Class is in session! With over a quarter of the season already gone, it’s time for report cards. On Saturday, we handed out grades to every forward on the Red Wings. Today we take a look at the defensemen and goalies. It hasn’t been a pretty start to the season for this group, specifically the defensemen. Injuries have plagued their availability, and thus, worsening the product on the ice somehow. At one point, the entire top-6 had featured players who had either been healthy scratched or assigned to Grand Rapids at some point.
Of course, there have been bright spots as well. When healthy, a top-four of Danny DeKeyser, Filip Hronek, Dennis Cholowski, and Patrik Nemeth doesn’t sound that bad. In time, they will only improve.
Being a fourth of the way to seasons end, below is a brief evaluation (relative to expectations) on every Detroit blue-liner’s play thus far.
Players listed in alphabetical order
Alex Biega – D
Alex “Bulldog” Biega certainly lives up to his nickname in terms of competitiveness. You know what you’ll get every single night, which is a good way to get in when you have a coach dealing with injury troubles. Unless the injury bug continues all season, Biega looks destined for some playing time in Grand Rapids down the road.
Madison Bowey – C
Bowey has played a bigger role due to the many injuries. There are times when he looks like an everyday bottom pairing defenseman out there and he’s rewarded with over 20 minutes of ice time. There are other times where he looks like the Bowey that we first saw late last season, with the holes in his game getting exposed. I don’t think Bowey returns next season, but the amount of quality games he’s been able to give the Wings shows why you need depth in the NHL.
Dennis Cholowski – B-
The good news here is that Cholowski is well on his way to surpassing his 2018-19 totals in fewer games, which you always want to see. The not so good news is that Cholowski still needs to improve in the defensive zone. I’ve noticed a few times where he’ll leave a guy untouched in front of the net and he’ll score, or at least contribute to a grade-A scoring chance. Like with the Texier goal against Columbus, he was in front of the net and only touched Texier, who was in a prime scoring position. You’ve got to clear the front of your net without taking a penalty when you have a guy in the position he was in.
Trevor Daley – C-
At this point in Daley’s career it’s not so much about the points, but more so how much he can bring to the table for the younger players as a teacher during games. Daley’s last game was Nov. 2 against Florida. Assuming everyone’s healthy, he’ll probably rotate in with Bowey on a pair with Cholowski, which would be good for the young blue-liner.
Danny DeKeyser – A
DeKeyser looked like he was well off on his way to having a career year before sustaining a long-term injury. As of this writing, there’s still no return date in sight. His presence has been sorely missed on a blue-line already lacking talent. The sooner he gets back, the better.
Jonathan Ericsson – C-
Since coming up from Grand Rapids, Ericsson has not looked bad. I’m not sure if the Wings plan to carry 8 defensemen once completely healthy, but after seeing his comments on how hard his demotion to Grand Rapids was for his daughter, seeing him go back down would be hard, even though his pairing with Moritz Seider has really very good for Seider’s development.
Mike Green – D
It appears that Mike Green has slowed down, but that might not be his fault. He dealt with a nasty virus last season and just hasn’t looked the same. I’m not so sure he’ll play his way into retrieving a decent return at the trade deadline at this point, but the expectation for Green should be fto pick up his production when healthy.
Joe Hicketts – D-
Hicketts sure gives it his all when he’s out there, but his issues with the pace of the game have been exposed lately. He’s fought tooth and nail to get as far as he has in his career, but I think he’s shown that he’s best suited as a full-time AHLer and part-time NHL fill in.
Filip Hronek – A
Hronek’s 0.59 point per game pace is not only historically impressive, but he’s also improved every facet of his game since the end of last season. He’s also embraced becoming the guy for the Wings while they continue to go through injury troubles.
Dylan McIlrath – D-
McIlrath has struggled less with the speed of the game and more with taking penalties in his time up. His physical presence when he’s not in the box has provided a welcome element to the blue-line. He’s set to return to Grand Rapids once more defensemen are healthy.
Patrik Nemeth – B+
Nemeth has performed exactly as advertised and his physical presence on the blue-line has added a much-needed dynamic to the team. He’s never been one to produce points, but the 16 point pace he’s on would be the highest of his career if he manages to make it through the rest of the season healthy.
Jonathan Bernier – C
Although Bernier has let in some soft goals this season, he’s embraced more playing time and ideally doesn’t want to give Jimmy Howard any more starts than he has to. Like with Howard, you’d hope to see his numbers improve, but it remains to be seen how much a fully healthy team will impact the goalies’ performance.
Jimmy Howard – C-
Though he hasn’t had an NHL defense playing in front of him at all times, he’s had a rough start to the season. You know Howard doesn’t like the start he’s had and I’m expecting his game to recover as he keeps working at it.