Earlier this afternoon in my “Thoughts on Thoughts” post, I gave my take on the Detroit Red Wings, and whether Gustav Nyqvist could still crack the big club even if he wasn’t able to crack the top-six forwards, slots usually reserved for those who capably create offense at the NHL level. My point (with fuel from @67sound), was that a huge number of successful Detroit Red Wings forwards, offensive forwards included, started on the bottom two lines until they rounded into form and climbed the depth chart.

The Wings have been the poster team for “an alternative route” of sorts – while other teams fill their bottom trios with “energy guys,” grinders and the like, the Red Wings have used it as a chance to give ice time – though not too much – to their up-and-comers. (As I noted in that linked post: Datsyuk, Filpulla, Hudler, Kopecky, Franzen, Williams, and Cleary all started as low-liners.)

Fans of all teams have some guy in the system that is probably ready for the NHL, but sees time in the AHL because the top-six spots are filled in. There are plenty of stories of teams properly developing young players by working them into a lower role (feel free to comment on who your team has developed this way), and even more of teams who’ve done it the wrong way, and platooned their prospects between the top two lines in the A and the NHL, leaving them either in over their head, or not challenged enough.

The Vancouver Canucks have generally done a good job developing from within as well. Consider: the Sedin twins came over from Sweden at a young age, and saw third line minutes as rookies with Trent Klatt. TRENT KLATT. They didn’t have the “man strength” necessary to be excellent at the NHL level, despite the fact that they possessed more than enough talent. Still, they didn’t get shucked on down to the minors. As the years went on, they were given more ice time at the NHL level, more capable linemates (they eventually joined Todd Bertuzzi), and their production sky-rocketed.

Ryan Kesler also saw ample lower line time with the Canucks before graduating into a top-six forward. And yet another decent NHL forward, Alex Burrows, was a lower-line player before being given the opportunity to climb the ranks. He’s hovered around 30 g0als between the Sedins in each of the past four seasons.

The whole idea that a group of forwards needs to made up of:

Great Player    Great Player     Great Player
Good Player     Good Player     Good Player
Energy Guy      Pretty Good      Energy Guy
  Grinder              Grinder            Grinder

…is old-fashioned.

there are too many talented players these days to waste spots on a guy just because he fits your pre-concieved notion of who should fill those spots. People used to want “reliable” from their bottom half. I say it makes sense to have hot and cold games from guys in those roles as they develop and improve.

You obviously want to keep the bottom portion of your 12 forwards affordable. You obviously want to develop your young talent, and let them get some NHL minutes. To me, it’s obvious that you should always have a few entry-level contracts on your third line (or fourth if you’re so inclined), to meet both your developmental and fiscal needs.

So many players are so good so young in hockey’s present era that in a salary capped world, your best bet of winning a title is to be a cap team with contributing cheap talent farther down the line. The Flyers are able to go in on nearly every available free agent big fish and stay stacked the last couple season because they still have guys like Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn on entry-level deals.

I’m sure that the Red Wings will allow Gustav Nyqvist, or Damien Brunner, or Tomas Tatar a roster spot, because they know how to develop from within, they know how to re-stock whenever you think they’re down and out, and they know how to stay a playoff team in a cap league.