The Detroit Red Wings were never a serious contender to make the playoffs, so we weren’t too shocked to see how they got things going in 2018-19. They kicked off the campaign with seven consecutive losses and the deep hole only grew deeper when injuries derailed what sliver of hope existed for the Red Wings. Five players sat out at least 20 games and nearly the entire roster missed action at least once.
But lately, in the wake of their official elimination from post-season contention, the play of Detroit's first line has offered anticipation for the future. Anthony Mantha (14 points in six games) and Tyler Bertuzzi (13 points in five games) have found their groove. Dylan Larkin (11 points in six games) has continued his career-best season. And in the past six games, Motor City's top trio has been too good to ignore, combining for 38 points, a total not even league-leading top units from the Boston Bruins or Tampa Bay Lightning have matched over that span. Teams have had a rough time dealing with the group's mix of speed, strength and skill that have made Detroit's leading men so dangerous over the past few weeks.
For Bertuzzi and Mantha, their recent play is a great sign given the relatively slow starts both players had to their careers.
Mantha, 24, didn't escape the AHL for good until last season, his fourth year of prohockey, when he skated in all but two games with the Red Wings. Now in his second full season in Detroit, his points-per-game average sits at a respectable 0.72 with 47 points in 65 games. The 2013-14 CHL player of the year has been especially prolific in recent weeks, netting 12 goals and 27 points in 24 games since Feb. 12.
Bertuzzi, meanwhile, has also come into his own after spending much of his rookie season and the early portion of the current campaign in a depth role. He's been on fire across the past several games, recording four consecutive three-point nights, and his recent production has brought him to 21 goals and 47 points on the season. That's a significant increase from the seven goals and 24 points the 24-year-old scored in 48 games last season and evidence that he is making a successful transition from energy pest into an effective scoring winger.
But Larkin, 22, has been the best of the bunch. His 73 points are the 10th-most among under-23 players and he's 20 points clear of the next-best Wings scorer. Larkin is tied for 39th in NHL scoring and his 32 goals, the best total of his career, are tied for 31st in the NHL. By scoring 30 goals and 70 points, Larkin is the first Red Wing to achieve the feat in a decade – Marian Hossa and Pavel Datsyuk hit the plateaus in 2008-09 – and became the 10th-youngest player in franchise history to reach those marks. He's accomplished this while playing a sound two-way game, which is highlighted by some of the best relative possession metrics of all Red Wings, according to NaturalStatTrick. including a team-best 9.7 relative Corsi percentage, .93 relative scoring chance percentage and 7.8 relative high-danger scoring chance percentage.
Mantha, Bertuzzi and Larkin have turned on the jets at a time where the games are rather meaningless for the Red Wings, and Detroit's focus isn't on the post-season but converting its nine draft picks, including four in the top two rounds, into long-term success. The Red Wings still have a lot of work to do to make up for many missed draft opportunities, but at least one line has shown some promise in an otherwise dreadful season.