With each passing season it feels like the Detroit Red Wings are more likely to never miss the playoffs, so it should be no surprise the team finds themselves among the top of the Eastern Conference.
It’s not that the Red Wings are competitive again that’s the story, though. It’s how they’re competitive. Once again, Detroit has solidified a roster that has lost veteran pieces by bringing in fresh faces that are ready to fill in, and who knows when this will ever end. While some point to GM Ken Holland’s most outstanding stroke of genius as drafting Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in late rounds, those choices were little more than a friendly twist of fate.
The real magic from Holland has come in the last several seasons, where he has selected the next generation – the players that are now tasked with bringing the Red Wings into the future. One who stands out most is Tomas Jurco, the Red Wings first selection, 35th overall, in the 2011 draft.
Though most became familiar with Jurco because of his stick skills, he’s turned into one of the players relied on the most by the Red Wings this season. Not necessarily a defensive star, he’s been incredible at possessing the puck and driving play for Detroit. Take, for instance, that of all Detroit forwards who have played at least 200 minutes at even strength, Jurco takes the fifth-most defensive zone starts, yet drives play better than any player, defenseman or forward, on the team. His Corsi For is an outstanding 60 percent at 5-on-5. Even though he’s struggling to score, what he brings to the roster when he’s on the ice is invaluable.
The same goes for defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who Holland was able to pick up via free agency when the former NCAA standout was ready to leave the college ranks. For the first time in his short NHL career, DeKeyser is being given a shutdown role and not only is he excelling, he’s quietly becoming one of Detroit’s standouts.
While he’s not taking on the tough competition of Red Wings veterans like Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall, he’s being tasked with more defensive starts and moving play up the ice, something the Red Wings have missed since the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom. While any comparison to the Detroit legend would be foolish, DeKeyser is bringing strong defensive and possession play to the Red Wings with increased minutes and responsibility.
And though advanced statistics make it seem as though the trio of Luke Glendening, Joakim Andersson, and Drew Miller are getting eaten alive, they’re eating tough minutes and rarely see offensive zone starts. All three, with Miller at 30 being the elder statesman, have been undertaking a thankless task and doing their job night in and night out.
And all this talent, these pieces that are putting Detroit right in the conversation for another playoff run, comes without mention of Gustav Nyquist. Nyquist, 25, was Detroit’s fourth-round pick in 2008, and since coming into the league has been an offensive force. With 13 goals already this season and an incredible 17.1 shooting percentage, Nyquist is silencing those who thought his 28 goals in 57 games last season were simply a mirage.
Add in Tomas Tatar, Justin Abdelkader, Riley Sheahan, and Darren Helm, and the roster that was once filled with veterans who were simply waiting their call to the Hall is now littered with young talent that is ready to keep the Red Wings winning tradition alive.
Some of the old guard remains and, at times, they’re more a reminder of what came before these talented youngsters than the force that drives the team. It seems to matter little who moves on because as soon as they do, Detroit and Ken Holland have already found a replacement that is ready, willing, and able to keep the winged wheel turning.