Detroit Red Wings 2015 Season Preview: Bottom Centers
Ahh, September. We've slogged through the Worst Month of Hockey and one week from today, the first games of the Red Wings' prospect tournament will be being played in Traverse City, Michigan. One week after that is training camp. Before you know it, it's preseason and hockey will be played (though the games won't actually mean anything). We're getting there, folks. I can hear skates on ice in the nearing distance.
As part of our own preparation for the new season, we broke the team up into easier-to-tackle sections to preview. So far, Graham gave us the scoop on the middle six wingers and Joe looked at the top centers. Today we'll be looking at the three players that are most likely to slot in as the Wings' bottom centers.
#41 / Center / Detroit Red Wings
Apr 28, 1989
Kyle and Mike Babcock's favorite player had an unexpected offensive outburst in the 2014-15 season, scoring 12 goals in the regular season after scoring only one in the previous year. He scored an additional two goals in the playoffs and was, correctly or not, largely considered to be the reason the Tyler Johnson line was stymied in the Tampa Bay series until a hand injury took him off the ice late in Game 4. I don't want to talk about what happened next.
Strengths: Durability. Glendening was one of five Red Wings to play in all 82 games last year, and considering how many minutes at even strength he played every night in the roles he was assigned, this is definitely a positive. He's also pretty quick; decent on faceoffs, winning 51.9% of them last year; and is well-known as being a really difficult guy for teams to play against. He was used heavily on what was, for most of the season, the league's top penalty kill.
Weaknesses: Throughout the season, his line was often deployed against lines far above their talent level to give the Wings' top lines more favorable matchups. Frustrating opposing players with his smart words (he's college-educated, after all) and his perfect pearly whites was touted as the reason; however, Glendening actually posted a cringe-worthy 5v5 44.33 CF% (courtesy war-on-ice.com). We've gone over this at length before, and I'm still comfortable with saying that it isn't really Glendening's fault that he was used incorrectly. When he's playing where he should, he's pretty good at his job, so uhh, I guess a weakness is his refusal to use his rare right-handedness and scoring most of his goals on the backhand.
Expectations: Like with every other player on the Red Wings next year, Glendening will have an entirely different coach's perspective as far as what he's capable of and therefore expected to do. Is he going to see the same usage under Jeff Blashill that he did with Mike Babcock? I certainly hope not. Ideally, he sees most of his time centering the fourth line and receiving actual fourth line minutes, as well as keeping the penalty kill as strong as it was at the beginning of last season. I wouldn't expect too much offense from him (though saying the same last year got him double-digits in goals, let alone just points, nice going Graham) but he'll play a majority of the season and, if utilized correctly, will excel in his role of a defensive depth forward.
#18 / Center / Detroit Red Wings
Feb 5, 1989
Joakim Andersson was re-signed by the Red Wings to a one-year deal after really not doing much in 2014-15. He scored three goals and eight points in 68 games, which when compared to his eight goals in 65 games the season before, it's nowhere near what we would have hoped for the 26-year-old whose career got a promising start between Gustav Nyquist and Damien Brunner.
Strengths: He's a big body who can use his size and is more than fine with being used in limited minutes. Andersson knows his role and does it quietly, providing more of a defensive role expected of a player low on the depth chart.
Weaknesses: He's not a great skater, and certainly isn't fleet of foot. His offense seems to have largely dried up, and like Glendening, he had poor possession stats that were probably due to being on the misused fourth line, but still not pretty to look at.
Expectations: Ansar Khan of MLive suggested that if Riley Sheahan were to be transitioned to playing wing, Andersson might center the fourth line while Glendening takes the third. I thoroughly disagree with this idea, and I think expecting Andersson to get consistent playing time this season may even be a stretch. While Pavel Datsyuk is out, he probably stays on the roster in Detroit. How much he plays will depend on any other injuries that might crop up, and even then he's more likely to see time on the wing than at center anyway. He's a 13th or 14th forward at this point, who will probably do okay coming back from long stretches of not playing. Once Datsyuk returns, he's my first choice of players to hit the waiver wire to get the roster back to 23.
#28 / Center / Detroit Red Wings
Jul 30, 1996
A year ago, I don't know how many of us saw Larkin's name even coming up in conversation about actually playing for the Red Wings this October. When we drafted Larkin at 15th overall in 2014, it was understood that he would spend two, possibly three years at the University of Michigan before deciding to turn pro. However, he had a very successful freshman season in Ann Arbor, posting 15 goals and 47 points in 35 games for the Wolverines. He was a goal-per-game player for Team USA in the U20 World Junior Championship, and looked like he belonged with the men of the NHL when he represented the Americans in the World Championship. Within days of the tournament it was announced that he was indeed turning pro, forgoing his NCAA eligibility and becoming official property of the Detroit Red Wings. He joined the Grand Rapids Griffins for the final six games of their playoff run, scoring three goals and five points and again looking like he belonged with the professionals in the AHL.
Strengths: Named the 2015 NHL Prospect of the Year by Hockey's Future, Larkin is a playmaking center who simply makes the players around him better. He has great vision of the ice and uses this to create offense for his team. His skating has been spoken very highly of by many, including ESPN's Corey Pronman. He's very adaptable, as evidenced by his ability to play in four different levels of competition in 2014-15 and look good in all of them. Larkin's leadership and maturity has also been touted since day one, with his potential for future NHL captaincy being proclaimed the moment the Red Wings drafted him.
Weaknesses: Inexperience at the pro level. He only got into six games with the Griffins at the end of a playoff run, and while he looked good doing it, it's not known how he'll fare over a full season playing against men, whether that happens in Grand Rapids or Detroit. He also needs to learn to use his size better, because while he isn't getting crushed physically while he plays, he should be able to create more space for himself and his teammates once he gets used to throwing his body around a bit more.
Expectations: Is Larkin going to play in Detroit this year? I mean, I guess it's possible. However, Larkin's ELC will slide one year if he plays less than ten games in the NHL this season. Even if he has an outstanding camp and preseason, nine regular season games won't be enough to make me comfortable with keeping him in Detroit and losing that extra year on a cheap contract. He absolutely should not be playing on the fourth line, nor relegated to a 13th or 14th forward, because he shouldn't stay in Detroit if he isn't playing. I don't see him taking the third line center spot from one of Riley Sheahan or Brad Richards, so he will likely be gracing the fans at Van Andel Arena with his presence this year. New Griffins coach Todd Nelson should challenge Larkin, giving him enough responsibilities to build up trust and proof that he can play with and against professionals over the course of a full season.