After a season of merely 17 victories, trailing Ottawa next above us by 23 points, Detroit Red Wings fans crave the barest signs of progress and growth. Where can we find any encouragement and hope? With our season over, let’s scrutinize Red Wings’ key to our future and ask: what’s their next step?
As a complete player, Dylan Larkin is a quintessential Red Wing. Like former Detroit Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman along with the Federovs’, the Datsyuks’ and the Zetterbergs’ before him, he plays well in any situation. Early in the game, on the power play, in the final seconds or on the penalty kill, Larkin shines in all of those scenarios. That, combined with gravitas as a man of character and full accountability, the sky is the limit. His next step? Larkin must become a more dangerous scorer, and finish a higher percentage of chances.
Filip Zadina made substantial gains last season before a slap shot from the point fractured his ankle. The best offensive forwards are equally fluent in goals and assists. They copiously convey juicy feeds from linemates into the twine.
Then as opponents come to cover them more tightly, they shift to providing juicy feeds to those same linemates, now more open as they are less guarded. Offensive juggernauts are made of stuff like this. Filip Zadina shows he can provide both goals and assists. Like any player, Zadina plays better with better players as his supporting cast. His next step? The maturing Zadina needs to become the kind of player who makes other players better around him.
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Jonathon Bernier began the season as ineptly as Jimmy Howard. After January 1, he galvanized into one of the better NHL goaltenders. Still, that hasn’t changed how Bernier is widely perceived as a good backup goalie. Now is the defining moment in his career.
I remember a Czech player named Dominik Hasek, a backup with the Blackhawks. Hasek broke through as an ace with the Buffalo Sabres at age 29. That is Bernier’s age. (Please note: I’m not saying Bernier is the next Hasek, who leads the NHL with the highest career save percentage.) Bernier’s next step? Seize the moment, consolidate his game, and become a worthy number one goalie of a proud Original Six franchise.
Last season Filip Hronek developed faster than expected. DeKeyser’s injury created a void, and Hronek filled it. Before last fall, we weren’t sure Hronek was an NHL player. No doubts about that now. Now we ask where he fits among the Detroit Red Wings top four defensemen? No wonder Mike Babcock cast longing glances at him as he departed for Toronto. Still, as our best defenseman, Hronek was -38 last year. His next step? Enjoy a stronger, deeper defensive cast by becoming less porous himself.
Dennis Cholowski and Madison Bowey frustrate Detroit Red Wings management. But the brass doesn’t give up on them because of their worthwhile offensive chops. The next step is the same for both. Can they become credible if not responsible defenders so the coach doesn’t sweat drops of blood every time opponents mount a rush? Mike Green shored this up later in his career. Why wait?
Last season Tyler Bertuzzi was our sole NHL All-Star. Not the most gifted skater or elegant playmaker, Bertuzzi has a competitive ability to drive hard and win. He can fight and has enough grit to keep the flies off Larkin. He has the fortitude to stand in the slot and endure abuse from defensemen. He plays the game with the verve and enthusiasm of a boy but thinks the game well on the ice.
Tyler knows how to finish around the net. He eagerly gives up the body to make a play. Bertuzzi’s next step? Change nothing, grow in every dimension, and maintain his infectious joy and enthusiasm.