Rebuilding? Not the Wings, says Osgood

The Detroit Red Wings are a revered franchise, steeped in history and with a long winning tradition. For 23 seasons and counting, the Wings have made the playoffs and are aiming to keep that streak intact.

And though they boast some of the biggest names in the league in veterans Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, they are becoming a team that will have to rely on youngsters more than in years past.

That can be a good thing, according to former Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood.

“They’re not rebuilding like people say,” Osgood told ESPN.com in a recent telephone conversation, instead insisting, “I think it’s a nice transition.”

The luxury of having that core group of veterans (which could also include Daniel Alfredsson, should his health allow him to play this season) and such a strong crop of prospects is what has made the Red Wings such a model franchise.

Osgood credits Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and the team’s scouts for their keen ability to draft well. He said back when current Stars GM Jim Nill was with the team, the two were probably the best scouting duo in the league. The result?

“Their depth in the organization is unmatchable,” said Osgood, who now works as an analyst for Fox Sports Detroit.

That depth will be on display as the club opens camp and discovers what it has in a loaded group of prospects that includes forward Anthony Mantha, defensemen Alexei Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul, and goaltender Petr Mrazek.

And that’s not to mention the group of young players that already has ample NHL experience: Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan.

With such a deep pool of talent, training camp could get really interesting with roster spots up for grabs.

“Usually with [the Wings], their roster is pretty much solidified when you get there,” said Osgood, a three-time Stanley Cup champion. “Now you have a lot of guys looking for spots.”

Among the most intriguing storylines for Red Wings brass and fans alike will be what happens with Mantha, the team’s 2013 first-round draft pick (20th overall).

Though the winger, who turns 20 this month, will likely have a chance to crack the lineup, he’ll have to make a really strong impression on longtime coach Mike Babcock to earn that opportunity.

What will he have to show?

“That he has a complete game,” Osgood said. “That he can play in his own end. If he’s not scoring that he can still be productive -- that means still playing good defense. Knowing how to play in Babcock's system.”

Traditionally, the Wings have erred on the side of caution when it comes to development, opting for more seasoning rather than expediting the process. Last season was a bit of an anomaly, given the club’s injury-ravaged lineup, but Osgood is interested to see what approach they take with Mantha in particular.

“Don’t forget that in this organization it is instilled that they like to bring guys along slow,” Osgood said. “They’re not gonna be in any rush unless he blows them away. They know he’s gonna be a great player. You don’t want to start him too quickly and have him struggle. He’s going to need to play with confidence.”

Speaking of confidence, that may be exactly what goaltender Jimmy Howard is looking to regain after an inconsistent season (21-19-11, 2.66 goals-against average and .910 save percentage), one in which he was also hampered by injury.

Just being able to stay healthy and clear his mind should provide a huge boost to his game, Osgood predicts.

“For Jimmy Howard, he signed that contract and maybe put a little too much pressure on himself, plus his knee was bothering him,” Osgood said. “I think he just needs a healthy, consistent year where he doesn’t have to worry about anything more than stopping the puck.”

The other major training camp question is whether the Wings will have Alfredsson return. The 41-year-old has not yet made a decision on whether he feels healthy enough to play and contribute.

Osgood said he was really impressed by Alfredsson’s leadership and professionalism last season, suggesting it would be a major coup for the club to have him back.

“He blew me out of the water,” Osgood said. “If he can be healthy and come back and give them that same productivity, that would be a huge boost for the team.”