Five Detroit Red Wings to Watch in 2011-12

Who will win the Stanley Cup? It’s an age-old question. But with the Detroit Red Wings this season, it’s a question of old age. There’s no doubt the Wings are talented, but most of their top players easily are 30-something years old. Could this year be Detroit’s last legit chance at winning the Stanley Cup with its current cast of stars? Time will tell. So will the performance of these five Red Wings.

Brendan Smith (D) – Smith, who was drafted in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, has developed into a bright prospect. His offensive upside is high; he had 12 goals and 20 assists last season for the Grand Rapid Griffins, the Wings’ American Hockey League affiliate. His best attribute, however, may be his fresh legs. Look for this AHL All-Star to contribute later in the season and into the playoffs.

Jimmy Howard (G) – For a guy who won 37 games last season, Howard sure did let in some soft goals, didn’t he? His save percentage dipped to .908 last season from .924 the season before. Nevertheless, the Red Wings extended the 27-year-old goaltender with a two-year, $4.5 million contract. As Boston’s Tim Thomas showed last year, a hot goaltender can carry a team in the playoffs. Is Howard up to the task?

Niklas Kronwall (D) – It doesn’t get much better than Kronwall on the blueline. Defensive-minded, yet offensively gifted, he blocked a team-high 129 shots while scoring a career-high 11 goals last season. His points total slumped to 37 from 51 three seasons ago, but there’s no reason Kronwall can’t get back to at least 40 points in 2011-12. He’s a darkhorse candidate for the Norris Trophy.

Henrik Zetterberg (F) – Zetterberg is remarkably consistent, if not spectacular. He’s averaged 78 points per season over the last four years and played in at least 74 games in six of his eight NHL seasons. Zetterberg, one of the best two-way fowards in the game, is capable of greatness; he scored 13 goals and 14 assists in 22 playoff games to lead the 2007-08 Red Wings to the Stanley Cup championship.

Pavel Datsyuk (C) – An elite talent, there’s nothing Datsyuk can’t do on the ice. Unfortunately, staying on the ice last season was a problem for him. He appeared in a career-low 56 games, but still managed to register 59 points (23 goals, 36 assists). Is age catching up to the 33-year-old? Not so fast. He played in at least 80 games each of the last three seasons and had back-to-back 97-point seasons from 2007-09.

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