Detroit Red Wings player previews are almost at an end. The season is almost here. We've covered pretty much every aspect of the roster, save the three men below.
Except for goaltending, these are the most important guys for the Red Wings to succeed this season. These players are the straw that stirs the Red Wings' drink. When the opposition is game planning, they'll have these names circled and underlined three times on the dry-erase board. "Stop them." Unfortunately for the rest of the league, there's no stopping them. The only way these guys get stopped is if they don't play at all.
#13 / Center / Detroit Red Wings
Jul 20, 1978
"The Magic Man" lives up to his nickname season after season. Be careful when scouring Youtube, lest you let yourself get lost in hours of watching Datsyuk highlights (or just watching the same highlight a thousand times). The man entering the first of a brand-spanking new three-year contract will be the Red Wings' highest paid player, and the team is looking for nothing less than the best from its Russian superstar.
Strengths: Dekes. Dangles. Highlights. Datsyuk can seemingly control the puck and pace of play even without possessing the puck because his presence on the ice turns defensemen's attention to him. He's capable of dropping your jaw, shaking your head, and making you laugh maniacally. He's slick on the backcheck, so he ends up being a takeaway machine. And he can either pass his teammates the puck or score off of them directly.
Weaknesses: We're currently experiencing Datsyuk succumbing to one of his weaknesses heading into this season: injury. Pav separated his shoulder after trying to carry the puck past Rob Scuderi in last Monday's preseason game. If there's one concerning aspect to his current injury, it's that his ability to avoid body contact has waned as he's gotten older. Datsyuk is still able to take hits and bounce off of people, and even dish out a few checks, but the amount of heavy contact he's sustained in recent seasons can't help his health issues.
Expectations: Detroit will be without Datsyuk for the foreseeable future, but for however many games he does play, it shouldn't be out of the question to expect a point-per-game pace for his offensive contributions. If there's one solace in Datsyuk's current injury, it's that it affects his shoulder rather than his troublesome knee. If this current injury proves to be just a freak accident through the normal course of playing the game, Datsyuk still stands a good chance of playing at least 65 games.
#40 / Left Wing / Detroit Red Wings
Oct 09, 1980
Z led the team in scoring (and IIRC, it wasn't close) at the time he left the lineup permanently for the rest of the regular season. Though Datsyuk provides much of the same offensive punch, the team struggled much more with only Datsyuk in the lineup than with only Zetterberg. The captain has quite the influence on the demeanor of this club, and the team will gladly welcome back his quiet confidence.
Strengths: A healthy back means Zetterberg can hopefully start putting his speed to good use. Strong on the puck and a heavy presence along the boards, Zetterberg knows what to do in all three zones with and without the puck. With Datsyuk, he's capable of turning ice hockey from a sport into a high art form. His awareness of bodies anywhere in the rink means he's capable of making plays even when he's not looking at his passing targets. It also means he's very capable of avoiding or bracing for and absorbing contact, an especially-needed skill given his back ailments of recent seasons.
Weaknesses: Like Datsyuk, Zetterberg's only real weaknesses are age and health. The two of those go hand-in-hand, but at this stage of Zetterberg's career, his age has more of an effect on the impact of injuries. Zetterberg being 34 on opening night shouldn't affect his quality of play. As for injuries, the hope is that surgery will have resolved his biggest issue, which is his back.
Expectations: The captain of the Red Wings will be looking for a healthy season after playing all 82 games in the most recent full season. Assuming his current back issues won't affect him, Zetterberg should be back in the Selke conversation. The sultry Swede nearly led the Red Wings in points even after missing all that time from the surgery. Like Datsyuk, it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect Zetterberg to hover around the point-per-game mark. How many games is he going to play? It feels optimistic but also reasonable to expect at least 70.
#90 / Center / Detroit Red Wings
Apr 03, 1983
Through two games last season, fans had to be optimistic about having Weiss on the team after he scored the overtime winner against Carolina. That was the last time Red Wings fans had a good impression of Weiss after he proceeded to score only three more points in 24 games.
Strengths: A healthy groin should finally let the former Panther utilize his speed on the forecheck to disrupt breakouts and force turnovers. Weiss is capable of displaying a more visible tenacity that gets him the puck more than goads him into position-ruining body checks. He has a scoring ability we've yet to see in Detroit, but it's hard to ignore his resume prior to the last two injury-ended seasons.
Weaknesses: At the same time, it's also difficult to ignore just how poorly Weiss played last season, especially looking at his possession numbers. Blame it on the injury, blame it on his teammates, blame it on "learning the Red Wings' system." He was bad last year. He would be a waste on the lower lines because of his contract, and there's the fear he could drag down the players he plays with based off last year's performance. Perhaps this is making too much of last season, but it's the most recent and relevant season to reference because he was on the team and it most directly impacts his potential for this season.
Expectations: All indications from camp and preseason are that Weiss is ready to go. He should be set to start in the second-line center spot, especially after the injury to Datsyuk. A fully healthy season for him should let him get around 50 points, hopefully with at least 20 goals. Weiss needs a bounce-back season, especially if Detroit is going to have him for another three years after this season. If this sounds like a broken record, it probably is, especially because we've seen comparatively little from him in his short Detroit tenure. Not being hurt is a good enough starting point.