March 20, 2023
The Athletic

DETROIT — There was no easing into Simon Edvinsson’s NHL debut.

The Red Wings’ 2021 No. 6 pick cracked Detroit’s NHL lineup for the first time Saturday, and the team staring back at him was as tough as it gets: the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

There were nerves, of course, Edvinsson admitted. And unfortunately, after he was recalled under emergency circumstances Friday, his parents weren’t able to make it to Little Caesars Arena in time for the game. But after a healthy 15 minutes, 34 seconds of ice time against a top team, Detroit’s top prospect acquitted himself well in his first NHL action.

“You didn’t see the egregious turnover, he was physical, he had some chances following the rush,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “For a first game, against a team like that, I thought he did really well. And it gets me excited, optimistic if you will, going forward.”

The Red Wings lost 5-1, and Edvinsson was on the ice for the final of those goals against. But he passed most of the key tests he faced against some of the top players in the NHL. Within the first eight minutes, he successfully defended zone entries by Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon, the latter of whom he halted with a hit at the blue line.

Edvinsson with a big hit on MacKinnon – some kind of NHL debut so far. #LGRW

— Ryan Hana (@RyanHanaWWP) March 18, 2023


“I thought he played well,” Dylan Larkin said. “You obviously see his size and his skating ability, but I think if we’re going to take a step as a team, himself and a lot of the young players are getting a big opportunity in the last 14, 15 games here. We’re going to need all of us to continue to develop and continue to get better.”

And Edvinsson was keyed in on the same idea.

When asked if anything about the NHL game had surprised him, Edvinsson answered the question and then quickly turned the topic back to the work ahead of him.

“Not really surprised me,” he said. “I kind of know what to expect, and what people expect from me. I just need to keep develop(ing) from here. I felt a lot better this game than I did in the preseason. As I said, we need to develop as a team, and I need to develop as a player here. I just want to go from here and keep getting better.”

And in the big picture, that’s probably an attitude the Red Wings are glad to see him adopt. Edvinsson is the most talented prospect in Detroit’s farm system, but as he alluded, the ups and downs of his preseason showed there was work remaining to polish that impressive tool kit.

He’s been doing that work largely out of sight in AHL-affiliate Grand Rapids, with an especially encouraging second half of the season.

That put him in a position for the call-up, and his play against the Avalanche showed some of the key elements. In addition to his stops on MacKinnon and Makar, Edvinsson won an early battle down low that turned into an exit for the Red Wings, converted on a stretch pass and used his size to clear the net front. He also got a late scoring chance off a nice activation from the offensive blue line.

But Lalonde’s comment was telling as to what he was most pleased with: the lack of any major mistakes. There were a couple of harmless missed passes and a tripping penalty behind the net that was more circumstance than desperation. But Edvinsson largely managed his game, which was the main thing the coach had wanted to see coming in.

The lopsided final score will naturally obscure the reaction, but in a challenging first test, that’s a promising development.

Now the question is, how long will this opportunity last?

Edvinsson is up on emergency recall, with Ben Chiarot and Gustav Lindstrom both injured. Chiarot’s injury has been described as week-to-week, and Lindstrom was unable to practice Friday. With three games in four nights, beginning Monday when Detroit hosts Florida, that should mean at least one more start, and quite possibly more.

There is also the ever-present question of whether to burn the first year of Edvinsson’s ELC by playing him 10 or more games this season. Detroit could “slide” the first year of Edvinsson’s entry-level contract to next season by limiting him to nine or fewer games, or it could opt to burn the year, getting to his next contract sooner. Conventional wisdom typically leads to the former, but burning the year does have the advantage of getting to the second contract sooner, which at times can lead to more value for the team. There are pros and cons to both approaches.

Regardless, in the immediate future, the Red Wings will be most interested in how Edvinsson fares game to game.

They waited deep into the season before giving him the call-up, and there’s still plenty more for him to prove.

But in his first opportunity, he looked like he belonged.

(Photo: Bradshaw Sevald / USA Today)

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