Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman discusses which top prospects could make an impact next season

After finishing dead last in the league with a 17-49-5 record this past season, the Detroit Red Wings are hoping their rebuilding process will take a step forward next season, which would allow them to advance a little closer to the team’s window of contention.

While there’s still no timetable for when the 2020-21 campaign will begin, a few reports have suggested the regular season could potentially take place on New Year’s Day. If true, and we’re likely still months away from knowing the truth, teams could open training camps in early December and participate in a few scrimmage games before the end of the month.

Though most teams will just be excited to return to the ice for the first time since mid-March, this season’s ramp-up period is expected to bring new challenges across the league, especially for teams who failed to make the 2020 playoffs. Appearing on the Word on Woodward on Thursday, general manager Steve Yzerman expressed some of his concerns with next season and discussed how it’ll be difficult to properly assess some of Detroit’s top prospects when they return to the ice.

“The later start will, I think, affect every team, more so the teams that weren’t in the playoffs or played very few playoff games, and the fact we’ve been out since March, a little bit of unpredictability as to what to expect from our team,” Yzerman explained. “There will be changes in our lineup. Are some of our younger players ready? Ultimately, we don’t really know because we won’t have a normal preseason, we won’t have had an opportunity to really assess them. Decisions will be made over a short period of time so I think it makes it a little bit more difficult as to know what to expect from our team starting off.”

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Considering the Red Wings have 10 players who are slated to become unrestricted free agents this fall, they’ll likely have a handful of spots on their roster that they’d likely to fill internally. As a result, players like Gustav Lindstrom, Givani Smith, Dennis Cholowski, Taro Hirose, and even Joe Hicketts could transition into meaningful roles next season.

“We had Gustav Lindstrom come up and play some games for us and do quite well last year,” Yzerman discussed. “Obviously Moritz Seider, who again is 19 years of age, is turning 20, played his first year of pro hockey and we’re pleased with the season that he had. Givani Smith, who saw time last year; Michael Rasmussen, who had a lot of injuries, missed a lot of time last year; Dennis Cholowski was down there. We haven’t seen them since March so curious to see once we get into playing where they’re at.

“All these guys aren’t far off. Joe Veleno, as a junior-age player, did really well and finished strong and unfortunately, with the season ending prior to them getting into playing any playoff action, which we were really looking forward to seeing, they were all really excelling as the year went on.”

For loyal Red Wings’ fans, it would be extremely encouraging to witness some of the team’s top young prospects take a leap forward with their development and break into the NHL in 2021. With that said, Yzerman was adamant about providing those younger players with consistent playing time and admitted they won’t be rushed to the highest level of competition. If they need more time in the AHL, junior hockey, or overseas, that’s where they’ll be playing.

“So I mentioned those names just because they’re the closest. They are in Grand Rapids, playing in the American League, potentially some of those, say one or two or more could push for a spot on our team,” Yzerman detailed. “But again, our decision will come down to, for these younger guys, if they’re playing in Detroit, we want them playing regular and if they’re not going to play regular, I’d prefer them playing, whether it’s the American League or back in junior for that matter, or in their European leagues, wherever they’re at. When they’re ready to play a regular shift and contribute in the NHL, that’s when we’ll bring them up.”

Looking ahead, Yzerman certainly has a busy offseason ahead of him, especially since forwards Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi are slated to become restricted free agents and will each need new contracts before the regular season begins. In addition, the former All-Star forward will need to address the team’s goaltending situation, as Jimmy Howard is set to hit free agency and Jonathan Bernier only has one year left on his current deal.

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While Detroit’s season ended prematurely, Yzerman revealed he’s enjoyed watching the postseason and explained how it has motivated him for next season. Entering his second season as the team’s general manager, he can’t wait to see his squad back on the ice and playing at Little Caesars Arena.

“Our season ended abruptly, the NHL season ended abruptly,” Yzerman mentioned. “Had a chance to watch the playoffs on television. I’ve really enjoyed watching the hockey, the level of play has been outstanding. So it just makes you yearn for wanting to get back to playing. For myself, it’s my second year as general manager, we want to take a step forward and I’m anxious to continue with our rebuilding of our team and get back to playing.”