After watching defenseman Moritz Seider dominate in the Swedish Hockey League in 2020-21, the Detroit Red Wings brass was confident he would earn a roster spot last fall.
General manager Steve Yzerman was less sure about Lucas Raymond. He was younger and less experienced than Seider.
But Raymond was so impressive in training camp and preseason that he forced the Red Wings to keep him.
That could happen again this season with another rookie or two.
Even though the Red Wings currently boast 27 players with NHL experience on their roster, Yzerman has said he will find a way to keep a rookie if he earns a place on the team.
As the Hall of Famer points out, it would be a good problem to have if one of the rookies asserts himself the way Raymond did.
The Red Wings expect 6-foot-6 defenseman Simon Edvinsson to make his presence felt in training camp. It would be a surprise if he doesn’t make the team.
This is how his fellow Red Wings draft pick Theodor Niederbach describes Edvinsson: “He’s a great D. He has size, skill and speed. He can play O-zone, D-zone, anywhere. I would say he’s almost a complete D-man.”
Is it probable there will be multiple rookies make the team? That word is probably too strong. But it is possible that Jonatan Berggren shines bright enough to break camp with the Red Wings. The Red Wings certainly appreciated the growth he made at Grand Rapids this season.
Berggren Will Get a Look
He is more of a playmaking winger than a scorer. But Raymond was also considered a better playmaker than scorer before he got to the NHL.
The Red Wings are also very excited about Elmer Soderblom’s potential.
“He likes to score goals,” Edvinsson says about Soderblom “He’s a good goal-scorer, a great protector of the puck. He’s a great skater. In general he’s had tremendous development last year. When you see him here for the first time you’re going to recognize him. He’s a really great player.”
Defenseman Albert Johansson could also make a case. Pontus Andreasson is a wild card. He’s a 23-year-old Swedish Hockey League standout who signed with Detroit as a free agent.
Injuries will open the door a crack for rookies. The 27 experienced players includes Robby Fabbri (knee), Jake Walman (shoulder) and Mark Pysyk (Achilles). All will start the season on the injured list.
Yzerman may not have to do anything to make room for newcomers.
If there are more injuries, the Red Wings might have enough room to start the season with multiple rookies. Yzerman could also open up roster space with a trade or two
But if there are no injuries or trades, an experienced player or two could lose his job. Some fans might expect to see Filip Zadina on this list, but he’s only 22. You can still see some potential. It doesn’t seem like the Red Wings are ready to give up on Zadina.
Here are some vulnerable players:
1. Defenseman Steven Kampfer
Kampfer is on a two-way contract and it seems like he was brought in to be a veteran who could shuttle between Detroit and Grand Rapids, depending on the Red Wings’ injury situation.
He’s 33 with 231 games of NHL experience. But his $300,000 minor-league salary might discourage a team from claiming him on waivers.
2. Center Joe Veleno
The Red Wings know Joe Veleno he can play in the NHL, but they want him to produce more than he did last season. Veleno got some good opportunities last season and didn’t distinguish himself. He was sometimes solid, occasionally effective, but never a difference-maker.
He will turn 23 in January. The Red Wings still believe he can reach another level. But he is vulnerable because he is still waiver-exempt. That’s crucial. Yzerman can send him to the American Hockey League without putting him through waivers.
Round and round goes Joe Veleno. 🚨 pic.twitter.com/xeGLRaehL9
— NHL (@NHL) March 23, 2022
3. Defensman Jordan Oesterle
The Michigan native has done his job as a depth defenseman. It’s difficult to go a lengthy period without playing and then step into the lineup and be expected to be ready for game action.
Oesterle did that several times last season and usually did a decent job. The Red Wings don’t seem to be disappointed with his work. But he’s 30, on the last year of his contract. He’s not part of the rebuild.
4. Right Wing Givani Smith
If the Red Wings put him through waivers, they would have to expect him to be claimed. His physical prowess can be intimidating.
But the Red Wings had hope that he would blossom into a third line force, a tough, hard-hitting, effective checker who could contribute 10 or 12 goals. He’s going to turn 25 and he isn’t there yet. The Red Wings probably wouldn’t want to give up on him until they see what new coach Derek Lalonde can do with him.
5. Left wing Adam Erne
Adam Erne had a strong season in 2020-21, but had less impact last season. Still, he still led the team in hits (161).
Steve Yzerman probably isn’t in any hurry to move him. But he will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Red Wings need to add some physical players, not give them up.
But if you are trying to make some room for a scorer, or a bigger forward, he could be vulnerable.