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Red Wings Season Preview: Filppula/Hudler

Up for discussion today, we have a pair of home grown guys getting ready to grab a bigger piece of Detroit's offensive reigns this year.  Valtteri Filppula, he of the often-misspelled and mispronounced name, is 6 feet tall, 26 years old and tips the scales at 193 pounds.  The Red Wings' third-round pick (95th overall) in the 2002 draft out of Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League, Valtteri/Walter/Wally/Flip/Dangle Jr. spent two years in Finland before jumping to North America to spend a year in Grand Rapids before cracking the Wings' lineup full-time in 2005-06.  Filppula is in year three of a five-year deal; his cap hit is an even $3M but he's making $3.5M for each year remaining on his deal.  When he was signed to this contract, it was clear that the higher pay in the later years would coincide with an increase to his production in Detroit.  Jiri Hudler comes from the same draft class as Filppula, coming out of the 2nd round as the 58th overall pick of the Red Wings.  Standing at 5'9" and 182 pounds, this fellow 26-year old  returns to Detroit after a year playing in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League and doing lord knows what to the women over there.  Hudler's honoring the first of an arbitrator-awarded two year contract given him in the summer of 2009 before he left for the KHL.  His cap hit of $2.875M will bring some good expectations for a guy who's likely to get third-line minutes and heavy 2nd-unit PP time.

Last Year's Benchmark: Realistically, both of these guys are 2nd-liners if we're talking solely about skill.  With that, I'm using Bertuzzi, Filppula, Cleary, and Franzen as benchmarks for what the collective 2nd line did last year.  I know it's not perfect since these four don't all fit on the 2nd line, but I think their numbers are a pretty good approximation.  Usuing the 164-game pace for two players on the 2nd line, the average two players gave us 39 goals, 57 assists, 111 penalty minutes and split a -9 rating while averaging 17:44 in ice time with 2:31 on the power play and 0:37 worth of penalty killing duties.  Remember, this is only 2/3rds of a line.  Expanding that out to 246 man-games you get 58G and 86A for our entire 2nd line.  Still, those are kind of disappointing numbers for our 2nd line that helped make Detroit only the 14th-highest scoring team in the league last year.  While Filppula and Hudler won't likely share 2nd-line minutes, based on their skill level, I think we can look foward to an improvement.  Let's look at each individually.

Valtteri Filppula

#51 / Center / Detroit Red Wings



Mar 20, 1984

 2009-2010 Stats










Filppula's 2009-10 campaign got off to a slow start when only 12 games into the season, he broke his wrist against Edmonton and missed eight weeks, finishing with only 55 games played.  His assists-per-game was the third-highest on the team only behind Datsyuk and Zetterberg.  If he paced a full 82 games the same way he did the 55 he did play, he would have ended with 16 goals and 52 points.  Those figures aren't bad for a 2nd-line centerman, but they're a little frustrating for Wings fans, knowing what Filppula is capable of doing.  While injuries mitigate the situation, they don't fully explain away the one single power play goal he had in 55 games.  Even if he is a setup man, that is too low a figure for a guy with his skill.

Strengths: I've often likened Filppula's skills to Pavel Datsyuk, only not as sharp or as consistent.  Valtteri has very good on-ice vision and passing abilities, as well as a well-aimed wrister and a quick first step.  His balance on the puck is improving and let's face it, he's pretty like Owen Wilson in 'Zoolander'.

Weaknesses: For his improving balance, he's still got a bit to go before he gets a reputation for being hard to knock off the puck, getting muscled out in the corners too often when his stick work can't get him out of what won't get called holding.  He's been working very hard on trying to shoot more, but the decision switch still gets flipped a little too late sometimes and he'll either shoot when a pass is the better option or pass when he should shoot.  I've also never seen a man miss a wide-open net as often as he seems to do.

Expectations: This is the year Filppula truly takes his job as the 2nd line centerman/occasional winger and rolls with it.  I expect he'll break the 20-goal plateau for the first time, adding enough assists to get him to 65 points.  A year between Franzen and Bertuzzi will take some of the worries about size away and he'll take that natural tendency to go to the middle of the ice and explode with it.  If you rememeber all the times last year when he looked like he was dominant only to end up empty-handed on the scoresheet, then cherish that you'll soon be able to replace those with happier memories.


Jiri Hudler  

#26 / Left Wing / Detroit Red Wings 



Jan 4, 1984

 2009-2010 Stats (HC Dynamo Moscow - KHL)










Hudler took on a much bigger role in KHL club Moscow Dynamo than the Red Wings had given or will give him.  His first line duties gave him more than 19 minutes per game (highest on the team among forwards) and made him a point-per-game player in Russia's superleague.  He was 2nd on the team with 8 power play goals, but was 3rd worst for plus/minus rating, ranking just above a guy named Dmitry Shitikov, which makes me laugh probably harder than it should.  He's likely to pull more than the 13:39 per game that he had with Detroit in 2008-09, but not nearly as many as his KHL first-line minutes.  Another set-up man for the 2nd power play unit should help the Wings get that back on track as well.

Strengths:  Apparently, NHL defensemen have a blind spot that makes it impossible to see people shorter than 5' 10" and Hudler takes advantage by finding those quiet spots on the ice.  His shot doesn't seem like anything special, but he gets it off from good angles and usually gets it on net.  He's also fantastic at stick-handling while going full-speed, a skill comparable to flying a jet through the Grand Canyon while texting. Finally, it's well established that his clucking has a calming influence on Chris Osgood.

Weaknesses: Hudler's speed seems to only work one way.  He's capable of stealing pucks off sticks, but his hustle getting back into his own zone and willingness to play defense have always been a question and part of the reason he hasn't gotten more ice time in Detroit.  Also, the same benefit that makes it easy for him to disappear really hurts him when he is noticed.  Hudler is not large and doesn't get many second chances around the net.

Expectations:  I think the 57 points in 82 games he scored in his last full season with Detroit is a good benchmark for him.  Having the speedy Mike Modano and the scrappy Dan Cleary with him, he should fit that playmaker/sniper role on our third scoring line, where he likely won't see as high a level of competition as his teammates on the 2nd line.  I also think he'll be able to keep his KHL-high 8 power play goals on a 2nd unit that will feature tons of talent.  At the end of this season in Detroit, this goofy little smiling Czech won't be the only person who's Happy.

Stay tuned for Friday, when Casey previews the season for Modano and Draper, two people with a combined age old enough to make them Chris Chelios' father.