This evening, Detroit Hockey Now’s Kevin Allen ranked the Red Wings management’s offseason moves, from 1 to 10, with work left to do in re-signing the restricted free agents left on the docket (Adam Erne, Jakub Vrana, Filip Hronek and Givani Smith). Numbers one and two have to do with the Wings’ goaltending:
1. Trading for Alex Nedeljkovic: The Red Wings have a collection of rebuild problems, but lack of a young, premium goaltending prospect was probably chief among them. He solved that in extraordinary way by acquiring goalie Nedeljkovic, who was finalist for NHL Rookie of the Year. He had 15 quality starts last season in 23 appearances for the Carolina Hurricanes. His 1.90 goals-against average and .932 save percentage speak to his potential to be Detroit’s goalie for years to come.
At 25, Nedeljkovic is still young enough to be the team’s No. 1 goalie when the team’s rebuild is completed. The bonus of this trade is that Yzerman only gave up a third-round pick and the rights to Jonathan Bernier, who wasn’t going to resign in Detroit.
2. Drafting Sebastian Cossa: Yzerman moved from No. 23 to No. 15 in the draft to take Cossa, who is a fiery, 6-foot-6 goalie with overflowing talent. While many in the scouting world were crowing about Jesper Wallstedt, the Red Wings focused on Cossa. They liked Cossa’s potential more. He’s a trash-talking, cocky netminder who believes strongly in his ability to stop the puck.
The Red Wings only gave up a second rounder and a fifth rounder to the Dallas Stars to get this done. With Nedeljkovic aboard, the Red Wings have no reason to rush Cossa.
Continued; Bob Duff also wrote a subscriber-only article for Detroit Hockey Now on this humid Saturday evening, discussing the fact that the Red Wings are not going to simply hand out roster spots to their top prospects:
“I’m not necessarily going to leave spots open just to hand it one of the younger players, or for them to get it by default,” Yzerman explained.
Certainly, the arrival of free agent Pius Sutter will make it far more challenging for someone like Joe Veleno to crack the Detroit lineup. Keeping Gagner puts a road block in the path of 2020 first-round draft pick Lucas Raymond chances of being a Red Wing this season.
Not only is Yzerman fine with that, he’s encouraging it. He wants their route to the NHL to be a bumpy ride.
“I think it’s important, if they’re ready to go, great,” Yzerman said. “We’ll find a spot, find a solution for it.
“For our young guys that have a chance to crack the lineup, we would rather they’re simply better than the players we have.”
In other words, if Veleno and Raymond prove NHL ready through training camp and preseason player, then Yzerman wouldn’t have a problem with say, placing a veteran like Frans Nielsen on waivers, or even assigning him to AHL Grand Rapids, if such a move is going to make the team better.
“If a young guy can play, great,” Yzerman said. “I’m not going to leave a spot on the roster to hand to anyone, but I’m also not going to sign a free agent feeling we have a hole, let’s just plug it. That usually doesn’t work out.”
Continued (subscription); Yzerman, the Wings’ management and the coaching staffs all have to ride a fine line in ensuring that they don’t allow prospects to “over-ripen” in the AHL, as Ken Holland preferred, while not rushing them into NHL roles that they’re not ready for.
Therein lies the art and science of player development, and more of it is still art than science, on both collective and individual levels.