With a strong third period to close out the Philadelphia Flyers this past Wednesday, the Detroit Red Wings moved to .500, marking the first time they’ve done so after the All-Star break since the team’s last playoff appearance in 2015-16.
There’s still a long way to the finish line — and a wide range of outcomes to be considered. But, to this point in the NHL season, the Red Wings have been relevant, tough to play against, and a vastly different version of the team fans have grown accustomed to seeing in the past half-decade.
The win in Philly was a microcosm of things that have gone right so far: Dylan Larkin continued scorching the opponent, kicking off the scoring for Detroit. Lucas Raymond and the Tyler Bertuzzi-led second line added the ‘umph’ to get Detroit over the hump. And when the dust settled, there was rookie defenseman Moritz Seider, with another two points in his pocket and a highlight-reel penalty kill to boot.
So just how far have these Wings come this season? Do their rookie stars have a chance to bring home the Calder Trophy?
Red Wings rookies making big contributions
Let’s start with the standout rookies: Raymond, Seider and goaltender Alex Nedejlkovic.
In recent years, scoring from prospects and rookies (namely Filip Zadina) was often a consolation prize for losing. This season? The Red Wings’ rookies have routinely been key figures in victories, and the primary reason why those wins are coming a bit more frequently.
Raymond (38 points in 49 games) leads all rookie scorers in the NHL, with a five-point lead on second-place Trevor Zegras.
With 32 points, Seider leads all rookie defensemen in scoring, and that says nothing about the elite defensive production he’s brought to Detroit’s shaky blue line.
Nedeljkovic, meanwhile, leads all rookie goaltenders (min. 20 starts) in save percentage (.910) and wins (14).
Calder Trophy odds
There’s a lot to be said about what this means for the team going forward, but since Calder Award futures were prime territory for Red Wings fans ahead of the season, let’s address that.
If you were able to get in on Raymond to win the NHL’s Rookie of the Year award with odds at over +2000 (he was sitting at +3400 during preseason), now might be the time to consider cashing out.
Sure, he has a decent lead on Zegras in the points department, but Raymond (+250) currently trails Zegras in the Calder odds (+195) at FanDuel Sportsbook MI.
DraftKings Sportsbook MI had Raymond as the favorite (+225) as of Monday morning, with Zegras at +250 and Seider at +300. Seider’s odds at FanDuel are +550.
But it’s easy to see the NHL is pushing Zegras. Look no further than the All-Star Game — in which the league bent its rules to include Zegras, but not Raymond or Seider — as proof that the NHL is marketing Zegras as the best rookie it has to offer.
Zegras checks all the star-power boxes. He’s been given a majority of ‘Wow! The NHL’s in good hands with young players like this!’ attention from the NHL and its media partners. He plays for a team that’s turned things around since his arrival. He makes highlight-reel plays that catch the eye of voters who don’t otherwise get to watch all the games.
On the other hand, Seider added another goal on Saturday when he sniped Philadelphia’s Carter Hart — a goal that picked up plenty of interest online — as Detroit picked up its second win in a row. With 32 points in 49 games, there’s plenty of reason to believe he can pick up the necessary counting stats to truly assert himself in that conversation.
Flashiness aside (and he’s got plenty of that), Seider has been the most impressive all-around rookie in the NHL this year. Thirty three games is plenty of time for that to become clear.
Regardless of what the voters say at the end of the year, enjoy watching Detroit’s rookie trio for the remainder of this season. All that really matters is they’re pushing Detroit into contending territory — and there’s no denying that they’re doing just that.
Red Wings just outside of playoffs
Though they remain seven points out of a wildcard spot, the Red Wings (22-21-6) through 49 games are the closest team to jumping Boston or Washington for the final playoff spot in the East.
Even with the impending return of Jakub Vrana, that’s gonna be a tough nut to crack. That’s reflected in the Red Wings playoff odds, as they’re listed at to qualify for the postseason.
Boston, which has a seven-point advantage on the Wings, also has four games in hand. Detroit has played the same amount of games as Washington, which leads the Wings by 11 points in the standings.
Numbers show clear improvement year over year
But it’s all about perspective, people.
Their 22-21-6 record is a five-win improvement from the team’s record through 49 games in 2020-21 (17-25-7) and a 10-win improvement from the disastrous 2019-20 season (12-33-4).
Those aren’t leaps and bounds by any means, but they are certainly necessary steps forward — and ones that could reasonably lead to playoff expectations for next season.
The Red Wings have also improved at keeping themselves in games and overcoming deficits.
A season ago, Detroit didn’t win a single game in which it trailed after the second period. This year, they’re 3-17-1. And when giving up the first goal this season, the Red Wings are 7-15-4 — surpassing win totals in that department from all of 2020-21 (6-21-4) and 2019-20 (6-32-3).
Neither of those stats present a miracle turnaround by any means. In isolation, they’re reflective of the work that’s left to do. But, they do help give you an idea of where some of these extra wins are coming from: persistence and scoring.
Speaking of which …
Detroit’s stars are shining
Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin is on a heater.
With 49 points (24 goals, 25 assists) through 43 games, he’s already more than doubled his point total from last season (23), in which he played 44 games. Should Larkin, 25, play in all 33 games left on Detroit’s schedule, he’s on an 82-point pace — which would beat his previous season-best by seven points.
Bertuzzi has been pretty great, too. After playing just nine games in 2020-21, Bertuzzi, who turns 27 later this month, is also above a point-per-game.
But outside of having 23 goals and 19 assists in 41 games (putting him within six points of matching a single-season career-high), Bertuzzi’s ability to play anywhere in the lineup has given the Red Wings an ability to juggle their line combinations without disrupting chemistry in the top-6.
Larkin and Bertuzzi started the year on Detroit’s top line, but Bertuzzi has since found a new home with former Guelph Storm teammates Pius Suter and Robby Fabbri. Larkin, meanwhile, has been a mainstay at No. 1 center, with a number of different left wingers getting their crack at playing with him and Raymond.
No matter which way you slice it, Larkin and Bert (along with their new rookie sidekick) have driven the bus for Detroit up front.