 3 years by the Wings, possesses elite skills that should make them a much more dangerous team offensively. He has great vision and is not afraid to jump in the play to create odd-man rushes.

After the first pairing of Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, Green was supposed to be paired with Danny DeKeyser on the second pairing. DeKeyser was injured in the preseason, so Kyle Quincey may be there for the time being.

Assuming DeKeyser returns within his 4-week timeframe, we are left with Xavier Ouellet, Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl (IR), Quincey and Alexey Marchenko duking it out for the final pairing. I am praying we do not see the return of the Smith/Quincey pairing, but my gut tells me we will. Blashill has great familiarity with Marchenko and Ouellet, so I am hoping that this gives them some sort of edge over the others. Ouellet has deserved to be on the team for a while now and I would like to see him get his chance to play every night.

Overall, I am very excited about the way our defense is shaping up. I would still love to see Ericsson away from the top pairing (or any pairing for that matter), but our possession numbers will only increase with a guy like Mike Green on the back end. We should be able to find more production from other defensemen along the way.

Goaltending

 Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek

Jimmy Howard was an all-star last year before he was injured, and never really returned to form. He lost his starting position in the playoffs last year to Petr Mrazek. Mrazek was great in the post-season and had many fans questioning whether he should take over the starter role permanently.

Jimmy Howard took the loss of his starting position to heart and came into training camp lighter and quicker. He and Mrazek have both played incredibly well in the preseason, making Blashill’s decision that much more difficult.

Having two goaltenders playing well right now is not a bad dilemma to have. You have to think that Blashill will ride the hot hand until someone establishes himself as the true number one.

2015-16 Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings continued their post-season streak of 24 straight seasons last year, and they are bound and determined to keep that streak going. That is all well and good, but the Red Wings are also determined to contend instead of just qualify, and more than the previous years, they definitely have the tools to do so.

Although veterans such as Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Kronwall are not getting any younger, they have proven that they still have a lot left in the tank. Datsyuk produced over a point per game last season and Zetterberg was having an incredible year before he seemingly ran out of gas after the All-Star break. Zetterberg’s post-All-Star break lack of production can be attributed to his conditioning. Coming off back surgery last season, he was unable to train the right way, as most of the summer was spent rehabbing. Expect to see Z maintain pace this year and produce the way we know he can, especially in clutch situations.

The power play should once again be number one in the league, as adding players like Mike Green and Brad Richards will give them even more combinations to play around with.

One area that they have to try and improve is the penalty kill. They started off very well, but by the end of the year ended up finishing 17th overall. I think that players like Ouellet and Marchenko could make a difference if given the opportunity.

With the Red Wings’ veterans leading the way, the emergence of a potential superstar in Dylan Larkin, and the continued growth of players such as Tatar, Nyquist, Sheahan, Abdelkader, Pulkkinen and Helm, Detroit is poised to contend for the division title, and may have the potential for a deep playoff run.

This is arguably the deepest Red Wings team since 2009, and with a new coach and some fresh faces, I cannot wait to see what this season has in store.

Let’s Go Red Wings!

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