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Thinking on Thursday About Thoughts

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Elliotte Friedman is really good, especially when he's talking about the Red Wings.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015-16 NHL regular season is officially underway, and the optimism in Detroit is higher than it's been in a long time.

Between Dylan Larkin making the opening night roster and Dan Cleary being put on waivers, the Jeff Blashill era is off to a roaring start. For the first time in a long time, the Red Wings seem to be worried about icing the best possible lineup, and the transition to the new generation of players is getting closer to completion.

One of my favorite things about the NHL season is the return of Elliotte Friedman's "30 Thoughts" column. It is one of the few must-reads for me, and I eagerly anticipate it being posted.

The Red Wings aren't always featured in a given week, but when they are, I enjoy the insight from Friedman and the various individuals he speaks to (some anonymous, some not). This week, in his first column of the new season, 3 thoughts concern the Wings, and we'll break them down here.

We'll go in reverse order, because the last note is kind of a "we knew that already" while the first note is an interesting thought.

19. Detroit looks like it has another keeper in 2012 fourth-rounder Andreas Athanasiou. Impressive preseason performance. Did not go unnoticed by opponents.

In 5 preseason games, Athanasiou had 4 goals and 3 assists, tying for 4th in points. It's possible to read too much into preseason performances (Anton Lander led the league in goals), but for anyone who has watched AA in Grand Rapids (hi Michelle!) they indicate that he is a guy who is very likely going to be an NHL player sooner rather than later. Some thought he might be ready this year, but it's important to remember that he's only 21 years old and has only 1 full AHL season under his belt. If he can improve upon his performance from last year and this preseason, we could be talking about AA in a Red Wing uniform next year.

18. In retrospect, the smartest decision Detroit made with Dylan Larkin was putting him on the wing during last year’s AHL playoffs. Don’t know if Jeff Blashill was foreshadowing what would happen, but it’s unlikely the Red Wings keep him now if Larkin is playing centre behind Henrik Zetterberg and Brad Richards. Instead, he can open aside Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader in a scoring role, not a checking one.

A little play that stood out during exhibition season came when Larkin was on a two-on-one with Zetterberg and looked to shoot, instead of simply giving it up to his more-experienced teammate. A small thing, but a big thing, because many young players would defer.

There's no question that the most exciting storyline entering the season is Larkin's inclusion on the opening night roster. We've talked at length about what a big deal this is, but Friedman goes the extra mile in noting one small play that provides further evidence that Larkin may be a little different than your typical 19 year old prospect.

17. Think there are some teams curious to see what, if any, waiver choices Detroit makes when everyone gets healthy.

When the Wings do get healthy, some decisions are going to have to be made. Specifically, when Darren Helm and Pavel Datsyuk return and assuming that everyone else remains healthy.

Helm's return should see Joakim Andersson waived. Andersson has been skating with the scratches, and has a cap hit that can be entirely buried in the AHL. Ultimately he's a 4th line player that has had his spot taken by Landon Ferraro and Luke Glendening.

Datsyuk's return is going to cause the Wings to make a tough decision. Assuming that no one else gets hurt prior to that (hey stop laughing), Datsyuk will cause one of two things to happen:

  • Dylan Larkin is sent to Grand Rapids
  • Another player is moved in some fashion
Option A would be the easiest for the team, because Larkin is the only forward on the team that doesn't have to clear waivers. However, it's clear that he's impressed the team, and if he gets off to a good start, the team may not want to send him down.

Option B is more fun to debate, because there's a lot of questions about who could be the odd man out. I think the natural reaction would be to look to the 4th line again, a player like Ferraro or Drew Miller. However, you can't move every penalty killing forward off the team and hope to score 5 goals a game. That didn't work for the Stars, and it won't work for the Wings. Any of the Wings' younger wingers (Tomas Jurco, Teemu Pulkkinen) would be claimed in a heartbeat if they were put on waivers. A trade would require a willing partner, something a lot of people seem to forget when discussing the Wings' roster logjam.

Maybe it's my cynical nature, but I just don't see how the Wings go an entire month without a forward getting hurt prior to Datsyuk coming back. It would be for the best because it would allow the Wings to keep the current roster intact while getting their best player back. But should that not happen, I will be very curious to see how Ken Holland and Jeff Blashill handle this situation. In a weird way, it's really kind of a nice problem to have.