The smoke has cleared, dust has settled, and the unfortunate reality is that Henrik Zetterberg‘s time in the NHL is more than likely over. If he isn’t already out of gas, he’s quickly draining. He may have already played his final NHL game.
Despite the tears that have been and will continue to be shed, there’s a bright side to this story. The Red Wings organization, the fans, and the players all have a light at the end of this tunnel. Most importantly, in terms of the short-term positives, the 2018-19 lineup can greatly build off of Z’s absence.
The New Kids
After two disappointing seasons, Ken Holland is finally starting to realize the inevitable rebuild that must take place in Hockeytown. Better late than never, I suppose. With this realization comes massive changes to the squad for the 2018-19 season, and with changes comes a wave of younger players sporting the Winged Wheel. Without Zetterberg, these young guns will be able to fit into the lineup much easier.
The top priority for the forward group is right wing Filip Zadina. The 6th overall pick in 2018 has shown a lot of promise so far, impressing throughout development camp by showing his flashy shootout moves and scoring the game-winning goal in the Red vs. White game on a pass from Michael Rasmussen.
Zadina’s shootout goal:
Zadina’s OT goal:
Zadina’s numbers in junior also support the case of him being NHL ready. In the 2017-18 season, he recorded 44 goals and 38 assists in 57 games for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. He also added 12 points in 9 playoff games.
As the clips show, Zadina possesses a remarkable amount of hockey IQ. He’s seemingly always able to find open ice, and can thread the needle from almost anywhere. He displays his slick hands any time he gets the chance, and can finish plays himself with his quick release, or find the open man and send the puck to him on a dime.
Zadina’s only lacking a defensive game. He certainly isn’t a penalty killer, but will be a very exciting powerplay option for the Wings. Expect him to fit in on a second-line role to start the season.
The aforementioned Michael Rasmussen is next up. This guy is a beast in front of the net at a towering 6’6, and has no trouble cleaning up loose pucks.
In the 2017-18 season, Rasmussen tallied 31 goals and added 28 helpers in 47 games for the Tri-City Americans. As if that doesn’t sound nice enough, he went on to have an explosive postseason performance, scoring 16 goals and 17 assists in the WHL playoffs. That’s 33 points in only 14 games – over 2 points per game.
Rasmussen will be a spectacular net-front player for the Wings, much like Anthony Mantha. He will fit well as a third-line winger to start the year, and, like Zadina, will be a powerplay option.
Zadina and Rasmussen ranked #1 and #2 respectively in Brad Krysko’s top-25 Red Wings prospect rankings for WingsNation.
Zetterberg’s absence as the first-line center doesn’t directly affect these two, but someone will have to move to center, which opens up space on the wing for these guys. Rasmussen played center in junior, but it’s doubtful that Blash would want him playing in the middle in his debut season. It’s likely he’ll toy with that idea a few seasons down the road.
Center Role for Athanasiou
Andreas Athanasiou has been a player who’s simply never gotten enough playing time with the Wings. His relationship with Jeff Blashill has never been a good one, and his attitude has gotten in the way. However, without Zetterberg, someone will have to step up and move to center, and AA is believed to be the man for the job.
This move will benefit AA by providing him with more minutes. Though his playing time did pick up this year, Blash still kept him somewhere between 8 and 11 minutes multiple times during the 2017-18 season. A third-line center role will help to ensure him at least 15 minutes TOI per game, if not 16 or 17.
Athanasiou is someone a lot of fans keep expecting more from, and lack of minutes play a big factor in that. In 2017-18, Athanasiou recorded 33 points in 71 games. Though not the production most fans hope for, Athanasiou has shown multiple flashes of speed and skill. This could be the year that AA stays on a comfortable, consistent cycle and has a breakout year.
Athanasiou’s goal vs. Pittsburgh (1/14/17)
Athanasiou’s goal vs. Dallas (2/29/16)
It’s questioned whether or not Athanasiou would have success at center, but it’s certainly worth giving him the chance. With such a tight roster this season (that will only get more competitive from here), AA definitely needs to find where he sits with this team, and if he will be part of the future in Detroit.
Larkin on the First Line
Without Z, the first-line center role is wide open, and there’s only one guy who will take that spot; the assumed future captain himself, Dylan Larkin.
Larkin has been a stud for the Red Wings throughout his first three NHL seasons. Despite a sophomore slump in 2016-17, Larkin led the Red Wings in points for the 2017-18 season with 16 goals and 47 assists. His goal numbers are low by many standards, but he’s proven himself to be a playmaker, and impressed many with his assist total. Should he stay consistent, he will work very well on the first line, and these stats can only improve.
Larkin’s gorgeous goal vs. Calgary (11/15/17):
2017-18 also marked his first full 82-game season, and his first year playing center. Now more comfortable with the role, Larkin should be able to transition to his new place as first-line center quite smoothly.
Larkin has shown his worth, and is a leader on and off the ice. He stays composed, but shows obvious frustration when he messes up. He leads by example, and is always talking with other players while he’s on the ice, drawing up plays and helping other guys. He is the type of guy that makes the players around him better. He’s a responsible player, and is ready to be the new face of this franchise.
Larkin mic’d up (11/15/17):
Look at this as a figurative passing of the torch from Z to the kids. Zetty will likely stick around the locker room, but the chances of him playing again are slim. Nonetheless, he leaves behind an amazing legacy, and the kids have the job of continuing it. This is the start of the new era in Hockeytown.