The Detroit Red Wings have had a tough season to say the least. The Red Wings have played well at times and at other times looked like teams of old. With a vastly different roster, expectations were high and even included playoff hopes. With the first month of the season gone, those expectations were not so absurd anymore. However, as the season wore on, the results for the Red Wings were not as they would have hoped. With the playoffs a forgotten expectation, there were three players who were considerably better than last season. Those players are being counted on to play a bigger role in the 2023-24 NHL season.
The Three Most Improved Detroit Red Wings This Season
Detroit Red Wings forward Joe Veleno has been one of the better, yet most underrated, forwards this season. Veleno, drafted by Detroit in the first round (30th overall) in the 2018 NHL draft, played well last season. He was coming into his own and still learning the NHL pace of play. With the expectations that he would be a second line center, Veleno took the opportunity to better his game as the season went down to the wire. Last season, Veleno played in 66 games, acoring 15 points on eight goals and seven assists. He was a -14, had 25 blocvks and 123 hits, showing he can play the physical style as well. By the end of the season, he had caught the attention of the Detroit Red Wings.
Fast forward to this season, Veleno has been much better, more noticeable, and the best 200-foot player behind captain Dylan Larkin. Veleno has picked up where he left off last season and has been much better. in 78 games this season, Veleno has nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points, is a -8, has 43 blocks, and 145 hits. His speed from goal to goal is improved as well. Veleno’s defensive presence is well documented as he takes no time in getting back for his defensive responsibilities. Not to mention, he has been more creative in the offensive zone and his passing is much crisper. With his overall better play, look for Veleno to take on a bigger role next season, with a second line center position not out of the question.
Defenseman Jake Walman came to the Detroit Red Wings along with a second round pick in 2023 and forward Oskar Sundqvist for defenseman Nick Leddy and forward Luke Witkowski. With acquiring Walman, Detroit looked to use him as a depth defenseman with little offensive capabilities. He proved last season that he was more than a piece to the Detroit Red Wings success. After the trade, he was one of the more polished defenseman in the Red Wings lineup. Walman did what was asked of him and more, earning the repsect of his teammates and coaching staff. Walman split time between the St. Louis Blues and the Red Wings, totaling three goals and seven assists for ten points, ten penalty minutes, 3.4 shooting percentage, 32 blocks, 26 hits, was a -3, and also had a time on ice of 14:00.
After last season, the Detroit Red Wings gave Walman an increased role in more power play and penalty kill time. This season has been a rewarding one for Walman as his totals are up across the board. This season, Walman has nine goals and nine assists for 18 points. He has improved in his overall game as well, increasing to a 6.7 shooting percentage, 45 penalty minutes, a +14, 120 blocks, 45 hits in an average of 19:46 in ice time. With his improvements on the ice, next season could be huge for Walman in terms of growth and responsibility.
Defenseman Jordan Oesterle signed with the Detroit Red WIngs as a free agent in the summer of 2021. He was brought in to supply a stay-at-home defense role and nothing more. As the season went on, he, like Walman and Veleno, got better in his all-around game. He was still an unknown but he was a steady, defense first player. Oesterle was good positionally and took care of his own zone. His first season in Detroit was a good one, as he recorded two goals and six assists for eight points in 45 games. He accounted for ten penalty minutes, a 3.2 shooting percentage, 44 blocks, and 22 hits.
This season, Oesterle looks more comfortable in his own zone and has even joined the rush in the offensive zone more. Oesterle this season has played in 50 games, totaling two goals and nine assists for 11 points, has 17 penalty minutes, 66 blocks, and 36 hits. He can be counted on to clear his own zone and make a sharp pass out of the zone. Oesterle may still be a bottom pairing defenseman but he is one of the more solid defenseman on the roster .