As the Detroit Red Wings enter their preseason opener, competition at forward is as fierce as any year during the Red Wings’ current streak of 22 consecutive preseason appearances.
It is an interesting and diverse mix of young bucks and grizzled veterans, as the Red Wings are currently carrying three more forwards than they intend to keep once the regular season starts in roughly two weeks.
Things were already murky at forward before general manager Ken Holland signed Dan Cleary just four days ago. The signing of Cleary officially put all forwards vying for a roster spot on notice, and seemed a bit unnecessary. The Red Wings are now three players over the 23-man roster limit and $2.4 million over the salary cap, which must be resolved before the opener Oct. 2 against the Buffalo Sabres.
Cleary has been a playoff hero in years passed, but his regular season play has been ugly, for the most part, over the last four seasons. He has only eclipsed the 35-point plateau once, and was a negative player in three of the four seasons. He has had numerous injuries and was incapable of scoring when playing with the likes of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Thus, his addition has only made the forward situation even more unclear.
Only Gustav Nyquist can be sent down to the Grand Rapids Griffins, as every other forward is out of AHL options and would have to clear the waiver process. That includes AHL Playoff MVP Tomas Tatar, who had 16 postseason goals in 24 games while leading the Griffins to the AHL championship. The 22-year-old Slovak was also solid during an 18-game stint with the Red Wings last season, registering seven points and a plus-2 during his promotion. Tatar was ultimately sent down for Nyquist, but the two reunited in the AHL playoffs after the Red Wings were eliminated and Nyquist was returned to Grand Rapids.
Tatar obviously wouldn’t clear waivers, so it appears he will either make the team or be dealt in the coming weeks.
Thus, Nyquist may be unfairly sent down in order to keep veterans like Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson on the roster. Nyquist already showed that he is ready for everyday NHL duties on multiple levels. First, he was the leading scorer in the AHL after 58 games last season before he got called up to the Red Wings. At this point, it appears more time at the AHL would only stunt the talented youngster’s growth.
Secondly, while solid, yet unspectacular, upon his promotion to the NHL during the regular season, Nyquist took his play to another level in the playoffs. He recorded two overtime points, including an overtime winner in Game 2 against the Anaheim Ducks in the first round, and was a dynamic player against the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. Nyquist showed chemistry with fellow young Swede in Joakim Andersson, as well as the departed Damien Brunner, so breaking up Nyquist and Andersson seems like an unwise idea.
Nyquist’s speed and offensive prowess pair nicely with Andersson’s size and defensive mindedness. Adding a player like Drew Miller, or even Tatar, could make for a third or fourth line with a ton of upside.
While veterans like Cleary, Bertuzzi and Samuelsson appear to be safe, other veterans may not be as fortunate if Nyquist and Tatar make the opening night roster.
Patrick Eaves, Jordin Tootoo and possibly Cory Emmerton would be the first players to the chopping block as the regular season looms. With the bevy of injuries to center Darren Helm, Emmerton appears to be less likely to be waived.
Entering the preseason opener tonight in Pittsburgh, Cleary was skating on a line with Andersson and Samuelsson, while Tatar was playing with some familiar faces from Grand Rapids in Landon Ferraro and Luke Glendening. Tootoo is playing on a line with two of the Red Wings’ top offensive prospects in Anthony Mantha and Calle Jarnkrok.
The likes of Nyquist, Bertuzzi, Eaves and Emmerton will suit up for the Red Wings Tuesday against the Blackhawks.
As unclear as the situation has become at forward, the only certainty is that Holland, one of the best GM’s in pro sports, will have the roster and payroll trimmed to his liking by the time the Wings hit the ice in Buffalo.
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