Remember a few months ago when it seemed like all of Hockeytown was enraged because Gustav Nyquist was stuck in Grand Rapids?
It seems silly now in retrospect. Not just because Nyquist was named the NHL’s second star of the week for piling up six points in four games, but because he’s hardly been alone when it comes to young forwards fans wanted to see in Detroit.
Thanks to rampant injuries, the future has become the present much sooner than Red Wings management had planned. I’m not sure exactly what Ken Holland‘s plans for the season were regarding Nyquist, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan, but it’s safe to say it didn’t involve them playing so much with the parent club.
And there’s no way after an offseason where forwards Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss (remember him?) were the big signings that anyone could have envisioned Jurco, Sheahan and Tomas Tatar all playing on a line together, let alone manning one of the power play units (with Patrick Eaves at one point, for crying out loud!).
Throw in Luke Glendening and Joakim Andersson and we’ve seen six forwards under age 25 receive significant time. The fact that they’ve played key roles in winning games instead of just eating up minutes has to be the brightest spot in what has occasionally been a trying 2013-14 season.
You may have expected it from Nyquist, who’s had his ups and downs but is currently on fire, and as far as I know, is the only Detroit player to inspire his own religion. We knew Tatar had the talent and seeing him tied for third on the team in goals is certainly validation.
The others have been at least mild revelations. Jurco has size to go along with his skill, and he’s already shown he’s not afraid to play a physical game. Sheahan is even a tiny bit bigger, and that wicked shot he put past Carey Price last week was something to behold. The Jurco-Sheahan-Tatar line is a legitimate one, albeit still prone to the mistakes that younger players make, and probably not suited just yet to be the second line on a team that had aspirations of contending for the Stanley Cup back in the fall.
Even Glendening, who seems destined to be a career grinder, has found his niche. He’s the kind of pest that the Red Wings have often played against but just as often lacked in the recent past.
The emergence of all of these young forwards during a kind of group baptism by fire has given Holland and Mike Babcock the good kind of problem. There are going to be some tough decisions to make once Pavel Datsyuk, Andersson and Weiss make their way back from injured reserve. Nyquist is here to stay, and you figure Tatar must be too. It’d be a shame to see Sheahan sent back down now that he’s starting to find his groove—I’d rather see Sheahan in the lineup than Andersson, to be honest, but the latter doesn’t have a two-way contract—but at least management knows it can rely on him and Jurco if they need reinforcements again.
With today’s somewhat depressing news that Johan Franzen has been placed back on IR with concussion symptoms added to the fact that Henrik Zetterberg and Datsyuk are still out of the lineup, there’s going to be a need for everyone mentioned in this post to contribute in a big way tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers, and maybe all the way until the Olympic break. It’s a tough spot because the team is battling through a very tight playoff race, and every point is critical.
Maybe the unplanned youth movement will be a short-term failure and the Red Wings will end up missing the playoffs. Or in a happier scenario, maybe all the veterans will get healthy and everyone with a two-way deal will end up back in Grand Rapids.
Either way, we’ve gone from pining for the prospects to seeing more of the future than we could possibly have dreamed of in October. And you have to admit, that future looks bright.