The Detroit Red Wings are about to see the return of a few key players early on in 2023, which creates a few tough roster decisions for head coach Derek Lalonde and general manager Steve Yzerman.
Robby Fabbri, Jakub Vrana, Filip Zadina, and Tyler Bertuzzi are all close to returning, leaving four difficult decisions to make in the coming days/weeks. With all the injuries Detroit has suffered this season, it’s miraculous that Detroit has remained in the playoff hunt as the calendar changed from 2022 to 2023.
Vrana is playing for Grand Rapids on a conditioning stint that was recently extended for an entire two-week stay. Fabbri has been skating with the Detroit Red Wings for a few weeks and may be available to make his season debut as early as Wednesday.
Lalonde recently mentioned that if Fabbri can play, he will be inserted into the lineup. Lalonde followed that by saying with the way Joe Veleno, Elmer Soderblom, and Jonatan Berggren have performed of late, it would be hard to see him pulling one out (of the lineup), at least on Wednesday. With all three able to be sent to Grand Rapids without having to pass through waivers, it appears that Detroit won’t be looking to ‘take the easy route’ regarding their up-and-coming roster decisions.
Important roster decisions loom for the Detroit Red Wings.
Veleno, 22, has recorded five goals and 12 points while maintaining a plus-six rating through 34 games this season, and he’s in the midst of a six-game point streak. Over the past six games, Veleno has scored two goals and added four assists while averaging just a touch over 13 minutes of ice time per night.
Veleno may not be scoring at the same clip the Detroit Red Wings had hoped he would when they drafted him with the 30th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Level Draft, but he’s growing into a valuable depth center that currently anchors Detroit’s fourth line. The fleet-footed center needs to improve his faceoff percentage (36.8%), but he adds some unique value that many other fourth-line NHLers don’t. Veleno, along with Soderblom and Berggren, all see time on Detroit’s power play from time to time. Although Veleno may not grow into the second-line scoring threat Detroit had once hoped, if he settles in as a consistent, reliable 40-50 point third-line contributor, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Detroit’s sensational rookie forward Jonatan Berggren has done enough to prove he belongs. The 22-year-old winger is having a solid rookie season for the Detroit Red Wings. Berggren is calm with the puck, and he’s often displayed veteran-like vision and patience during his first stint with the Red Wings. Over his first 22 NHL games, Berggren has totaled five goals and 13 points while averaging less than 13 minutes per night.
Last but not least, Elmer Soderblom. The 6-foot-8 skillful forward appears to be here to stay, for now. Soderblom, like Veleno, is in the midst of a six-game point streak, having recorded three goals and three assists over his last six while averaging just over ten minutes per game. Soderblom is making the most of his opportunities recording 2.1 points/60 minutes as a rookie while maintaining a solid Relative Corsi For Percentage of 4.3 during even-strength situations.
Upon returning from injury, Soderblom was reassigned to Grand Rapids, but before appearing in a contest with the Griffins, he was recalled to Detroit as the injuries continued to mount. Before his injury, Soderblom appeared to be over-matched and needed to work on his skating along with his defensive zone coverage, but he has looked like a different player of late. The lanky 21-year-old has found his groove of late and will likely remain in Detroit’s lineup for the time being.
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If Lalonde elects to keep this trio of young Detroit Red Wings in the lineup for the long haul, that likely means players like Pius Suter, Adam Erne, and Filip Zadina should be on high alert. Also, we shouldn’t rule out a potential trade. As the Red Wings start to get healthier, Yzerman may elect to move pending free agents like Suter, Erne, Oskar Sundqvist, or even Tyler Bertuzzi to clear up space for Detroit’s youth.