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Who Will Replace the Retired Wings?

We all knew this time was coming, especially the fans who have followed the Red Wings since they began their historic playoff runs 20 years ago. The players who brought so much success to the Red Wings roster are now getting old and starting to retire. This year alone we have seen Brian Rafalski, Chris Osgood and Kris Draper all hang up their skates and retire leaving some rather large openings in the roster. This leaves Ken Holland the large responsibility of finding replacements in order to keep the successful track record alive. But who could he possibly get as replacements? Read on to find out.

First off will be Brian Rafalski who retired a few weeks ago in June and spent last 4 years playing defence on the Wings. He was one of the better offensive defencemen in the league and provided a lot of scoring on the powerplay. His smooth skating and scoring will be difficult to replace but with the addition of Ian White from free agency this year they at least receive some help for Nick Lidstrom on the powerplay. But hopefully one of the Wings young prospects can make the jump and try to fill the void in the next couple years. Some of the better prospects that could fill this role are Brenden Smith, Ryan Sproul and Jakub Kindl. Kindl should get some time playing with Nick Lidstrom and Smith could get some NHL ice time this season too which will only further help their development into scoring defencemen. Sproul was drafted this past June but has already proven himself to be scorer for the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL where he got 14 goals and 19 assists as a rookie. So as you can see the Red Wings have some depth on defence and though Rafalski will be missed, the hole in the roster will not be a big problem.

Last week, goaltender Chris Osgood also announced his retirement. He finished his career ranked 10th all time amongst goaltenders with 401 wins and 3 Stanley Cups. He was very important during the Wings championship run in 2008 and also was on the team in 1997 and 1998. Thankfully in the last 2 years, younger goalie Jimmy Howard has taken the reins as the starter and Osgood became a back up and a mentor to him. Under Osgood's tutelage, Howard has grown into a solid starter which allowed Osgood to quietly leave the game this summer. Within a day of his retirement, Holland reached a deal to bring Ty Conklin in as back up for at least one year and he also resigned youngsters Jordan Pearce and Joey MacDonald. But the goalie everyone following the Wings hopes can make the big leagues is Thomas McCollum, a player the Wings took as their first round pick in 2008. He has struggled with injuries lately but was a star for the OHL's Brampton Battalion, leading them to the OHL final in 2009. He has the potential to follow in the footsteps of Osgood and Howard as the next Wings great goaltender. But time will tell if that happens.

And finally today, 17 year veteran forward Kris Draper announced his retirement. The last member of the famous grind line, Draper has seen his role on the team diminish a lot over the past few seasons and so he has decided to accept a job working in the front office with Holland and his team. The reason his role was slowly disappearing was the emergence of Darren Helm as a direct replacement for Draper's speed and 2 way style of hockey. Draper was certainly instrumental in molding this young center into a well rounded NHL player and it has now become clear that Helm can carry the penalty killing and other grinding roles that Draper used to occupy. Draper was one of the more outspoken leaders on the team but at age 40 he realized that the time to pass the torch has come. Other players such as Justin Abdelkader, Jan Mursak, Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller, along with Helm will lead the pack for future Wings teams as the guys who grind out their minutes and do the dirty work that comes with the 4th line role. Draper shouldn't have to worry about leaving the Wings in trouble by retiring.

As you can see in all of these examples, Ken Holland has built his team in such a way that allows all of the veteran players to move on knowing that there are other players ready to fill their roles. It started when Steve Yzerman retired and Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg emerged from his shadow to become star centers on the Wings. Now other players must rise to the challenge by filling in for these 3 retiring Red Wings. I am sure next summer we will see more moves like this as Nick Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom and Todd Bertuzzi all get close to making the fateful decision. But that is for another time. For now we can just reflect on the great careers that Rafalski, Osgood and Draper had and be thankful they played for the Red Wings.

Josh Beneteau can be found on twitter at @jbenny15.

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