Detroit Hockey Now’s Red Wings Review series is assessing every player who held a significant place in the fortunes of the 2022-23 Detroit Red Wings season. We’ll be looking at the highs and lows they experienced during the just-completed campaign, as well as what the future holds for them in Detroit. Today, we feature forward Austin Czarnik
2021-22 totals (GP-G-A-P): 29-3-2-5
Contract Status: Signed through 2023-24 season
No mattter what the future holds for Austin Czarnik’s Detroit Red Wings career, he’ll always hold a special place in the lore of Little Caesars Arena. The very first NHL game in the rink was a preseason game between the Red Wings and Boston Bruins on Sept. 23, 2017. At 14:29 of the first period, then playing with Bruins, it was Czarnik who scored the first-ever goal at LCA.
The Red Wings signed Czarnik as a free agent last summer, envisioning him filling the role that he ultimately did for the organization. He wound up third in scoring for the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins with 14 goals and 37 points from 43 games. Czanik led the Griffins with three shorthanded goals.
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) February 20, 2023
Among 13 players to play at least one game with both the Griffins and Red Wings, Czarnik ended up serving two tours of duty with the parent NHL club in Detroit.
“He’s a skilled player,” Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin said of the 5-foot-9 Czarnik. “I’ve known Czarny for a long time. He’s obviously not the biggest guy but he uses his brain really well.”
2021-22 Red Wings Highlights
When the Red Wings were riddled by injury in early December, the club reached down to Grand Rapids, summoning Czarnik.
“Very valuable,” was how Detroit coach Derek Lalonde assessed Czarnik’s contribution. “We don’t get to see these guys every day but this was an easy conversation between (GM) Steve (Yzerman) and I. we really like Austin, we trust Austin.
“He understands our system, our culture. He gets along with the guys. Plug him in easily. So very important to have a guy who can come up seamlessly like that.”
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) November 9, 2022
That intital tenure with the Wings from Dec. 1-20 saw Czarnik click on a line with Joe Veleno and Jonatan Berggren. The unit was producing three goals over a four-game span in early December. Over 12 games, Czarnik counted 2-1-3 numbers and a +2 rating.
“Austin’s been excellent, playing with pace, hockey sense,” Lalonde said at the time. “Everything we ask of him in our structure, systems, he does, and now he’s adding in making some plays. That line has been very good, and he’s been a big part of it.”
2021-22 Red Wings Lowlight
Summoned a second time on March 10, Czarnik finished out the season with the Red Wings, taking the roster spot of Robby Fabbri after he suffered a season-ending knee injury. This time, though, things didn’t go as well for Czarnik. Accounting for 1-1-2 totals in 17 games, Czarnik was -6.
He endured an eight game pointless stretch immediately after his recall from Grand Rapids.
What Does His Detroit Future Hold?
The Red Wings have Czarnik, 30, under contract for another season. On a two-way deal, Czarnik gets a base salary of $775,000 in the NHL and $450,000 in the AHL.
The epitome of a journeyman, Detroit is Czarnik’s fifth NHL club. He’s played 171 NHL games, counting 18-32-50 numbers.
“He has been around,” Larkin said. “He’s smart and he’s got a great stick. He breaks up a lot of plays with his stick.”
In 2023-24, Czarnik figures to be filling the same role within the organization. He’ll start out in Grand Rapids, filling a leadership role on and off the ice. Should he be needed in Detroit, Czarnik has proven that he can be counted on as a bottom-six NHL forward.
“I trust Czarnik,” Lalonde said. “He gave us good minutes early on. He gives us a right shot. He’s available to take a draw or two in that right dot. We’ll plug him in, slot him and go.”