Although Detroit was not a good team this year, they certainly improved from the 2019-20 squad. The Red Wings finished with 48 points this year, nine more than the previous – with 15 less games. Although there were certainly some low points (The blowout losses to Nashville and Chicago), the team showed resilience, as young players started to improve and contribute.
So which players improved with the team this season?
Perhaps the best example of player development in the organization this season has been Michael Rasmussen. Big ‘Ras has had a bit of a rocky road to the NHL. He was able to make the Red Wings in the 2018-19 season, but was assigned to the Griffins the very next year.
He started off 2020-21 in Grand Rapids, but soon found his way to the main roster. This time, he found a way to stick. Rasmussen soon found a comfortable spot centering Detroit’s lower lines, growing more comfortable at the NHL level and finally utilizing that 6-foot-6 frame of his. Although three goals and nine assists is not anything to write home about, it was nice to see Rasmussen finally start to look like he belongs on an NHL roster.
Next year will be a big test for big ‘Ras: can he start utilizing his steadily improving toolkit to get pucks in the net? A big shutdown center that can set a mean screen is definitely a good asset, but if he can get pucks in net, he can go from good to great.
Looking at the scoresheet, one would think that Zadina actually had a disappointing year. Although he played 21 more games than last season, he only manages to improve his points by four – from 15 in ’19-’20, to 19 this season.
But the tape tells a different story.
Anyone that regularly watched the Wings this year can attest: Filip Zadina got better this year. Yes, it would have been nice to see a bit more in the scoring department, but he just seemed snakebitten. And that’s not just hockey speak – His shooting percentage is half of what it was last year – from 13.3 percent, to just 6.2 percent.
That’s just slightly better than his rookie season. Zadina’s frustration with his shooting this year was palpable. If he wasn’t shouting in frustration after a miss, he was looking forlorn on the bench.
The real improvement came in the smaller details of the game. Zadina, drafted as a goal scorer with a good shot, proved that he can be a two-way player in the offensive and defensive zone.
This was just one of the many plays where Zadina made an opponent look foolish by picking their pocket. His toolkit of skills only grew this year, even as his shooting percentage decreased. Zadina’s improvement was one of the most exciting things to watch this year, and when that shooting percentage regresses to the mean, he will prove why he belongs on Detroit’s top line.
Who led the team in goals again? Was it freshly-minted Captain, Dylan Larkin? Was it one of those top-six wingers, like Zadina or Ryan Fabbri?
Nope. It was Adam Erne. With 11 goals, Erne led the 2020-21 Red Wings (Not counting Jakub Vrana, as 11 of his 19 goals were scored with the Capitals).
This scoring was done in Detroit’s bottom two lines, with line mates like Luke Glendening, Darren Helm and Sam Gagner (No disrespect to the three, but they are not quite playmakers or scorers). Last year, Erne had only five points total in 56 games played. This year, he has 20 in just 45 games.
Statistically, Erne is the team’s most improved player. He went from borderline taxi-squad rider to perhaps the best bottom-six winger in Detroit. However, he doesn’t have the pedigree and raw talent of Zadina or even Rasmussen.
Even with such an impressive year, it’s hard to predict that he’ll be able to match or exceed it next season. But it’s impossible to argue that Erne has taken a major step as an NHL goal scorer, and next year, he could be out to prove that his team-leading performance was not a fluke.