Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Relax,take a deep breath.
I hope you have time to read this laundry list I have put together. Don't forget to vote who you think will be a breakout player this year below!
The Red Wings have been scrutinized for their lack of talent that their current roster holds, but I think this is purely based off of last season which can not or should not be fair. Though I am a die-hard Wings fan, I will be the first to criticize a player or play pretend general manager where I think of different player possibilities through trade or free agency. Here is my predictions of surprising player performances for the upcoming 2014-2015 NHL regular season. I did not include the stars (Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Kronwall) because they will perform at the high level they do, hopefully with no injury concerns.
Danny Dekeyser will be one of the most improved defenseman in the NHL next year and you can only take my word for it. I know that's tough to swallow, but hear me out. Dekeyser ended up with 4 goals, 19 assists, and a +10 plus/minus rating this past year playing 65 regular season games. That plus/minus was the best for defenseman on the Wings and impressive considering how often the line combinations were shaken up. This young man has great finesse and vision skating down the ice. Look for him to double those assist totals with all of our forwards healthy.
Brendan Smith Man! Does this guy turn the puck over every time he touches it? I find myself saying that as I watch him play, but I have always seen the potential he has. In 71 regular season games, Smith totaled 5 goals, 14 assists, and a -2 plus/minus. His main problem areas seem to be his lack of discipline with 68 penalty minutes and numerous turnovers, but I think these habits end this coming year. He is very strong on the puck and has a great shot that will help this team win games, but he needs to stay focused. I truly believe that if he can stay out of the box and work on his decision making that he will be a great defenseman for us.
Jimmy Howard Okay this might come as a surprise, but without a great defensive unit the goalie needs to step up. There were years when Howard didn't need a great save percentage or goals against average like in 2010. In 2010 the Wings had 12 players over 30 points and six players over 40 points while also having one of the best defenses in the league with likes of Niklas Kronwall, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, and Brad Stuart. Another stat in 2010, Howard posted a .908 save percentage and his goals against average was a high 2.79. Since then he had a save percentage of .920 (2011-12) and .923 (2012-13) with his goals against average being 2.12 (2011-12) and 2.13 (2012-13).
This past year Howard has a save percent of .910 and a 2.66 goals against average. His record also showed his and the team's struggles with 21 wins and 19 losses.
If Jimmy Howard is able to stay healthy and a majority of the rest of our roster can as well then I believe he can achieve great numbers this upcoming season. The Wings need consistency and if they can have their best players on the ice I think Howard has the potential to become the goalie we've seen in years past.
Stephen Weiss Yikes. I feel bad for Mr. Weiss having to watch from the sidelines most the season these past two years. The year before signing with the Wings, Weiss only played 17 games with his former team the Florida Panthers. This year? 26. He has totaled a whopping 8 points over this time span. Why is he in the surprises then?
Glad you asked. If this former 4th overall pick in the 2001 NHL draft can get healthy, we will have him at a bargain with the just under $5 million contract he is in. He racked up 227 points in the previous four seasons before being derailed with injuries and was a threat to opponents around the league. If he can get healthy and even come slightly close to the numbers he was putting up then, I'll be happy. And I think he can do it.
Justin Abdelkader Abby! Abdelkader is a warrior and put up pretty decent numbers this year, but he can do a lot better. With 10 goals and 18 assists totaling 28 points in 70 games, I was disappointed. Even though this is his highest point total of his career, I think he has the potential to create more scoring opportunities. He has shown us his speed, a great shot at times, and the ability to win battles in the corner. He has had the chance to play on the first line with Datsyuk and Zetterberg, but never really flourished. It's his time to show us his true talent with a breakout season this year. Again, if everyone's healthy and all the players are running on all cylinders we may see a scary Wings team.
Tomas Jurco Give the guy his shot. He should be playing for the NHL team all season this year. With only 36 games played this past year, Jurco racked up 15 points with 8 goals and 7 assists. He has shown us his great stick-work and the ability to maneuver past defenders, but now I want to see more of him every game. I think once he is a consistent NHL player he will be feared on the ice from opponents and will be a star player. I do not believe we need more offensive talent through free agency or trade because we have the skilled players we need in our system right now. Look for Jurco to impress our higher ups in Detroit this year.
Darren Helm Another injured Wing? With only having played 42 games this season due to injury, Helm had 20 points with 12 goals and 8 assists. This could've been a great year, but with the bad luck surrounding the Wings roster as far as health concerns, he obviously wasn't able to perform to the best of his ability. Watch out for his speed and quick-releasing shot this upcoming year. I have a feeling he'll be back stronger than ever.
Johan Franzen I'll keep this one short. Franzen is called "the mule" for a reason. He needs to get healthy and start scaring opponents and racking up 9 goals in a playoff series like he did versus Colorado in 2010. The Mule will be back.
Gustav Nyquist I guess this isn't much of a surprise, but I think Nyquist can total at least 65 points this coming year. In his first "full" season as a Red Wing, he had 48 points in 57 games with 28 goals and 20 assists. He never really got the chance to play the full season with his injuries, but hopefully next year he will come out healthy and ready to prove himself again. We've seen his skill and ability to score or create scoring opportunities so it would be safe to assume that with consistent healthy lines he will be able to perform on a star level.
The players I believe will be disappointing are Kyle Quincey and Jakub Kindl. Quincey has never earned my trust because I notice myself muttering "Why did he just do that?" to almost every play he carries out. He is not smart with the puck, his shot is very weak, and he is not a good skater. As for Kindl, I believe he has reached his potential, but that might not be a bad potential to reach as a 6th D-Man.
*I should end this by stating I believe that the Red Wings will not have the same injury concerns as this past year. Though I have always been told not to assume, I think it is safe to assume that such an injury ridden year like this past season would not happen again, at least not to the extent that it had.