TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – While coach Mike Babcock focuses on systems and practice, the Detroit Red Wings just want to field a healthy team this season.
Last season was derailed by injuries, although the team managed to extend its streak of 23rd consecutive seasons in the playoffs with a patchwork lineup featuring several young players on NHL ice well before the team’s brass had intended.
Detroit started training camp on Friday in Traverse City with an eye on both improving and keeping its lineup intact. Defenceman Niklas Kronwall noted the team is coming into camp much healthier than in previous years, despite top prospect Anthony Mantha’s absence due to a broken leg sustained this week.
“It’s been a while since that has happened,” Kronwall said.
Daniel Alfredsson, last season’s leading scorer, has been nursing a sore back all off-season and isn’t ready to return to the team.
That leaves younger players such as Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Tomas Tatar to assume bigger roles in support of veterans the team hopes it can keep in the lineup.
“We didn’t lose anyone, besides (Todd Bertuzzi) and (Mikael Samuelsson),” said forward Darren Helm, who was limited to 42 games last season. “Alfie is still questionable, but we have a good team and we proved we can do good things last year. We weren’t 100 per cent healthy. This year, we’re hoping to stay healthy, and we’ve got guys that can hopefully gel together.”
Last year’s opening-day roster went on to miss a combined 422 games due to injury. That doesn’t include 57 missed by Patrick Eaves and 40 by Helm.
That enabled players such as Andersson, Tatar and Nyquist to show off their skills—even if it was earlier than the team’s typical timeframe to bring along young players.
Nyquist responded with 28 goals and 48 points in 57 games, trailing Alfredsson by one point for the team lead. Tatar played 73 games and notched 19 goals and 39 points, and Andersson had 17 points in 65 games. Detroit exited the playoffs in the first round.
“If you just look at the kids that came up last year and what they did,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “They basically carried us in the playoffs. Now when everyone is healthy here and we have those guys, it is exciting to see what we will do. We’ll be a fast team this year with a really good mix of old guys and young kids.”
Even though Detroit struck out in free agency this year, one of last year’s prizes—Stephen Weiss—is hoping to rebound after seeing action in just 26 games in his first Red Wings season after signing a five-year, $24.5 million contract.
Weiss had sports hernia surgery in December.
“What I went through last year. I’m honestly just happy to be back on the ice,” Weiss said. “It could’ve went the other way, and then it could have taken a toll on the rest of my career.
“To go through the summer and rehab really hard and to be able to get back on the ice in the summer and skate without any pain and have that continue into camp has been wonderful for me. I feel like I’m just going to get better and better.”
In Friday’s training camp sessions, Weiss centred a line with Justin Abdelkader and Nyquist.
Tatar filled in for Mantha on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Helm. The third spot on that line when the season starts could be filled by Zetterberg.
“I will look slow, I know that,” Zetterberg said of possibly playing on a line with Helm. “He’s skating really fast out there. It’s nice to see. I like him out there with Pav, with Pavel’s knowledge out on the ice and just skating around,
“Pavel will find him. There’ll be a lot more breakaways than we had.”