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Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Projecting the 2017-18 Red Wings Forward Lines

According to NHLNumbers.com the Red Wings have $2.225M in cap space and Andreas Athanasiou and Tomas Tatar remain without contracts, so I don’t think they’re going to be adding any extra contracts any time soon.

With the Red Wings’ roster all but finalized in early July, we might as well take a look at what the 2017-18 Projected Lines and D-Pairings look like. It’s not easy to guess what is going on in a coach’s head, especially when we’re talking about Jeff Blashill and the Red Wings. He basically changed their lines every night and used some bizarre combinations.

Let’s start with the forwards.

LW C RW
Tomas Tatar
Tomas Tatar
Henrik Zetterberg
Henrik Zetterberg
Anthony Mantha
Anthony Mantha
Gustav Nyquist
Gustav Nyquist
Frans Nielsen
Frans Nielsen
Dylan Larkin
Dylan Larkin
Andreas Athanasiou
Andreas Athanasiou
Riley Sheahan
Riley Sheahan
Darren Helm
Darren Helm
Justin Abdelkader
Justin Abdelkader
Luke Glendening
Luke Glendening
Luke Witkowski
Luke Witkowski

The Red Wings basically return to the exact same forward group as they had in 2016-17, except with Luke Witkowski—who can play both defence and wing—instead of Drew Miller. Blashill coached Witkowski at Western Michigan and “pushed hard for him” according to DetroitRedWings.com writer Dana Wakiji.

“It was something that we wanted to go out and find and we wanted to make sure that, not necessarily every night, but there’s certain nights where you need some more toughness. It’s hard to ask one guy to do it on a nightly basis, you’d like to have two or three or four guys that can do it and he’s a guy that can bring some of that to the table.” – Blashill

Witkowski likely won’t be in the lineup every night and you could likely plug Tyler Bertuzzi into that spot as well. The 22-year-old nephew of Todd Bertuzzi had 12 goals and 25 assists (37 points) in 48 games with Grand Rapids last season and was named the Calder Cup MVP following a playoff in which he posted 19 points (9G / 10A) in 19 games. Bertuzzi struggled in brief stint with the Red Wings last year. He had an ugly 39.33 CF% and failed to record a point in seven games.

Enough about the fourth line, lets talk about the players who are going to lead this team. A lot of prognosticators thought that Henrik Zetterberg’s best years were behind him, but the captain proved them wrong but registering 68 points (17G / 51A) while suiting up for all 82 games a season ago.

The 36-year-old has certainly lost a step, but he is the undeniable leader of this team and if the Red Wings are going to have any success in 2017-18, he will need to be just as good as he was in 2016-17. The Red Wings also need their 6-foot-5, 221 lbs. power-forward Anthony Mantha to take that next step.

Mantha was pretty comparable to a second-line winger last year, but has first-line talent and the ability to be a 30-goal scorer this season. The third member of the projected first line is Tatar, who still needs a contract. The three of them played 274:11 TOI together last season and were excellent. The trio had a 56.7 CF% and goals for percentage of 66.7.

It’s a lock that Gustav Nyquist and Frans Nielsen will play top-6 minutes, but the sixth forward remains to be seen. It’s unclear whether Dylan Larkin will be a centre or a winger and that decision will change everything. Larkin ran into the “sophomore slump” in 2016-17, but things should improve this year. Larkin had a 48.15 CF%, which will need to improve, but his on-ice shooting percentage of 6.42% is bound to improve and will result in an uptick in points. After Nielsen inked a big contract last summer, Red Wings’ fans were expecting more out of him, but that’s basically what you can expect from the veteran centre. Nielsen’s ceiling is roughly 20-goals and 30-assists, so he could improve on last year’s numbers. Lastly, Nyquist had just 18 points (4G / 14A) in his first 40 games of last season, but was a near point-per-game player through the remainder of the season, compiling 30 points (8G / 22A) in 36 games. A slow start to Nyqvist’s season really hurt the Red Wings, but his strong finish reminded fans just what he can do for their top-6.

The third line is the most difficult to project, because you don’t know what Blashill’s plan for Larkin is. He could centre this third line and I like the idea of having Larkin, Athanasiou and Darren Helm together because they can be a solid two-way line while possessing elite speed, but I doubt it will come to fruition. Riley Sheahan is the other option for the third line centre role, despite playing a lot of last year on the wing. Having some size up the middle is important and Sheahan should be ready to prove that 2016-17 was just an anomaly and return to the 15-goal, 20-assist per 82-game pace that he displayed in the three years prior.

*All Advanced Stats via Puckalytics*


What do you think? What would your 2017-18 projected forward lines look like? Comment below!