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2021-22 Detroit Red Wings Preview: Almost out of a rebuild?

After a year filled with trades and another successful draft, the question isn’t how bad are the Red Wings going to be next year — it’s how good.

Goaltender Calvin Pickard #31 of the Detroit Red Wings defends the net against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on May 8, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

The Detroit Red Wings and the word “rebuild” go hand in hand. But after a better-than-expected year, filled with General Manager Steve Yzerman working his magic on trades and the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the question isn’t how bad the Red Wings are going to be next year: it’s how good are they going to be?

The Detroit Red Wings will have the opportunity to flex their muscles against the San Jose Sharks twice during the regular season.

Where they left off

The Detroit Red Wings aren’t exactly good, per se, but the team is basically a step-by-step guide on how to rebuild a team from the ground up. The past three years haven’t been stellar for the Winged Wheel, but the beauty in a rebuild is that no one expects the team to excel in the standings. Instead, the focus is on the trajectory of the roster and management, not who currently fills out the lineup. It eases the pressure on the team, and it allows the space and energy for the players and the organisation to decide what they want the team’s narrative and identity to be.

The Red Wings, and Steve Yzerman have been collecting pieces in prospects and trades for the past few years and for the 2021-22 season, this could be a first look at the Red Wings of the future.

Their last cup was in 2008 and they’ve missed the playoffs with a sort of admirable dependability, but despite how tough the season gets, the Red Wings never give anything less than 100 percent effort.

Say what you will about 2018-19 (34-40-10), 2019-20 (17-44-5) or even last year (19-27-10), but you can’t say that the players didn’t leave it all out on the ice. This team has heart, which is the most essential aspect in any rebuild — the belief that the team will come out on the other side stronger and better.

2021 Entry Draft

It’s hard not to believe in the future of the Red Wings when you consider how good the Detroit Red Wings are at drafting.

Here are the Red Wings’ picks:

Round 1 (6th overall): Simon Edvinsson
Round 1 (15th): Sebastian Cossa (Acquired via draft-day trade with the Dallas Stars)
Round 2 (36th): Shai Buium (Acquired via draft-day trade with the Vegas Golden Knights)
Round 3 (70th): Carter Mazur
Round 4 (114th): Red Savage (Acquired via draft-day trade with Vegas)
Round 5 (134th): Liam Dower Nilsson
Round 5 (155th): Oscar Plandowski (Acquired via draft-day trade with Vegas)
Round 6 (166th): Pasquale Zito

Detroit likes to spend a lot of time investing in the development of their prospects, so don’t expect any of these picks to crack the roster this year, with the possible exception of defender Simon Edvinsson.

Like all of Detroit’s picks, Edvinsson is well-researched and well-selected. Edvinsson has strong skating skills, good instincts and shows remarkable adaptability in all zones and support positions. With more development and an NHL career to work towards, there’s no reason that Edvinsson can’t be an integral piece on Detroit’s blue line in the next few years.

Roster

Quite a few players have departed the Red Wings, with Luke Glendenning, Bobby Ryan, Jonathan Bernier and Evgeny Svechnikov among the notable faces who will be absent from the roster this year.

Glendenning was lost in free agency to Dallas, signing a two-year, $3 million average annual value contract with the Stars. Bobby Ryan is currently an unrestricted free agent, and Svechnikov (who has so much potential and just wasn’t offered enough ice-time to demonstrate it in Detroit), has been signed to the Winnipeg Jets for a professional try-out.

Remember when the hockey world collectively freaked out over the Carolina Hurricanes voluntarily trading away their young, successful goaltender after a standout year? Goaltender Jonathan Bernier was lost in the blockbuster trade that sent Carolina Hurricanes up-and-coming star Alex Nedeljkovic to Detroit for Bernier’s signing rights and a third-round draft pick.

Alex Nedlejokvic played 23 games during the regular season for the ‘Canes, posting a 1.90 goals-against average (GAA) and a 0.932 save percentage (SV%). In the playoffs, he posted a 2.17 GAA and a 0.920 SV% over nine games. The Red Wings have been attempting to revitalise the net, and Ned (as the Hurricanes called him) seems to be the answer.

New addition Nick Leddy, acquired from the New York Islanders in exchange for Richard Panik and a draft pick, was picked up for his veteran presence, and the possibility of being flipped in a trade later on for a more key piece.

Among pre-existing roster members, the forwards need to stay healthy. Captain Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi are irreplaceable when in the Red Wings lineup, but both have battled injuries. Larkin played 44 games, totaling 9 goals, 14 assists, 34 penalty minutes and a -14 rating. Bertuzzi only played in nine games, putting up a total of 5 goals, 2 assists and 4 PIMs. The Red Wings want consistency and stability as the team searches for prolonged success, and the energy and offensive power of Larkin and Bertuzzi are needed to drive the Red Wings’ forward lines.

If you’d like another example of Steve Yzerman working his trade magic, look no further than the Vrana trade. Stifled in Washington, the Capitals traded Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick to the Wings in exchange for forward Anthony Mantha. Vrana has already established himself as a lightning rod for the Wings, even in his brief debut. He played 11 games for the Wings, culminating in 8 goals, 3 assists, one minor penalty and a +1. Vrana will be expected to build upon his performance thus far for the Wings, as he enters his first full season with the team.

What can we expect in 2021-22?

The Red Wings have been making quiet moves to improve their roster for the past few years, but with additions such as Nedeljkovic and Vrana, and a host of young prospects developing in the wings, it feels as if Detroit is primed for a breakthrough season. Nothing crazy — they won’t be cup competitive for a while yet — but enough of a jump in the standings to demonstrate their improvements.

Special teams in particular are ready for a refresh, with a focus on their power play. Ranked 30th in the NHL last season, their 11.4 percent conversion rate can be chalked up to an unbalanced group and a general lack of goal-scoring. The Detroit Red Wings penalty kill was 22nd overall, at 78.7 percent efficacy.

The Wings’ Goals-For record shows the true depth of their inability to score, which will be another focus for the 2021-22 season. Last year, the Wings were 30th overall with 125 Goals-For, 20th in Goals Against with 168, with a goals differential of -43 goals. I imagine that training camp will involve a lot of playing around with forward lines to really tap into which players have chemistry on the ice in order to increase overall goal-scoring.

All in all, the Detroit Red Wings are almost coming out of their rebuild. The 2021-22 season will be a test of how much longer the Wings will need to develop and retool to get back into the postseason.

The Detroit Red Wings will first play the Sharks on January 4, 2022 at 4:30 p.m. PT at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. The Sharks then come back to the Bay to play the Red Wings at home on January 11, at 7:30 p.m. PT.