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Breaking Down the Wings’ Future and Which Young Players Can Make an Impact?

Detroit has some decision-making to do this summer on its veteran core; are these young guns ready to make the leap next season?

NHL: Preseason-Detroit Red Wings at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

This might be the biggest offseason for the Detroit Red Wings in recent memory. For starters, they are moving into a stretch where the dominoes are starting to fall on their veteran contracts. Mike Green is set to test the market this summer (although Ken Holland has mentioned he wouldn’t mind keeping his experience in the fold) on the heels of a three-year deal that earned him $6-million annually. Plus, there are several UFA’s on expiring contracts, which include Jimmy Howard, Niklas Kronwall and Gustav Nyquist — could these players be on the move at next year’s deadline if the going gets tough again in Hockeytown? The fact that Detroit needs to get younger is all well and good, but it’s time for the front office to step up and take action. Yes, Holland has short-sided himself in recent years with several poor contract terms that seem to be presenting some obstacles. However, he needs to look past that and find a way to create some cap space and leave Jeff Blashill (at this point the odds on favorite to be the bench boss again this year) with a more competitive team on the ice. The Wings have some talent in their system — as evidenced by the Grand Rapids Griffins’ Calder Cup win in 2017 — and here is a look at some of their young guns that are ready to make the jump in 2018-19.

Michael Rasmussen, C

If you’re looking for size down the middle, he has plenty of it. At 6-6, 220 the young center is an absolute nightmare for opposing defensemen in front of the net, plus, he can finish. Many criticized Rasmussen’s speed when he was taken ninth overall in last year’s draft, but I’m certainly not one of them after watching him during the WHL playoffs. He possesses a long, effective stride and seemed to keep up with the play no problem. In addition to that, Rasmussen was on a tear this season for the Tri-City Americans, finishing with 59 points in 47 games — he missed a couple months due to wrist surgery — and followed that up with a dominating postseason performance that saw the big man finish with 33 points in 14 games. Here’s the thing about the 19-year-old, he’s still too young to play in the AHL considering he has junior eligibility left, but it seems he’s too good to go back to the WHL after his performance last season. The tricky part for Holland is that the kid has entry-level slide eligibility (meaning if he doesn’t play 10 NHL games this year, he can be sent back to junior and the start of his deal actually kicks in next season) and we’ve seen the front office utilize this to their advantage before. Should he be in the starting lineup next year? Yes. Rasmussen brings size to an underwhelming group of forwards on the Wings and although top-six minutes might be a lot to ask, Blashill could move him around the lineup and even deploy him on the powerplay — a unit that struggled mightily last year, finishing 24th in the league.

Joe Hicketts, D

When the Kamloops, BC native got the call late last year, I for one, was very excited to see what he could do on the blueline. In his five games with the Wings he recorded three assists, but it was more than that, he was a strong skater and moved the puck effortlessly up the ice to hit the forwards in stride. Hicketts has been extremely undervalued in scouting circles (likely because of his small frame, just 5-8 and 180), but he plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and even appeared twice at the U20 World Junior Hockey Championships for Team Canada. What is the biggest weakness in this Detroit lineup? Defense. A 37-year-old Kronwall enters the final year of his contract having played 874 career games for the Wings (is there an LTIR option he can be hid with?) and it remains to be seen if Green will return as a UFA, a sure-handed right shot defensemen who turns 33 to start the year and might be out of Holland’s price range. Entering the final year of his entry level deal, Hicketts is waivers exempt, but I would prefer him on the blueline over Xavier Ouellet and I’m not sure bringing back Green is a good thing because it could mean another expensive deal for an aging veteran (stop me if we’ve seen this before).

Dennis Cholowski, D

What a season Cholowski had in the WHL, splitting time between the Prince George Cougars and Portland Winterhawks (he was traded as part of a nine player deal in January). The left-handed defenseman finished with 66 points in 68 games between the two squads and shined in the Winterhawks’ playoff run with another seven points in 12 games. Cholowski is the total package including mobility and great puck-handling skills — it’s no wonder the Wings’ front office took him 20th overall in the 2016 draft. The Wings covet a puck-moving defenseman like Cholowski and there’s no way he can go back to the WHL as an overage prospect (he doesn’t turn 21 until the New Year), it just doesn’t make sense for his development. My guess is he will start the year in Grand Rapids, but he should challenge for a roster spot out of training camp and don’t forget there are still decisions to be made on Kronwall, Green and Jonathan Ericsson’s future in Detroit.

Evgeny Svechnikov, LW/RW

Hockeytown got a glimpse of the man called “Chevy” in the second half of the regular season, but I don’t think he was necessarily utilized properly in the lineup by Blashill. The Wings’ 2015 first-round pick is extremely gifted offensively with a quick release and masterful puck-handling skills. Svechnikov is very much an offensive-minded forward and at this point in time he’s not adequate at the 200-foot game that we’re used to seeing from Detroit’s forwards. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t fit in, and really that’s on Blashill for playing him in a bottom six role last season. He’s not Luke Glendening, so let the kid play with the skilled players up front and flourish a little bit. In his 14 games with the big club he managed just four points, but a little offseason training, mixed with the right mindset and I think the Wings might have a top six star of the future. “Chevy” is likely going to compete with Rasmussen for minutes, but I’ll take either in the lineup over Luke Witkowski right now.

Filip Hronek, D

Hronek is another guy that could easily make the jump to the NHL out of training camp, if the roster availability allows for it. I’ve been saying for close to a year now that the Wings need to find a way to bury Kronwall on the LTIR while his contract expires and rid themselves somehow of the remaining two years of Ericsson’s contract. Simply put, Hronek is right up there with Cholowski when it comes to chomping at the bit for an opportunity in the red and white. He was fantastic in his first full season in Grand Rapids — 39 points in 67 games — as he took the next step in his development last season. The Czech defenseman will turn 21 shortly into the start of the NHL regular season, but the Wings don’t have to rush him into the starting lineup considering he is waivers exempt and still has the full three years remaining on his entry-level deal. It would be nice to see that strong two-way game and big, booming shot in the Wings lineup, but still there are some decisions to be made by the front office on their veteran core of blueliners.