Three games down. Five to go.
That’s basically what the preseason feels like at this point. Just a count down until opening night. Most of the prospects have gotten a couple of looks, and the NHL regulars really don’t need more than two games. Some other NHL teams have already started to waive players down to the minors. Look out for Detroit to start being more active on that front in the coming days.
Lineups for the Wings have not been announced yet, but we know for a fact Dylan Larkin will make his preseason debut.
On Pittsburgh’s end, they are resting their big guns. They’ll be deploying bottom of the lineup players and prospects for today. Casey DeSmith will start the game for them.
Tomorrow's lineup vs. Detroit:
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) September 21, 2019
Here are three thoughts as we approach the half way point of the exhibition games.
1. Who will be on Dylan Larkin’s line
Not just for tonight, but for the remainder of preseason I’ll be pondering this question when Larkin breaks into the lineup. I’m curious to see if head coach Jeff Blashill plays Larkin with his regular line of Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi, or if he opts to play him with some prospects.
For guys like Evgeny Svechnikov or Filip Zadina, getting some reps in with Larkin would be a huge boost to their confidence. Weather it be in part by getting the experience of playing with a high-end NHL center, or the extra scoring chances/goals/points they’ll register automatically, added confidence for those two wingers would go along way.
On the flip side, you have to think Larkin is looking to take it easy prior to opening night, and just get his feet moving in these games. Having to start the engine a little early to help out some other guys might not be in his best interests. Then again, if he is the true leader we see him as, he won’t think twice, and bring his A-game versus the Penguins.
It’ll be interesting to see what direction the coaching staff goes.
2. Who has the upper hand for the final forward spot
The way I see it, there is one remaining forward spot for a prospect on the opening night roster. The team is expected to go with 13 forwards, and 12 are currently occupied. The main competition is between Michael Rasmussen, Svechnikov, and Zadina. Joe Veleno was also in the mix, but I think he has been passed over in the preseason. However, a year in Grand Rapids can’t hurt the development of the former QMJHL star.
If I had to rank the above in terms of their play in the preseason, I would go
- Michael Rasmussen
- Evgeny Svechnikov
- Filip Zadina
I was splitting hairs between Svechnikov and Zadina, but I feel Rasmussen has had the best preseason out of all of them. Obviously, there are other factors to consider, such as development and things of that nature. Jumping to conclusions after three preseason games is never a good idea, nevertheless, this is their last opportunity to influence the coaching staff’s final decision. Tonight’s game versus the Pens, as well as the remaining games of the preseason will mean a lot.
3. Who has the upper hand for the final defense spot
The same logic goes here as it did the forwards, except now there is possibly more than one spot open. Currently, seven defensemen are slated to make the Wings, but the health of many of them are always questionable. So even if one prospect nabs the final spot, chances are more space will open up during the season.
The top candidates include Oliwer Kaski, Dennis Cholowski, Moritz Seider, and Joe Hicketts. Like the same exercise we did for the forwards, here is how I would rank their preseaons:
- Dennis Cholowski
- Moritz Seider
- Oliwer Kaski
- Joe Hicketts
Unfortunately for Hicketts, it looks like he will once again be beaten out. In the case of Seider, being just 18 years old, I think he’d be better suited to play in the AHL for the season. That leaves us with Cholowski and Kaski, and in my opinion, Cholowski is the clear front-runner. I thought Cholowski was excellent in the first game against Chicago, and really left his mark on this race. I would have him start the season with the Wings, this time with a much longer leash.