For years the Detroit Red Wings have been known for their impeccable drafting and their star laden teams filled with Swedish and Russian firepower. This franchise has seen the likes of Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Nick Lidstrom, Dominic Hasek, Luc Robitalle, Brett Hull, Igor Larionov, Chris Chelios, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg filling their top lines. I stopped the list for brevities sake because there are far too many players to mention. All of the above listed are sure fire Hockey Hall of Famers, however almost all of them are already inducted into the Hall.
While having any handful of star players like the previously mentioned players is obviously welcomed by almost any franchise around the league, it does not necessarily guarantee success. During the dynasty years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was not just the star players who teams had nightmares about, it was the role players the Wings possessed and more importantly the boys known as the Grind Line. The original Grind Line consisted of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and Joey Kocur. Eventually cult hero Darren McCarty would go on to replace Kocur on the Grind Line. This line effectively shut down the supposedly fear-inducing “Legion of Doom” of the Philadelphia Flyers that consisted of Eric Lindros, John Eclair, and Mikael Denberg. Draper had one of the best faceoff percentages of all time as he won more than 56 percent of his draws, and Darren McCarty was a physical specimen not to be toyed with. Not only did he have hammers for hands, McCarty scored one of the niftiest goals in Stanley Cup history against Philly assuring the Wings the sweep in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals.
Clearly the purpose of the Grind Line was not specifically for offensive firepower, but to disrupt the top scoring lines of opponents by ‘grinding’ them down. As the second half the the third period would come along, the opponents top lines would grow weary from the physicality of the Grind Line and this would allow for mismatches and for the Red Wings more well-known names even greater opportunity to shine.
Nowadays the Red Wings are finding new ways to irritate opponents top lines with one of their lower lines and although this one does not have a clever name yet, they are almost equally as effective. This one is comprised of two Big Ten players in MSU’s Drew Miller and University of Michigan’s Luke Glendening, and also the promising Joakim Andersson and more recently the surprising Czech, Andrej Nestraysil. This line all but silenced Sidney Crosby’s line in a recent victory against Pittsburgh, and it is safe to say Crosby does not relish the opportunities to face Luke Glendening who leaned on him heavily all night.
Glendening has a great face-off percentage of his own just like Kris Draper had for those past Wings teams and although he struggled mightily to score last year only potting a two goals, his nose for the net seems to be more on point this year as he has may have only picked up one goal but he is finding creases on the ice that were not available to him last year. Miller and Nestrasil are a new version of Kirk Maltby. Very smart and aggressive on the puck, but very clever with their decision making. You will not see them cough up the puck more often than they strip it away from their opponents.
Everyone on this line is willing to get physical but none are considered fighters, but rest assured these are the first players on this Wings roster you will see in the goal mouth during an after whistle skirmish. Babcock glows when he speaks of these guys, “They check like crazy, they’re gritty. Glenn is a pain in the butt, done a real nice job. Andy can make plays, he’s a good passer, he’s smart and competes. Millie is real smart and works hard.” This is coming from a coach that has one Stanley Cup under his belt already and two Olympic gold medals. Don’t you think this motivates these kids to produce even more for their coach who throws them out on the ice against any team’s top lines without any hesitation? The sky is the limit for these kids, and although it may not come in the form of highlight goals, they sure are a joy to watch.