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How the Detroit Red Wings Could Deploy Prospects in 2021

2021 Red Wings prospects

The window is open for the 2021 Detroit Red Wings prospects. Only nine players on the Red Wings’ roster have contracts through the 2021-22 season. Many, like Tyler Bertuzzi, will obtain contract extensions. But with so many spots opening — and with the Seattle Kraken expansion draft looming — change is inevitable in Detroit. There will come a time where the younger players finally seize the reins from the veterans. That time may come as early as the 2021-22 season, when the amount of roster openings far exceed the players the Red Wings plan on keeping.

The Red Wings 2021 Prospects Deployment Plan

The prospect development plan will come down to two schools of thought. If general manager Steve Yzerman has faith in the youth movement, he’ll find more opportunities for younger players to earn ice time. If he sees the rebuild as a slower process, he will likely find his solution through free agency. Both decisions have their own pros and cons. Today, we’ll look at three different approaches to the 2021-22 season that Yzerman and the Red Wings could take.

Scenario 1: Let the 2021 Red Wings Prospects Take the Reins

There’s something to be said about a youth movement. With the way the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche have exploded, watching the young guns take over games is an exhilarating experience. This type of scenario would be a proverbial trial through fire for the Red Wings’ rookies. They’d have a chance to steal the show and build on the winning culture Hockeytown has cultivated over the last few decades. Prospects like Givani Smith and Taro Hirose have shown that they’re more than ready. It’s up to the coaching staff and front office to provide them with that opportunity.

On one hand, letting the youth shine is an excellent way to test their abilities. On the other, the team runs the risk of rookie burnout. We’ve seen this too often in teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres. By prematurely pushing the kids into the lineup, these teams have consistently ruined the confidence of their younger players by putting them into difficult scenarios. Throwing your prospects into the limelight so quickly can foster a culture of negativity. Ultimately, the onus falls on Yzerman to determine prospect readiness.

Scenario 2: Yzerman Signs More Veterans

This is the scenario Red Wings’ fans dread to read. If Yzerman doesn’t believe the prospects are ready, there’s a strong chance he re-signs many of the faces fans have become accustomed to over the years. This could mean that, yes, Darren Helm could potentially return to Detroit again. Yzerman could also set his sights on the free agency class. If Yzerman follows the formula of the last few years, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect players like Mattias Janmark and Derek Forbort to sign short-term contracts in Detroit. If the prospects aren’t capable of outplaying, say, Frans Nielsen, how can Yzerman trust them to shoulder bigger burdens on the ice?

Having said that, signing a series of veterans invites a Catch-22 scenario. How can the prospects develop if they aren’t able to play on the roster? Without the right ice time or opportunities to learn, prospects can “over-ripen”, stunting their development. It’s important that prospects like Joe Veleno are given opportunities to learn and grow into their roles. By placing stopgaps in the way of prospects, a conservative culture begins to take hold. The ever-looming presence of someone like Valtteri Filppula might prevent a young player from earning ice time as the team chooses veteran leadership over budding rookies.

Scenario 3: The 2021 Prospects Are Given Audition Opportunities

It might be best for Yzerman and company to take a blended approach. There’s nothing wrong with signing a few veterans. They can prove to be good role models, depth scoring threats, and can even secure draft picks during the trade deadline. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see Bobby Ryan don the Winged Wheel again? Leaving a few “open audition” spots on the roster can give players like Moritz Seider the chance to steal the spotlight for the foreseeable future. They can use these spots to give players short, 10-game stints to earn spots.

It’s a win-win scenario no matter how you look at it. At best, the spots are filled up immediately by talented rookies. At worst, the team can give their prospects a taste of NHL ice while covering the loss with their veterans. This ensures a smooth, smart approach to the rebuild. What better way to show trust than by providing opportunities for your rookies to succeed?

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