Is it finally a good time to be a Detroit Red Wings fan again?
The future is bright in Motown. Defenseman Moritz Seider has been red-hot, recording five assists in six games to kick off his NHL career. And now, Lucas Raymond leads all rookies in scoring with seven points, good for 15th overall in the NHL.
Yeah, things are starting to come together.
Raymond got the hockey world talking on Sunday night with a four-point night, highlighted by his first career hat trick in just the sixth game of his NHL career. It’s amazing, really.
Sure, it came against Chicago and after two games of scoreless nights, but Raymond has been involved in a big way. Among the 18 rookies with at least 60 total minutes of 5-on-5 play, Raymond is miles ahead of Bowen Byram (2.88) in points-per-60 (4.4), sits second behind Nashville’s Tanner Jeannot (11.71) in shots-per-60 (10.55) and is the only forward to break the 2.0 barrier for goals-per-60 (2.64). A short sample size definitely skews the numbers a bit, but the fact of the matter is that he’s outperforming the rest of the rookie class early on.
If you followed Raymond’s career to date, none of this will surprise you. His chemistry with New Jersey Devils prospect Alex Holtz helped to make up the “Terror Twins”, two of the most dominant offensive threats heading into the 2020 draft. But if you looked at Raymond’s stats in his draft year – 10 points in 33 games with Frolunda – that may not have been abundantly clear.
Raymond often saw just a few minutes of ice time per game, something that isn’t atypical for young prospects in the Swedish league. Raymond had 18 points in his second year and a point-per-game at the World Junior Championship before making the full-time jump to the NHL. Many European leagues don’t give prospects adequate ice time because their focus is winning with veterans and not giving ample development time to young prospects that won’t be with the team in the long run.
But if Raymond wasn’t scoring against men at an inferior level, why is he doing it in the NHL? Hockey development is a crazy thing. The amount a player improves from season to season at a young age, especially as they adjust to the pro game against older, stronger competition, is immense. Raymond proved he could be dominant against his own age group, so the experience against men was a good step forward.
While playing in Detroit’s Traverse City prospect tournament, Raymond impressed with a goal-per-game in three outings. Then, while playing in the top six during the pre-season, Raymond showed he could compete with the best and was often one of the biggest offensive catalysts for a team with few to choose from. So, instead of sending him back home or down to the AHL, Yzerman and Co. felt it was best to keep the young star playing with the big club.
Since then, Raymond has improved his game pace on a near-nightly basis. He’s adjusting quickly and effectively, and the Red Wings are better for it. The Red Wings shipped out usual top-line stalwart Anthony Mantha to Detroit last year, meaning the search for a new top-line forward to go along with Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin was needed. Jakub Vrana was supposed to be that guy, but shoulder surgery will keep him out for four months. So Raymond was the first real option to fill the spot, and he hasn’t disappointed.
“This isn’t a surprise,” a Swedish scout said about Raymond’s early season play. “The talent has always been there. He’s putting it together already on a team that doesn’t have much going for it now. Once they’re contenders, he’ll be such an important piece. He’s a human highlight-reel that just didn’t get the opportunities he needed to be more dominant in Sweden.”
The concerns about Raymond’s game before heading to the NHL – his skating, his lack of physicality and smaller stature at 5-foot-11 – haven’t really changed, although the NHL has him listed at 182 pounds, 11 more than his pre-draft weight. But the team doesn’t need him to be physical, though, especially with a couple of bigger heavyweights in Bertuzzi and Larkin on his line and Seider and Marc Staal on the backend. Raymond’s bread and butter is his creativity and overall smart decision-making as a playmaker with an array of scoring tools in his arsenal.
When the Red Wings selected Raymond fourth overall in 2020, it signaled the start of a bright new era for the Red Wings moving forward. The team has struggled for much of the past decade while making up for years of having a depleted farm system due to multiple attempts – and many successful runs – over a 30-year period. But with Raymond at the helm up front, and Seider on the back end, the team has a nice little base to build around. The Red Wings aren’t going to be contenders this year, but there’s at least an interesting reason to watch the team this season, something that has been lacking in recent campaigns.