Red Wings Player Grades 2018-19: The Forwards

With the Red Wings’ 2018-19 season solidly behind us to where we can begin to look back with at least a little objectivity, it’s time to throw that to the wind and rate the players on how well they did.

This time around, I’ll be tackling the forwards. To explain my grades, there is context of expectations attached to each grade here, but I’m also not a cynic and I do consider “living up to your contract” to be an expectation.  I think you know what I’m getting at, but let’s start with the obvious just for that (grades are in no particular order):

Justin Abdelkader #8

Age 32 - $4.25M Cap Hit (4 more years - UFA)
2018-19 Stats: 71GP 6/13/19pts -14 38 PIM
Expectations: Move the piano for the top skill guys

Storyline: Half the reason I signed up to do the grades for the forwards was because of this guy. I don’t blame him for signing the contract he was given and I know he struggled with injuries and illness in this year, but even factoring in all the excuses I can for him, I’m not in good conscience going to give him a passing grade on this season. His deal was too long from the get-go, but he was way too early into allowing it to become the albatross it was this year.

Grade: F

Andreas Athanasiou #72

Age 24 - $3M Cap Hit (1 more year - RFA)
2018-19 Stats: 76GP 30/24/54pts -9 38 PIM
Expectations: Earn that raise

Storyline: AA kind of kicked around as a winger and a center... and then sometimes as a center playing like a winger, but he was mostly tasked with proving that he could make his flashy play stretch out over more minutes and opportunities than he was previously given. He didn’t develop into a defensive master, but improved there. One of his biggest strengths AND weaknesses remains that he rarely defers to his teammates.

Grade: A

Jacob de la Rose #61

Age 23 - $900K Cap Hit (1 more year - RFA)
2018-19 Stats: 60GP 3/6/9pts -13 16 PIM
Expectations: Fill space after being picked up on waivers

Storyline: JDLR was claimed as a reclamation project and he didn’t really do anything to make me believe we got a steal or made a huge mistake. I liked his hustle and I hope very much that the heart procedure he had gives him a good shot at earning a spot out of camp next season.

Grade: C

Tyler Bertuzzi #59

Age 24 - $1.4M Cap Hit (1 more year - RFA)
2018-19 Stats: 73GP 21/26/47pts +11 36 PIM
Expectations: Be a one-man Grind Line

Storyline: Lil Bert is what Justin Abdelkader was supposed to be. He’s one of those “love him on your team but would hate him on another” kind of guys who played himself up from the depths of the lineup to be a mainstay skill-grinder. He’s got to work on not going over the edge while trying to force other teams’ players to do just that, but this is a kid who flat-out gets it.

Grade: A

Taro Hirose #53

Age 22 - $925K Cap Hit (1 more year on ELC)
2018-19 Stats: 10GP 1/6/7pts E 2 PIM
Expectations: None, really

Storyline: Given a good shot to create scoring right off the bat as the Wingers needed guys who could fill in right at the same time he signed, Hirose looked every bit like he belonged on an NHL roster as anybody else through a tiny sample size. Time will tell how bad the eventual growing pains will be for the college star, but I’m an optimist and he’s got me looking forward to seeing what he can do in a full season.

Grade: A

Thomas Vanek #26

Age 35 - $3M Cap Hit (UFA)
2018-19 Stats: 64GP 16/20/36pts -12 26 PIM
Expectations: Score all the goals and raise all the kids

Storyline: It’s almost mind-blowing to see how a guy who somnambulated through this season ended up the 5th-highest scorer on the Red Wings and put up numbers that are respectable for a guy making $3M when divorced from all context, but overall that goes to show just how good at hockey Thomas Vanek is. He was a good in the room guy, but I’m very much hoping he’s either ready to hang ‘em up or go be good in somebody else’s room next season.

Grade: D+

Dylan Larkin #71

Age 22 - $6.1M Cap Hit (4 more years - UFA)
2018-19 Stats: 76GP 32/41/73pts -6 75 PIM
Expectations: Play like a 22-year old top line center

Storyline: We figured going into the season that we’d continue to see Dylan Larkin’s improvement throughout the season and we’d be watching the growth of the future Red Wings’ captain. We got exactly that. The leader in goals, points, and penalty minutes for the Wings more than held his own as the team’s top center all season long. He needs to work on faceoffs and taking fewer penalties going forward.

Grade: A+ for the future C

Frans Nielsen #51

Age 34 - $5.25M Cap Hit (3 more years - UFA)
2018-19 Stats: 72GP 10/25/35pts -7 14 PIM
Expectations: Provide the depth needed to be 1C if Larkin couldn’t do it

Storyline: I’m left looking back at how this year went for Nielsen and I’m praying that Nielsen is just the unluckiest guy to wear the Winged Wheel since Cameron Frye. Nielsen was supposed to be a solid 2C option who could fill it as-needed as the top option and, while he got saddled with a lot of challenges in terms of getting scoring from his wingers, it’s impossible for me to argue that Nielsen lived up to expectations.

