So if last season was simply a part of Holland's vision, what does the whole enchilada look like? While I'm hardly a personal friend of the notoriously guarded manager; the team's present salary cap situation, the age and contract status of various players on the roster and a careful examination of Wings prospects currently plying their trade elsewhere do offer many hints as to what the future may hold in Hockeytown. With nothing but time to wait until the Free Agency period officially begins on July 5th, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at where I think the Red Wing's roster is headed; both now and in the immediate years to come:
lack a clue, Smith's decision making on (and off) the ice has been utterly maddening. At any given point in time last season Smith's play varied wildly from magnificent to horrendous; oftentimes on the front and back ends of the same shift! If Smith improves his consistency he has the potential to push Ericsson down to the 2nd pairing; if he doesn't he needs only to look down the bench at teammate Kyle Quincy to see how easily tremendous talent can be wasted in the NHL. On the opposite end of the spectrum is 26 year old Czech defender Jakub Kindl, who for years appeared destined to rot in the Red Wing's farm system because he simply wasn't talented or tough enough to perform at the NHL level. Holland's patience with Kindl has bordered on legendary and after a breakout 2013 regular season and playoff performance, it's fair to question if he had been judged too harshly for his failure to crack a blueline regularly dotted with All-Star talent. Although Kindl possesses a massive frame, he still struggles to use his 6'3", 216 lb body effectively at times; frequently surrendering positioning and leverage against smaller men along the boards. It would be a misnomer to suggest that Kindl is a poor hitter but he certainly doesn't bring the hammer down like a man his size could. Where Kindl has improved surprisingly, is in his oft-maligned offensive skill-set. Although he'll never been confused with Bobby Orr, Kindl has significantly improved his breakout passing in the past year and he's developed a sneaky point shot that has a habit of creating chances in front of the enemy net; even if he rarely scores himself. At this point Kindl is slated for second pair minutes on the back end and there's no reason to believe he will either rise above or slip below that level in the forseeable future.
Speaking of the next few guys in the system; dark horse candidates to keep your eye on include Adam Almquist, Nick Jensen and the intriguing, but injury prone Alexei Marchenko. Jensen is the college veteran, oldest of the 3 and a man who's game is built on tremendous speed and a desire to play aggressive, in your face hockey. He's not a great defender however, plays far too much hero hockey to fit well into the Wings' system and needs to improve his shot to compliment his quarterbacking skills on the powerplay. Almquist has the most developed mental game of the trio; if not for a lack of size, skating ability and extreme upper body strength issues, he might already be in the NHL at 22. Finally, Marchenko is said to be a very similar prospect to Backman; although injury issues and playing in the KHL have caused him to receive only a fraction of the attention afforded his Swedish counterpart thus far.
(Editors Note: This article is part of an ongoing series discussing the Red Wings' roster both now and into the future. You can find Part 2 here , Part 3 here and Part 4 here.)