The Detroit Red Wings have several new veteran faces adjusting to the team, a handful of prospects pushing for jobs, and a new coaching staff.
Eight preseason games would normally be too many, but it could benefit a team that has a lot of work to do before the regular season begins on Oct. 14.
The Red Wings open the preseason Tuesday in Pittsburgh (7 p.m., no TV) after suspending training camp in Traverse City on Monday.
This is where the serious competition for roster spots and roles begins. Coach Derek Lalonde cited building structure as a primary goal, as well as sorting out line combinations, defensive pairings and special teams.
“Continue to build on our process by implementing a new neutral zone and new D-zone coverage,” Lalonde said. “Of course you take a step every day, hopefully with our structure some things are new for the boys. Certainly, some compete, some establish stance.
“Feel lucky we have eight games to start fine-tuning a few things ahead of our opener.”
A lot is expected of young players like defender Simon Edvinsson and forwards Elmer Soderblom and Jonatan Berggren in the pre-season.
“Obviously, the vets don’t have to play six games,” Lalonde said. “For some of these young guys, Simon, Elmer, we’re targeting a lot of games.”
Lalonde said he will eventually finalize his power play and penalty-killing sessions late in preseason and formulate line combinations and defensive pairs from there.
“We’re going to take the full eight games and let it play and go from there,” he said.
The Red Wings need to figure out who will form their third defensive pair, with youngsters Edvinsson and Gustav Lindstrom and veterans Jordan Oesterle and Robert Hagg in the mix. Jake Walman (shoulder) is due in November and Mark Pysyk (Achilles surgery) in January.
Competition for positions in the fourth row or bottom six positions is also fierce. Oskar Sundqvist, who missed most of camp through injury, and Michael Rasmussen appear to be well-established starters. Adam Erne and Givani Smith have a lot to prove after disappointing seasons.
Injury Updates: Tyler Bertuzzi missed all of camp due to injury but will be back sooner than later, Lalonde said.
“Still day by day, probably a little more cautious,” he said.
It offers others the opportunity to break into the top line in preseason with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond.
“I think we’re going to see different guys there, even on day 2 we had Dylan with (Filip) Zadina,” said Lalonde. “Obviously it’s a little frustrating to have three, four, five of our top 9 at the start of camp, but it’s given some other guys an opportunity to get a different look, so in a way it’s been a positive.”
Andrew Copp continues to skate but was not released to practice after an off-season abdominal surgery.
“Piet (coach Van Zant) warned us that there are good days and bad days in core surgery,” said Lalonde. “There will be times when he’ll zip around and look 100 per cent, after that he’ll just react like that. We’re in no hurry with him. Our ultimate goal is Game 1. If he’s available for some replays early in the last week, great. If not, I’m sure we’ll get him shortly after.”
Hagg, who was struck in the ear by a puck in Sunday’s scrimmage, should be back soon.
“The last report I saw last night was a possibility for today, but that obviously wasn’t the case,” Lalonde said. “I don’t know the extent, but that seemed pretty positive. So hopefully in the short term.
“He had a good camp. We want to give him repetitions in game situations. He was supposed to play Game 1 (preseason) so we’ll evaluate that over the next few days.”
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