Detroit Red Wings: The intense battle between the bottom six forwards

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman and first-year head coach Derek Lalonde have a few difficult decisions to make throughout training camp and the preseason schedule.

Hopefully, the players sort things out with their play, but we currently sit with questions surrounding who will make up Detroit’s bottom six forwards. This is the deepest Detroit’s roster has been in quite some time.

First, what we know.

The Detroit Red Wings top line will consist of Tyler Bertuzzi and Lucas Raymond flanking captain Dylan Larkin. This trio led Detroit’s offense last season, compiling 84 goals and 188 points last season.

The second line is where the Detroit Red Wings will be much improved in 2022-23 from a year ago. Yzerman brought in a host of veteran free agents to fill in some blanks, but none more important than veteran winger David Perron. Perron is expected to anchor the second line providing the organization with a much-needed depth scoring punch. He will also help bolster Detroit’s, at times, lifeless power-play. Last year with the Blues, Perron scored 27 goals and totaled 57 points.

Perron will likely skate opposite Jakub Vrana. The Red Wings fanbase has yet to see just how good Vrana can be if he can remain healthy for an entire season, but he’s shown flashes of brilliance and has the potential to be a scoring machine for Detroit in 2022-23. Vrana has played just 37 games with the Red Wings in parts of two seasons but has scored a whopping 21 goals totaling 30 points over that span.

Detroit’s second line is expected to be centered by former Michigan Wolverine and newly signed center Andrew Copp. Copp is exactly the type of two-way center Yzerman desires. Copp is reliable in all three zones; he can contribute on the power-play and the penalty kill. Last season Copp totaled 53 points, including 21 goals split between Winnipeg and the New York Rangers.

There will be an intense battle throughout the preseason between Detroit Red Wings forwards trying to earn a spot among the bottom six.

When it comes to the bottom six forwards, things not only become interesting, they become intriguing. Is this the year Filip Zadina blossoms into the player the Detroit Red Wings hoped they were adding when they selected him no. 6 overall? Perhaps signing a contract extension will allow Zadina to hit the refresh button, knowing he is here to stay through the foreseeable future.

I expect Detroit’s third line to consist of Pius Suter and Zadina, along with the newly acquired Dominik Kubalik. Last season with Detroit, Suter scored 15 goals and totaled 36 points. Suter is a reliable two-way center whose production fits one of a third-line player. Last season, due to a lack of talent up and down the roster, Suter was forced to play as a second-line center and found himself in over his head at times in that role.

Kubalik joins the Red Wings following three seasons with the Blackhawks. As a rookie, Kubalik recorded 30 goals totaling 46 points but hasn’t been able to mirror that same production over the past two seasons. Last season he scored 15 times and totaled 32 points over 78 games. If Zadina, Suter, and Kubalik combine for 50 goals this season, that will be excellent production from the third line. Let’s not forget Robby Fabbri will begin the season injured; when he returns, he will be looking to bolster this third group, likely pushing someone down a line. Fabbri scored 17 goals last season for Detroit over 56 games.

That brings us to the fourth-line competition.

Near the end of last season, Michael Rasmussen proved that sometimes it takes a while for prospects to develop into the players you hope for when you draft them. The 6-foot-6 centerman has the makings of a reliable depth scoring that can serve as a shutdown center that can play against the other team’s top two. Rasmussen excelled in a checking role last year but found his scoring touch late in the season.

Rasmussen will have a role in Detroit’s bottom six, but whether it’s as the third line center or fourth is yet to be determined. As of now, penciling in Rasmussen as the fourth-line center should not appear as disappointing; he will garner similar and possibly more ice-time than Suter, depending on the direction of any given game.

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The competition heats up regarding potential wingers on Detroit’s fourth line. There are a plethora of options. If head coach Derek Lalonde is looking for a more traditional checking/energy line, he may elect to roll with Adam Erne and Givani Smith. Also, Detroit hopes for more of a depth-scoring group; expect to see Oskar Sundqvist and Joe Veleno.

Let’s not forget the likes of Jonatan Berggren, who performed exceptionally well last season, leading Grand Rapids with 64 points in 70 games. Then there is Taro Hirose, who has had a cup of coffee with the Red Wings in various stints. Hirose and Berggren built up nice chemistry last season with the Griffins. Hirose totaled 53 points over 59 games in the American Hockey League last season. Last but not least, there is Elmer Soderblom, a 6-foot-7 power forward with an exceptional offensive skill-set.

The Detroit Red Wings are in a good position heading into the preseason, but there are a lot of forward battles that need to sort themselves out, but it will be fun to monitor along the way.