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Choosing Your Pet Project Player

Whose hill are you prepared to die on?

Anaheim Ducks v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

Our roster looks a lot different this year, and every trade season without fail there are at least a few people melting down as their most special boy is handed off to another team (see: the recently ejected Vlad Namestinov and, of course, His Eliteness Darren Helm First of His Name and Faceoff Specialist Luke Glendening). I won’t even go farther back to dredge up more hurt feelings.

Even with the regular season well underway, you may still be debating who your pet project player should be. I don’t mean guys like Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrana, Lucas Raymond, or Mo Seider. We all know they are Big Important Boys, Franchise Faces, etc. That’s not what this is about.

I’m talking about the Narrative Builders, Argument Starters, Spare Parts, Pipeline Cloggers, Taxi Squad, Redemption Arc-ers, etc.

Therefore, I’ve taken it upon myself to pick out a handful of players for your consideration as you settle on Your Guy. The player you are dying to see have a breakout season, keep on keepin’ on, make a grand entrance, and/or bully their way into the lineup of their choice.

If you have room in your heart for more than one player crusade, good on you, but you still have to have a favorite. I make the rules.

Let’s start with the obvious discourse intensifier, his fellow brow-blessed bro, and the Dumpster Pug™

Filip Zadina

Do you enjoy arguing on the internet? Are you ready to bet it all on the chance to smugly say “I told you so”? Then Zadina is the guy for you! Now I don’t say this lightly as you all know how I feel about Henrik Zetterberg, but when Zadina grows out his beard and as he gets older he starts looking a bit more like Hank. It’s in the brow bone. Now if he could just look like Hank on ice.

But he’s going to score, maybe he did right before this article was posted and I didn’t change this section. And then you can feel smug as hell. Unless my saying he will score means he won’t. So, he won’t score. Definitely won’t score (now go score).

Joe Veleno

If you like to borrow from baseball you’ve got #MustSeeJV and “he’s in the best shape of his life” to use. Veleno always seems in danger of either falling back into the Grand Rapids pipeline when players are all healthy or being used as trade bait if he’s a little too good but still not great. He needs to have a big year, and only you can help him do it by cheering him on.

Veleno has had some ride-or-die fans since the draft who would love to have you on board! The Cult of Veleno warmly welcomes newcomers. Or it would if it existed and if I was in a leadership position which it doesn’t and I’m not.

Adam Erne

He’s got that dawg in him. Between name-searching himself on Twitter and #adamernebrand there is much to enjoy off the ice. On the ice, he has real This Is A Guy™ energy. He’s a classic divisive player where he is either not a fluke and a true bottom-line goal-scoring expert or he’s been propped up by his linemates and only succeeding by being in the right place at the right time. Trash or treasure? Maybe both? Like a tote bag you use because it was free and it holds your totables well enough but you wouldn’t worry if you lost it because there are always more totes.

Is he good? Is he bad? Is he blocking a roster spot from someone else you’d rather have? Is he suddenly becoming tradable and dammit you might actually miss the lug when he’s gone...?

Now, let’s talk about the sure things. After all, “too big to fail” is a phrase for a reason right?

Michael Rasmussen

That’s my boyyyyyyy. I’ve been on the Moose Caboose for a few seasons now, and he is not letting me down. A lot of people hated this draft pick because it was our first one (#9 in 2017), and those takes weren’t necessarily wrong, but the wait seems to have paid off as he’s been drastically improving. He’s also looked more and more like a completely insane murderous mountain man.

It’s possible he was possessed by a demon and that’s why he seems like he’s finally comfortable in his body and has such a blank menacing stare and terrifying grin. So if you’re not afraid of demon appreciation, join me.

Elmer Söderblom

Do I even need to say anything? You can make endless jokes about his behemoth presence, he’s off to a terrific start and scoring goals when we weren’t even sure he’d crack the lineup, and he can uphold the Wings tradition of late-round draft picks being legendary. A triple threat. I almost didn’t include him because he’s so lovable it’s just a gimme.

Oskar Sundqvist

You know how people are like “it was Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and oh yeah I guess there was another guy on the mission*?” Don’t let Sunny only be known because he’s with Ras and Elmer. YOU can make sure he rises above Michael Collins status. He’s already got a good start with the nickname Sunny and all the fun that can be had with that. He also has a…unique array of chompers that gives him that signature grin. Nice Guy. Tries Hard. Loves the Game. He Lives, Laughs, and Loves.

