Monday June 1st, 2009

There is a popular misconception that the Red Wings are the oldest team in the NHL. In fact, they are not: the New Jersey Devils edge them with an average age of 31.3 years to Detroit's 30.7. But it's understandable why it's such a commonly-held notion. Certainly, no team that has 47-year-old Chris Chelios on their roster can claim to be young. But more and more, it's the Red Wings' younger players -- a gang of rookie 25-and-unders -- who are emerging from the shadows of the 30-something stars.

Suddenly, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin aren't the only young guns putting on a show. In Sunday night's Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals, Red Wings rookies Jonathan Ericsson and Justin Abdelkader both scored for the Red Wings in the 3-1 win (RECAP | BOX), pushing the series lead to 2-0 over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that's not even mentioning center Darren Helm, 21, who stepped in for injured Pavel Datsyuk and added an assist to his three goals this postseason, and has quickly become a fan favorite in Detroit for his blue-collar style of play. Recall the incredible one-man penalty kill he pulled on Chicago in Game 6. He also leads this series with 15 hits. He's been excellent on the draw, winning 22 of 32, which set up Ericsson's second-period goal.

"Pavel's a Hart Trophy candidate," Detroit head coach Mike Babcock said. "If you don't have someone [to] fill in, and the same with [injured defenseman Andreas] Lilja, if you don't have something [like] Ericsson, you can't be successful."

The ability to foster and develop talent at the lower levels has long been a trademark of the Red Wings organization. Abdelkader, Ericsson and Helm all started the season in Grand Rapids with Detroit's AHL affiliate, and when they were called upon this postseason, they've slipped in seamlessly, chipping in 13 points.

"You've had a management team here in place... since the early 90s. So we have one philosophy and we haven't changed our philosophy," GM Ken Holland said. "You've got to develop. We leave kids in the American League [longer], and we've got the luxury of doing that because our team is good.... I think that they know that there are plans for them, and they also see [players like Jiri] Hudler and [Valtteri] Filppula, they see the program."

Third-year center Filppula, another 25-and-under player, scored the winner on a sweet backhander off a bouncing puck from a bad angle on Sunday, another piece of evidence to prove that the face of the Red Wings is starting to get younger.

The youth movement is even paying off in more ways than just on the score sheet. Ericsson, who had an appendectomy performed last week, recovered quickly enough to play four days after the procedure, and back-to-back games don't faze the weekend warriors of the AHL.

"For me, it wasn't difficult because I've been doing it all year in Grand Rapids," said Abdelkader, who scored at almost the exact same time he scored in Game 1. "Sometimes [we played] three in three. We're used to that down in the AHL."

That's normal for them, as is playing a bigger part with every passing game.

"Their younger players are a product of being around their older players," Penguins winger Billy Guerin said. "When you're around something like that all the time, that's what you turn into."

With 11 Stanley Cup Championships, and four in the last 12 years, you can bet they're turning into winners.

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