Grade: D

Luke Glendening #41

Age 29 - $1.8M Cap Hit (2 more years - UFA)
2018-19 Stats: 78GP 10/13/23pts +2 15 PIM
Expectations: Grind other teams’ scorers into uselessness

Storyline: Among the team leaders in games played, Glendening being in the top-ten in scoring for this team is a pleasant surprise from an individual player perspective and an unpleasant one from the teamwide outlook. Still, Glendening played very well and could definitely fit into an improving team going forward (or end up being better trade bait in his pending-UFA year than he was this year)

Grade: A

Martin Frk #42

Age 25 - $1.05M Cap Hit (RFA)
2018-19 Stats: 30GP 1/5/6pts -9 4 PIM
Expectations: Provide depth power play scoring

Storyline: Frk was never going to be a two-way top-six guy, but was given 30 games to maybe take some soft 5-on-5 deployment and use that to bolster his real job of being dangerous enough on the power play to make other teams have to gameplan ways to stop him (and, by result, give Detroit a wider variety of options to hurt their PK). He... didn’t do that. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Frk made into a UFA this summer through not being given the qualifying offer that would be required to maintain his RFA rights.

Grade: F

Darren Helm #43

Age 32 - $3.85M Cap Hit (2 more years - UFA)
2018-19 Stats: 61GP 7/10/17pts -11 20 PIM
Expectations:  Do everything asked of him - PK, Top-Six, Bottom-Six, Depth Scoring

Storyline: Helm missed 21 games and again found himself in the jack-of-all-trades situation. He was a mainstay on the PK and wasn’t expected to kick in much offensively, but for the most part he basically filled space in the lineup. His deployment isn’t tops on the list of that I feel is replaceable, but it’s definitely ON that list.

Grade: C-

Michael Rasmussen #27

Age 19 - $894,166 Cap Hit (2 more years on ELC)
2018-19 Stats: 62GP 8/10/18pts -8 29 PIM
Expectations: Grow into your 9th-overall draft pedigree

Storyline: For guys who deserve excuse-making in the face of such a hard late-season fade, I think Rasmussen is the best candidate. The 9th-overall pedigree and extra year in juniors doesn’t help things, but Rasmussen always appeared to me as the kind of personality who would take the late-season struggles and move forward productively with the lessons learned. Still, it’s real hard to just throw away all that 2019 quiet as just “growing pains” for the kid, so I won’t!

Grade: C-

Christoffer Ehn #70

Age 23 - $759,167 Cap Hit (1 more year on ELC)
2018-19 Stats: 60GP 3/6/9pts -5 6 PIM
Expectations: Two-way depth play

Storyline: Christoffer Ehn is such a tough grade for me because he’s basically all my hopes for Joakim Andersson and Drew Miller wrapped into a 23-year old player. The guy hustled his ass off out there and showed flashes of brilliance while avoiding showing those other flashes of crap. His big failure was essentially failure to stand out, but if we’re going to scream about any other player getting 10:37 TOI/G not being given his fair shot, then I’m just going to end this sentence comfortable you ‘re getting my point.

Grade: B

Anthony Mantha #39

Age 24 - $3.3M Cap Hit (1 more year - RFA)
2018-19 Stats: 67GP 25/23/48pts -8 30 PIM
Expectations: Develop consistency as a top line scoring threat

Storyline: Ah Manthony, the big streaky winger who only ever dominates when he’s trying his hardest and is definitely NOT trying his hardest whenever he’s not dominating. Another fighting injury likely cost him his shot at 30 goals this year and the hot finish tends to wipe mid-season struggles out of the mind. He’s a very good passer, but his shot is is bread-and-butter.

Grade: B+

Ryan Kuffner #56

Age 22 - $925K Cap Hit (1 more year on ELC)
2018-19 Stats: 10GP 0/0/0pts E 0 PIM
Expectations: None, really

Storyline: Ryan Kuffner came in to look like Gustav Nyquist so it would be easier to live our lives without him. He did that admirably and pretty much nothing else memorable.  That’s not a knock against him though. Kuffner wasn’t given the same opportunities as Hirose and I think he acquitted himself well over the ten game window we got to see.

Grade: C

So there you have my completely subjective and arbitrary grades for the forwards. Coming up we’ll have the rest of the club up under the microscope. Agree with the ratings? Disagree?  I’m sure you’ll let us know in the comments!