By Jeff O'Brien

The Detroit Red Wings have been mired in a long, painful rebuild and the end doesn’t seem to be in sight from outside the organization.

The last time they made the playoffs five years ago, Dylan Larkin was a rookie. When the captain and center looks at the reshaped roster, he doesn’t have to feign optimism.

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DETROIT, MI – APRIL 15: Kevin Lankinen #32 and Connor Murphy #5 of the Chicago Blackhawks watches as Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings goes for the puck to the side of the net during the third period of an NHL game at Little Caesars Arena on April 15, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

“It’s exciting, more so than any of my training camps in the past,” Larkin said. “We’ve had more competition at every part of our lineup.”

General manager Steve Yzerman, entering his third season in charge of the front office, also sees more talented players vying for playing time and yet still sounds as if he’s asking for more patience.

“I think we’re making progress, but it may not necessarily relate to wins and losses,” Yzerman said.

The Red Wings can help their chances if they start the season healthy and stay that way for their first 82-game season in two years. Larkin is recovering from a neck injury that limited him to 44 games last season. Tyler Bertuzzi is coming back from having back surgery in April.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – JANUARY 22: Tyler Bertuzzi #59 of the Detroit Red Wings controls the puck against Philipp Kurashev #23 of the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period at the United Center on January 22, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

“They’re a pair that I’d like to keep together all season if I can,” said coach Jeff Blashill, who was given a contract extension despite a career record of 177-221-62 in Detroit.

Minutes into his first practice at training camp, forward Jakub Vrana hurt his shoulder to pose a potential problem for a team that has struggled to score in recent years.

NO SHOT

Bertuzzi does not plan on being vaccinated, citing his freedom of choice.

TORONTO, ON – DECEMBER 21: Tyler Bertuzzi #59 of the Detroit Red Wings waits for a faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on December 21, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Red Wings 4-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The 26-year-old forward might end up losing more than $450,000 in salary for not playing the team’s nine games in Canada, where he will not be able to cross the border without a two-week quarantine.

The Red Wings will likely be at a disadvantage in Canada playing without a wing capable of a 50-point year if he played the entire season.

“Certainly for those games, we’ll be missing a piece of the puzzle,” Blashill said.

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BACK END BOOST

Detroit drafted Moritz Seider with the No. 6 pick overall two years ago and the 6-foot-4, 197-pound German is expected to be a key player as he makes his NHL debut.

RIGA, LATVIA – JUNE 6, 2021: Moritz Seider (L) of Germany and Trevor Moore of the USA in their 2021 IIHF World Championship Bronze medal ice hockey match at Arena Riga. Natalia Fedosenko/TASS (Photo by Natalia FedosenkoTASS via Getty Images)

“He’s big, he’s smart, he’s got confidence,” Blashill said. “He’s got some toughness to him. He’s got the opportunity to be a really good player and we’re going to give him that opportunity to do that and then he’s got to grab it by the horns.”

SLICK MOVES

Detroit dealt the rights to pending free agent netminder Jonathan Bernier and the No. 94 pick overall in the draft to Carolina for goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic and gave him a $6 million, two-year deal. As a rookie with the Hurricanes, he led all goaltenders with at least 22 games with 1.90 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

RALEIGH, NC – JUNE 8: Alex Nedeljkovic #39 of the Carolina Hurricanes hugs the pipe and keeps his eye on the puck in Game Five of the Second Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 8, 2021 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

Yzerman signed Pius Suter to a $6.5 million, two-year deal after his promising rookie season in Chicago. The Swiss forward had 14 goals and 13 assists in 55 games with the Blackhawks.

IT’S TIME

Detroit’s turnaround is tied to its draft picks producing and the franchise needs two of them to provide more of a return on its investment.

Michael Rasmussen, drafted No. 9 in 2017, has just 30 points in 102 games over two years. Filip Zadina, the No. 6 pick overall three years ago, just 37 points in 86 games over three seasons.

THE SLATE

Detroit will find out in its season-opening game how it stacks up with the best, hosting the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 14. The Red Wings play their first four games at home and are at Little Caesars Arena for nine matchups within the first month of the season, potentially giving them a chance to get off to a solid start.

 

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