What a year. The Detroit Red Wings played 30 games in 2020, their season destined for a low point in the latest rebuild even before the NHL succumbed to the pandemic and paused the 2019-20 season with roughly three weeks to go.
During a challenging year, there were reasons for optimism. It was hard to tell while the Wings were in action, as they were the only team to have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs when the league shut down March 12. Two days earlier, the Wings had ensured they would finish at the bottom of the standings when they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes.
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But with Steve Yzerman in charge, the Wings look on the path to regaining glory.
Czech it out
One of the bright spots was winger Filip Zadina. That is, when he was called up in late November after an injury to Anthony Mantha (not the worst one of the season, this was, relatively speaking, just a knee issue). The sixth pick in the 2018 draft recorded 15 points in 28 games before a lower-body injury sidelined him at the end of January. Zadina, 20, may not outshine defenseman Quinn Hughes (runner up for 2019-20 rookie of the year, drafted seventh by the Vancouver Canucks), but Zadina projects to be at least a 20-goal scorer, maybe more, and the Wings desperately need held on offense.
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That brings us to another good story to emerge from last season. When defenseman Danny DeKeyser was lost to a back injury in October 2019, it cast Filip Hronek into a greater role.
Hronek, 23, performed terrifically. He averaged 24 minutes a game, tasked with playing against the opponents’ top players. Hronek (6-foot-0, 183 pounds) doesn’t intimidate physically but he’s scrappy, never hesitating to go into corners to battle for the puck.
Hronek and Zadina should have prominent roles in the rebuild.
Larkin emerged as a central part of the rebuild the year after the Wings drafted him at 15th in 2014, making the team as a 19-year-old to start the 2015-16 season. (He ranks third with 266 points in 389 games in his draft class). Larkin erred last season when he joked he’d rather sit out the All-Star Game, but he showed maturity the next day when he lamented disrespecting his job and his employer.
Most importantly, Larkin has the respect of Yzerman.
“I’ve enjoyed my conversations with him and our discussions about hockey and our team throughout the season,” Yzerman said in May 2020. “I am very impressed with him. I think being a member of the Wings and improving this team is very important for Dylan, and he takes it seriously. He’s an excellent player for us, he’s a very important player.”
Yzerman plans to name a captain for the first time since Henrik Zetterberg retired in September 2018, and Larkin is the leading candidate.
Look, 2021 can’t possibly be as challenging as 2020. We will have to make do with a shortened season because the novel coronavirus delayed the start of the season until Jan. 13. The Wings are scheduled to play 56 games — eight each against the temporarily re-designed Central Division (the Wings, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning).
The Wings project to miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season, but come autumn, the likes of recent draft picks Moritz Seider, Jonatan Berggren and Lucas Raymond could boost the rebuild. Remember: It took 14 years for Yzerman to lift the Stanley Cup, and that was with the amazing 1989 draft (when the Wings hauled in Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov). Next seasson may look bleak, but the future looks bright.
Contact Helene St. James at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Reflecting on the Detroit Red Wings’ awful 2020 and bright 2021
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