Who was the Red Wings best player this season? It’s pretty hard to tell.
In one of the less impressive Wings seasons in years, there was few “standout” performances.
Dylan Larkin was selected to the All-Star Game, but perhaps that was more due to his hype rather than being the best player on the team. Henrik Zetterberg led the team with 50 points, but it was 50 points, not 80. Petr Mrazek was probably the team’s best goalie. Pavel Datsyuk had one of his worst offensive seasons in years, but he’s still Pavel Datsyuk and if you can’t handle him at his worst, you probably don’t deserve him at his best.
With that said, we debate who the Wings best player was this season.
Wings best player? Easy, Petr Mrazek. He slipped down the stretch but there’s a strong possibility that was injury related more than anything else. He was fantastic in the playoffs. During the first half of the season The Wings were barely scored yet they were fighting for first in the division all the way into February. That is almost solely because of Mrazek. At one point just before his injury he was leading the league in GAA and save percentage, had it not been for his injury he very well might have got a Vezina nomination. Take out his last three weeks and it’s not even close. On top of that, in his three playoff games he allowed only one 5v5 goal against.
Oddly, in a down year, Henrik Zetterberg was probably the best player on the Wings. He led the team in points and was the captain of the team. It doesn’t make a lot of sense but on a weak team, he still was somehow the top player on the team. His underlying metrics leave a lot to be desired (link to my YIR), yet it doesn’t mean that his output deserves to be downplayed.
In my opinion, the best player in the Wings 2015-16 season was their leading goal scorer Dylan Larkin. As the first teenager to crack the Red Wings lineup since 2000, Larkin came out hot, scoring his first NHL goal 20 minutes and 20 seconds into his first NHL game. Statistically, he was one of the best players on the team, ranking third in points with 45, first in +/- at a plus-11, and seventh on the team in CF% at 52.5% (forwards who played more than 40 games).
What impressed me most about D-Boss was not his statistics, but his style of play on the ice. Using his speed, Larkin was all over the opposing team whenever he was on the ice. His forechecking and backchecking on opposing players always ensured pressure was being put on the puck holder and often resulted in a turnover. He was hungry, he was persistent, he was calm and collected, and it resulted in good things for him.
Larkin definitely cooled off offensively in the latter half of the season, but his spirit and persistence remained. It’s hard to explain, but watching him play gave me a sense of hope. Early in the season, Bob MacKenzie compared him to Jonathan Toews. As a Red Wings fan, this excites me because we haven’t had a Jonathan Toews since we had Steve Yzerman. And I loved Steve Yzerman.
For me, the best player of the Wings this season was probably the same it’s been for most of the past ten years – Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk led the team in points per game with 0.74, average time-on-ice for forwards with 19:39 per game, and finished second on the team (one behind Zetterberg) in total points despite missing 16 games, while Zetterberg played all 82. Datsyuk finished 13th in the league amongst with a 57.4 Corsi at even strength. It’s not flashy, and maybe it wasn’t a “classic Datsyuk” season, but even in a mediocre year, the Wings best player was well, their best player.