The Detroit Red Wings tried to replace the injured Johan Franzen by trading for Erik Cole at the trade deadline. The backup plan worked for 11 games. Cole announced earlier this morning that he would miss the remainder of the season (playoffs included) due to a spinal contusion.
That’s a tough blow for the Red Wings, but head coach Mike Babcock would probably be the first person to tell you that the injury simply creates an opportunity for another player. In this instance, look for a pair of younger forwards to fill the gap created by Cole’s injury: Landon Ferraro and Teemu Pulkkinen.
Ferraro made his season debut against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 7 and had 14:09 of ice time. The 23-year-old has been outstanding with the Grand Rapids Griffins this year, and is fourth in the AHL in total points scored. That’s impressive considering Ferraro has played in just 45 contests while the three players in front of him have all appeared in at least 60.
This isn’t a player that pads his stats with secondary assists either. Ferraro scores with regularity. None of the AHL’s top-20 point scorers have more goals than the former second-round draft pick. No one has cracked 30 yet and Ferraro was at 34 tallies at the time of his call up.
With Franzen out for the foreseeable future and Cole on the shelf, the Red Wings badly need some scoring help. Since the beginning of March, they’ve averaged 2.6 goals per contest. That’s a bit off their season pace of 2.82, and not quite good enough considering how shaky Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard have been.
Goals are especially hard to come by come playoff time, and Ferraro could be a top-nine depth solution for Detroit. He’s a veteran of the AHL, having appeared in 270 regular season games with the Griffins and 33 playoff contests. It’s not NHL experience, but Ferraro isn’t going to need anyone to hold his hand at the next level.
Detroit’s top-six is in flux a bit right now, with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg taking some shifts together against Carolina. Babcock makes that adjustment from time to time, but that leaves Riley Sheahan as the team’s No. 2 center. He’s been a pleasant surprise, but are the Red Wings confident is using him as a top-six guy? If so, Ferraro could possibly end up on the third line within the next week or so.
That role would be more fitting than his current fourth line assignment. If Babcock decided to roll out Ferraro with the third unit, he’d be joining Pulkkinen and Stephen Weiss. That’s a lot of offensive pop for a line that probably wouldn’t see more than 14 or 15 minutes of action during the postseason. Scoring depth is invaluable and in Detroit’s case, takes some of the pressure off of Zetterberg and Datsyuk to produce.
Pulkkinen is another high-end forward that would likely be a regular on half the teams in the NHL. He has a lethal shot and could be another ringer of sorts for Babcock in the postseason.
Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar walked this exact path over the last year or so. Now Detroit will look to Ferraro and Pulkkinen to provide similar bumps. The talent is there. All these two needed was an opportunity.
The news for Cole—and Franzen for that matter—is terrible, but the team needs to fill the holes and move on quickly. The Griffins do a fantastic job making sure players are ready when they get the call. It’s tough to “earn your stripes” during the NHL playoffs, but this is why Detroit’s method of over seasoning players can be a positive.
It drives fans nuts sometimes. Nyquist had Twitter hashtag campaigns dedicated to getting him out of the minors, and most weren’t happy that Pulkkinen started the year in the A while Dan Cleary was handed an extension over the summer. Ferraro and Pulkkinen have been The Guys at the professional level though, and you can’t discount how important that experience will be in the coming weeks as the playoffs get rolling.
Detroit’s top contributors probably won’t change too much. Datsyuk will do things that make you giggle and Zetterberg will seemingly be in three places at once a few times a night. Young players like Ferraro and Pulkkinen are incredibly valuable at this time of year though. Ask the L.A. Kings about Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. The Chicago Blackhawks had Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell. Torey Krug and Tyler Seguin provided some timely offense for the Boston Bruins in 2011.
It’s something most championship caliber teams have in common. The Red Wings have some things to work out if they want to take a run like that, but Ferraro and Pulkkinen should be able to supply some extra offense if given the opportunity to do so.