Its hard to believe that a quarter of the NHL season is already in the rear-view mirror. Approaching the 25 game mark, there is no denying the Red Wings have had a mediocre start. Poor statistical performances from a handful of players have doomed their immediate outlook. But its not all bad, though. Through all the smoke their core players have been surging, which is what really matters for future success.
Being a fourth of the way to seasons end, below is a brief evaluation (relative to expectations) on every Detroit forward’s play thus far.
Players listed in alphabetical order
Justin Abdelkader – D+
Injuries have taken a toll of Abdelkader’s season — being sidelined on two separate occasions with two unrelated injuries. He, like many on the roster, has yet to score a goal and only has 3 points. He had a sneaky good start to the year with Darren Helm and Jacob de la Rose, but his impact has been minimal since then.
However, I won’t let his big block late against Vegas go unnoticed. Plays like don’t get the appreciation they deserve.
Andreas Athanasiou – C+
Athanasiou’s slow start was well documented. He went the first 13 games without a goal and, naturally, trade speculation returned. The lack of statistics were in large part due to bad luck. Some nights during the goal drought he was the best player on the team. So its no surprise his numbers have started to pick up, scoring 9 points in his last 9 games.
In Athanasiou’s defense, he didn’t have much to work with, primarily playing with Valtteri Fillpula, Luke Glendening, and Taro Hirose as his linemates. Athanasiou’s scoring metrics started to see a jump after the Robby Fabbri trade. However, that spells out Athanasiou’s inability to drive a line, something he was able to do last season.
Tyler Bertuzzi – A
For most of Tyler Bertuzzi career, his upside has always been doubted. Even after being named MVP of the Calder Cup playoffs in 2017, he seemed bound to become a gritty middle-6 winger. So to see the way Bertuzzi has blossomed into a legitimate top-line player is incredibly enriching.
Bertuzzi has been Detroit’s most consistent player this season, and I would argue he has been the team MVP. With 10 goals and 22 points in 24 games thus far, Bertuzzi is proving his 20 goal campaign in 2018-19 was no fluke. He’s everything you want in a hockey player, and could quite honestly be the most underrated player in hockey right now. Set to be a restricted free-agent this summer, Steve Yzerman is going to want to lock this guy up long-term.
Christoffer Ehn – D+
Its been a quiet season for Ehn. The Swedish center seems more like a 13th option or first-call-up-AHLer type of player. He doesn’t have a point yet but offense isn’t the calling card of his game. Jeff Blashill has given him looks on the penalty kill but thats about it. Once Detroit starts to get healthy up-front, expect Ehn to be assigned to Grand Rapids.
Adam Erne – D
After a promising preseason, Erne has been a big disappointment in his debut season for the Red Wings. The hope was Erne had untapped potential that, in theory, could have resulted in a true middle-6 winger with some physicality. It doesn’t look like thats the case. Detroit might just not be the right fit for him. Sitting behind Tampa Bay’s electric offense allowed Erne to face lighter matchups.
Moving forward I do think there is room for him to grow, its just a matter of getting the monkey off his back and gaining some confidence. Opportunities on both special teams will help him in that regard.
Robby Fabbri – B+
To say Fabbri has had an excellent start with Detroit would be an understatement. He has been on a roll since potting two goals in the opening game. As WingsNation‘s Alex Drain pointed out, Fabbri scored 8 points in his final 51 games with St. Louis. It took only 7 games in Detroit for Fabbri to match that total. This has been a magic fit, and truly the best case scenario for both parties.
There has been no shortage of highlights off the stick of Fabbri, being involved on several big goals.
Valtteri Filppula – C/C+
Filppula’s return to Detroit has been a mixed one. He is manning the second line center position and at times has shown great chemistry with Athanasiou. His extreme pass-first mentality can be frustrating, but its an element that is needed in the top-6. In all honesty, Filppula is serving as a stop-gap for the time being. He’s more of a third-liner at this stage of his career, but because of Detroit’s lack of depth he’s been thrusted into a larger role.
Of course, playing higher up in the lineup then he should isn’t at the fault of Filppula, and he’s done a decent job of making ends meet.
Luke Glendening – C
Glendening started off strong and was even playing top-6 minutes for a bit. That hot start was derailed by injury that sidelined him for several weeks. Overall, his stat-line of 4 points in 13 games is not great, but of the many depth players on this team struggling to score, Glendening has certainly been the best.
Darren Helm – C-
Speaking on depth players with hot starts, Darren Helm at one point was the only Red Wing scoring outside of the top-line. The veteran forward had 4 goals in the first 10 games, but has since failed to score a goal. In the past 13 games, Helm has only been able to muster up 2 assists. Not good.
Helm’s lack of scoring isn’t due to bad luck either. Now a permanent resident on the fourth line, he’s been very quiet over this latest 13 game stretch.
Taro Hirose – D+
No one expected Hirose to duplicate the 7 points in 10 games he scored last season, but his play this year has been quite disappointing. The Michigan State product has been virtually non-existent at 5-on-5. That is the biggest problem with a player like Hirose — he needs to score because he doesn’t provide a physical presence. So amid long scoring droughts there isn’t much reason to play him.
The powerplay is where Hirose provides the most impact. He even started off the season with the top powerplay unit. However, the acquisitions of Brendan Perlini and Fabbri have complicated his playing time on the man-advantage. Similar to Filppula, Hirose too often looks for the pass, and its pretty obvious.
Dylan Larkin – A-
Larkin — the face of the Red Wings — hasn’t disappointed this season. His scoring metrics aren’t on pace to match his totals from last year, but consistency wise he’s been a top player every night. He’s the heartbeat of the top-line and drives their offense with his feet. In terms of room for improvement, it would be nice to see him make more of an impact on the powerplay. Aside from leading the zone entries, he hasn’t been making many plays in the offensive zone. However, his role of playing slot/net-front has been limiting in some capacity.
In terms of leadership, you can clearly see his maturity. During the Red Wings long losing stretch in mid-to-late October, Larkin was very vocal of how he needs to play better. It was very impressive to see him shoulder most of the blame.
Anthony Mantha – A-
Mantha’s meteoric start was something to behold. He enjoyed a once in a lifetime performance by scoring four goals, including the game winning goal in the final minute, at the home opener. Since then, Mantha has still played at the level of a top-line forward. In fact, he has started to become somewhat of an analytic darling. Per Evolving Hockey, Mantha is 20th in the NHL in xGF% among players with at least 100 minutes played.
The only reason Mantha gets an A- instead of an A is because of consistency (to an extent). Each night he has been one of Detroit’s best forwards, but he hasn’t been able to get back to his opening week form. We know there is another gear to his game, its just a matter of playing up to it. But don’t take that the wrong way — Mantha has been incredible this season.
Frans Nielsen – F
Its been a rough season for Frans Nielsen. He finally picked up his first point of the season in Columbus. That is simply not good enough for a player making over $5M per season. His rapid decline has lead to some tough questions being asked: Should the Red Wings look to buyout the Herning, Denmark, native this upcoming summer?
Brendan Perlini – B-
Perlini doesn’t have a goal since being traded to Detroit, but that isn’t indicative of his play. He has showcased some impressive wheels in a big body and overall playing with great pace. The former Chicago Blackhawk is generating chances but just hasn’t gotten the bounces to go his way. In time, I think he could be due for a big time breakout.