Sure he played for the Pens and Blues but that’s not his fault, he’s at home and thriving with the Wings now.

The new guys are all settling in, so how about picking this one?

Dominik Kubalik

A seventh-rounder and Calder finalist who got dumped by Chicago, you can sit there and be smug that we got him for nothing and he is showing great potential to be an “I found a genuine Van Gogh at a garage sale” signing. He only needs to have one good season with us for you to enjoy all the superiority in the world and the opportunity to call the Blackhawks a trash organization for yet another reason. What’s more fun than that?

The Petr Mrazek Memorial Goaltender Death Hill Finalists

Alex Nedelkjovic

I know what you’re thinking, isn’t Ned a Franchise Face? Yes, BUT goalies are a special case. No goalie is safe, and it’s a tradition as old as the sport itself to want your chosen goalie to become the starter and say you support an equal tandem but your heart secretly says differently.

He is easy to support. He wears beanies, the hair and facial hair (including and especially eyebrows) are everything, he’s a genuine nerd, and the helmet is always awesome. Plus, he’s a family man! He had “Hi Mom” written on his pads to show during a broadcast, he and his wife are dedicated dog parents, and there is a human Baby Ned expected in the spring.

Ville Husso

The new guy! Sure his pads and helmet are boring, but his skills seem flashy enough. And yes again an ex-Blues player but we’re fixing him. I’m not going to be able to sell you on Husso over Ned and I don’t want to, but maybe you like digging up obscure player facts so you can wow and inform the rest of us. He’s kind of a blank canvas, at least to me. It’s still so early in the season that we don’t know how 50/50 our goalie workload will really be.

If nothing else, the position of Queen Bee of the Husso Hive seems to be wide open for anyone bold enough to take it.

Sebastian Cossa

Another giant! His pipeline segment is Toledo<->Grand Rapids and he has already been impressing people on both sides. Do you look at (the now injured) Victor Brattström and see a placeholder just waiting for Cossa to be properly seasoned? Getting on board now means you want to enjoy watching a homegrown goalie rise through the ranks and feel the pride of a parent when he becomes a full-time Red Wing. How long will that take? Depends on how spicy you want your take to be.

Plus, a first-round goalie pick is an argument all on its own regardless of the name on the sweater, there are a lot of opinions about drafting goalies in the first round, so that gives you a fun niche to live in.

Griffwings Dreamer Squad

Simon Edvinsson

The Large Swedish Defender. He got his time during the preseason but it was clear he’d do better with top minutes in Grand Rapids with the Wings' defense being decent. He’s not there yet, but he will be and we’ll probably see him for a few games this season depending on what catastrophes strike.

If you want to be really bold, take up the flag for Edvinsson now and start recklessly screaming how Hronek is a washed-up old bum and that Czech Filips are so last season so it’s time for another Big Swede to join the party and take a second pairing spot. Go big for the big guy.

Givani Smith

Our tough guy loses every fight but he still throws himself in there anyway. He’s a classic bottom-six forward with fifteen roundtrip tickets a year from Grand Rapids to Detroit. He’s just a guy you want to see succeed, and if YOU believe in him hard enough, it’s going to happen. I would not recommend wishing injury on anyone in the current Wings lineup to get him a spot, we have enough already, but I can’t stop you.

GRIT.

Jonatan Berggren

Only 5’11” and an old man of 22 years? Throw him in the trash heap (e.g. trade)? Not on your watch! If you want a Griffin that feels bold but not insane to bandwagon, this is a good one. He’s got that “any minute now” energy like if he could just break out he could be ready to crack the lineup in Detroit next year. But, he could also fall victim to the overseasoning blunder and then find himself shipped out. There isn’t really a spot for him yet, it’ll take skill and good fortune for him and bad fortune for others for him to get in the mix.

He needs some positive propaganda, are you ready to take that campaign manager job? It’s not necessarily an easy bandwagon, the odds are working against you, but maybe that’s the way you like it. Post the potential “see how well my tweets aged, I knew I was right!” tweets now, gang.

And just for fun…

Brian Lashoff

YES I SAID IT. He’s Brian Lashoff and that’s enough. Endlessly frustrating for the Wings fanbase during his time in Detroit, but now he’s the Old Man* King of Grand Rapids.

*still younger than me

There are still plenty of other players across the organ-i-zation you could have on the list. Who are your special project players that you’re ready to fight to the death about?