We're into September. Camps will be starting soon and rosters will be set before you know it. That means it's time to start the season player previews. Today, we'll cover the wingers at the bottom of the roster. It's perhaps not entirely fair to call this the bottom six wingers, since we have a decent expectation that the third line could potentially have none of these guys on it (Hockey Gods willing, that is). Still, we've got to start somewhere and we might as well start here.
#17 / Right Wing / Detroit Red Wings
Dec 18, 1978
By now, you're probably deeply aware of Cleary's situation. Just in case you're new around here, Dan Cleary is a nine-season veteran of the Red Wings. A good majority of fans wish that number were smaller and that it wouldn't grow by one more, but here he is on a one-year deal which guarantees him $1.5M with the potential to earn an additional million if he plays in 10 games. Just 81 games shy of 1,000, Cleary has 164 goals, but hasn't cracked into double-digits since 2011-12.
Strengths: Cleary has a great deal of experience and seems to be both well-liked and well-respected in the room. When he has two healthy knees, he's been a dependable two-way winger, penalty killer, rugged forechecker, good corner-battler, and an effective net-front presence
Weaknesses: Cleary hasn't had two good knees in a while. Without that, he's been slow up and down the ice, ineffective in the corners, and invisible everywhere else.
Expectations: Both Babcock and Holland have said that they did their homework on Cleary before re-signing him and that they expect him to be healthier now than he has been. I'm not willing to give that level of trust. I do expect him to get into at least ten games and earn his bonus, but I don't have any expectations of him for those 10+ games.
#8 / Forward / Detroit Red Wings
Feb 25, 1987
The big 27-year old former center starts year three of a four-year deal worth an AAV of $1.8M. After showing what looked like an early propensity toward clutch goals, the two-way player has largely been repurposed to play more like a Tomas Holmstromesque power grinder. Despite his opportunities mixed with his high-effort and intensity, Abdelkader has never surpassed more than 10 goals.
Strengths: Abdelkader is not shy about using his big frame to bang and crash against defenses in order to wear them down. He attacks the puck well chasing down dump-ins and never coasts back into his own zone to play defense. Somehow, he manages a positive penalty differential and, if somebody on the Wings absolutely has to fight, he's the guy to do that now.
Weaknesses: The single biggest advantage is his high-motor/intensity play and it's also the cause of just about every single one of his downsides. He's a reckless hitter who will get himself in trouble from time-to-time both by earning badly-timed penalties (and suspensions) and by taking himself out of position to make a hit. For a guy who has had as many opportunities as he's gotten, Abdelkader's finishing is downright bad.
Expectations: I expect Abdelkader to set a new career high in goals scored.
#20 / Left Wing / Detroit Red Wings
Feb 17, 1984
Now in his sixth full season since being snapped up off the waiver wire from Tampa, Drew Miller is in the 2nd year of a three-year deal paying him $1.35M. Through years' worth of battling to keep a regular roster spot, Miller was one of just two Wings to play all 82 games last season. No forward played more time on ice last season and no other skater spent as much time on the penalty kill as Miller did.
Strengths: Miller is probably the best pure defensive penalty killer the Wings have at forward. He never quits on a play and is hardly found out of position. He's got an incredible sense for cutting off shooting/passing lanes and rarely makes mistakes in getting the puck up ice.
Weaknesses: Miller plays like he has the body of a 200-pound player, but he's in the body of a guy much lighter than that. This means he gets himself into puck-battle situations which he loses more often. While he's defensively sound, he's never been much of an offensive threat. Sometimes while PKing, his almost robotic commitment to clearing the zone means he misses opportunities to spring teammates for shorthanded chances.
Expectations: This season should be no different from past seasons for Miller. He'll have to overcome criticisms about not being able to score more while skating with guys like Luke Glendening by continuing to be an incredible PKer.
First off, I'll explain that we included Andersson here as a winger because he already spent time last season on the Wing and none of us are particularly confident that Andersson will be the fourth line center over Glendening (if he's on the roster at all by the start of the season).
Anderson is in the back half of a two-year deal with a cap hit of $732,500 which will leave him as a potential RFA. The once-promising pivot between Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist for the Grand Rapids Griffins' Calder Cup run in 2013, Andersson will be fighting for his job as a defensive specialist lower in the lineup for the Wings
Strengths: Andersson plays to his size pretty well and has some snarl to his game. He's got better hands than most humans his age.
Weaknesses: After a good start, Andersson really struggled with defensive assignments last season, blowing more coverages for goals against than any other forward. He's unspectacular in most areas and below-average in the offensive ones.
Expectations: I don't know that Andersson can stay in the lineup for the Wings this season. He seems essentially like the next Cory Emmerton.
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Up next, we'll cover the bottom defensemen on the club.