Filling in for Modano: Who’s stepping up?

Despite sweeping the Columbus Blue Jackets in a home-and-home series this weekend, the Detroit Red Wings lost a player to injury. What happens next? Who steps up?

Mike Modano is out of the lineup. In Friday’s game against the Blue Jackets, R.J. Umberger’s skate caught him in the wrist. He had surgery to repair a severed tendon in his wrist sometime Saturday, and will be out long-term.

While Modano has not been an explosive forward so far this season, the Red Wings are looking for a player to step up and fill in the job. The Red Wings have a lot of choices: Jiri Hudler, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller, Darren Helm, Patrick Eaves just to name a handful.

Who do I think should step up to fill in that gap? Valtteri Filppula. He’s still waiting for that explosive offensive season – maybe this is that opportunity.

So far this season, the 26-year-old Finnish native has raked in six goals and six assists for twelve points in 21 games. And keep in mind that four of his six goals have been game-winners, two of them being over the weekend against Columbus. If he keeps up this rate for the rest of the season, he should theoretically end up with over forty points and a heck of a lot of game-winning goals.

Filppula is a relatively underrated player, putting him in the broad spectrum of all NHL players. While he may not score every night, if you manage to watch him play, he’s a mixture of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg: he has the skills to deke around players (though not as easily as Datsyuk) and can set up a play and score timely goals. He has those moments of noticeable brilliance and finesse. He may not be as amazing as Datsyuk or Zetterberg, but having even a little bit of their play in his play is a little alarming.

But he has one extremely noticeable weakness: He passes the puck far too much.

Filppula is a defensive forward, adept at penalty killing, and he passes the puck more often than he shoots. If you look at his stats for every year he’s played in the NHL, he has yet to crack the twenty-goal landmark, coming close with nineteen in the 2007-2008 Cup-winning season. With Modano out of the lineup and the four lines being mixed up to make room for the healthy forwards, maybe he can hit that mark.

He has the potential to be an explosive force for the Red Wings right now. Last season, he was sidelined for nearly three months with a broken wrist (just another one of those casualties the team had to contend with), but still managed to rake in 35 points in 55 games. Pretty impressive for a guy whose name rarely makes the headlines around the hockey world.

The Red Wings aren’t being killed by injuries like last year. But that doesn’t make the loss of Modano any less harrowing. The bottom line comes down to this: they need someone to step up and be the breakout scorer right now, and it doesn’t matter who it is, just as long as it’s someone.

Christina Roberts
NHLHS Detroit Red Wings Correspondent
Twitter: @franzenmuth