Many Detroit Red Wings players have begun gathering at Joe Louis Arena for informal skates before training camp starts. Among those in attendance have been new Red Wings Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss, fueling early speculation about which lines those two players might end up on. Head coach Mike Babcock has already made clear what his plans are for parts of the top two lines, and who fills in the missing pieces may yet depend on chemistry during training camp or in the preseason.
The top line combination of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg appears set, which puts the top offensive players from last season exactly where they should be. Datsyuk led the Wings with 15 goals and 49 points last season, while Zetterberg had 11 goals and 48 points. The two have always had tremendous chemistry when playing together, the problem is how long Babcock will keep them there or who ends up on the other wing. This is where the addition of Alfredsson plays a big part, as it gives Babcock some pretty solid options.
If there’s early chemistry between Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Alfredsson then it might make sense to leave the star trio intact on the top line. If that doesn’t work, Alfredsson can drop to a second line with Johan Franzen and Weiss – which would all but guarantee a production boost from last season. Another candidate for the top line is Justin Abdelkader, who fit in nicely while seeing time there last season. His size and toughness may also be helpful as the Wings shift to the Eastern Conference, and he could clear some space and create scoring opportunities for Datsyuk and Zetterberg. There’s also an outside chance that the spot could go to young Gustav Nyquist, finally giving him a chance to start producing offensively for the team.
The loss of Damien Brunner opens the door for one of these players to step up. While Abdelkader might not ever put up the numbers that Brunner did, he is coming off one of his best seasons yet. There’s little question Alfredsson can still produce, and Nyquist definitely has the skill set to earn top-line time. With some pressure being taken off of them by an improved second line, Detroit’s top line should be in great shape to have another successful campaign no matter who ends up on it.