DETROIT >> Ken Holland’s philosophy of making sure minor leaguers are “over ripe” before coming to the NHL really paid off.
With a roster filled with a bunch of youngsters, Detroit qualified for the playoffs a 23rd consecutive season after its 4-3 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Wednesday night.
“Establish yourself as a legitimate premier minor league player and then you prove it at the next level,” the Wings’ general manager said during a phone interview Thursday. “That’s how you get to the American League from juniors, or college or Europe. When you’re an established, top notch player, we sign you to a contract to the next level.”
One of the youngsters, Riley Sheahan, scored the tying goal Wednesday that guaranteed the Wings a spot in the postseason for a 23rd consecutive season.
Another youngster, Gustav Nyquist, leads the team with 28 goals and is tied for second in points with 48. And all that came in 55 games.
Tomas Tatar is sixth on the team in scoring with 19 goals and 18 assists, which are two goals and two points ahead of world-class center Pavel Datsyuk.
Then there’s Luke Glendening, who’s been matched up with some of the league’s elite in the closing moments of games.
“Leading the Grand Rapids Griffins last year was Tatar, Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening so when they got their call they didn’t come up here wondering if they could play they had done it at another level so the next step for them was to go to the NHL,” Holland said. “Now can you do it? I don’t know, but that time in the minors prepares them to be the best that they can be.”
These last two weeks, Glendening has played head-to-head against Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron.
“You’re talking Olympic players and we found a way to beat Pittsburgh at home and we beat Boston at home,” Holland said. “We’re 9-3-2 in our last 14 games. Of the nine wins, one’s Pittsburgh, one’s Boston, two huge games against Toronto, we beat a Tampa Bay, a team that we hadn’t in a long time in regulation. Our guys dug deep.”
Prior to 2005, when there was no salary cap, the Wings had more depth than anybody because they had the opportunity to spend way more money than most of the competition.
Since 2005, just two teams have made the playoffs every year, San Jose and Detroit.
“When you have a year with a lot of injuries it probably can affect your ability to win constantly,” Holland said. “The last two years we got hit with a lot of injures. Last year, the core was in the lineup every night and it was a 48-game schedule.
“This was an 82-game schedule,” Holland continued. “The longer the schedule the harder it is to get in. You get more separation over time. We basically got a half year out of (Henrik Zetterberg), a half year out of Pav, we’re probably going to have 25-30 games out for (Jonathan) Ericsson, 15-20 games down for (Danny) DeKeyser and (Johan Franzen) was down for 25-30 games. Stephen Weiss was hurt early and he played injured at the end. We lost him for three quarters of the season. The depth of our organization, through the jobs of our scouts, Jiri Fischer and Jeff Blashill, allowed our kids to come in.”