The Detroit Red Wings’ prospects defeated the New York Rangers 5-0 on Monday, advancing to Tuesday’s prospect tournament championship game against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 PM EDT on Fox Sports Detroit GO and DetroitRedWings.com).
The Wings’ prospects played tremendous hockey from the goal on out, and their commitment to defense afforded Patrik Rybar a 14-save shutout; at the other end of the ice, Joe Veleno scored 2 goals, and Axel Holmstrom, Zach Gallant and Michael Rasmussen also scored.
Givani Smith got in a scrap, and the Wings avoided several others by keeping their discipline when tested; defenseman Jared McIsaac left in the 3rd period after a failed check against a Rangers player yielded a shoulder surgery, but I can at least say that McIsaac appeared to be OK after the game.
So the Wings’ prospects have the opportunity to win what would be only their 2nd championship over the course of 20 years played in Traverse City. The gravity of that statement didn’t seem to weigh too heavily upon a team that was looking forward to Tuesday’s 11 AM practice and a then-to-be-determined opponent, as noted by my audio clips and the following videos from the Red Wings’ Twitter account:
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) September 10, 2018
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) September 10, 2018
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) September 10, 2018
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) September 10, 2018
Watch all 5 goals 👇 pic.twitter.com/nt9lvgkbNf
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) September 11, 2018
As of Monday night, at least, the Red Wings’ prospects appear to be coming together at the right time, and their depth of scoring (see: goals from Holmstrom and Gallant, assists from Cholowski, McIsaac, Zadina and Pope), special teams play (2 PPGs and 1 shorthanded goal) and plain old defensive commitment and jam from crease to crease are all indications that this team is–as coach Ben Simon suggested–built with intelligent, talented players who’ve bought into the coaches’ systems of play over a very short period of time.
The Wings’ prospects seem to like working and like working hard, and that’s the kind of quality you want to hear about in a prospect pool. The players have been teachable, enthusiastic and accountable, and you can’t really ask for much more than that when you’re talking about building a team for a 4-games-in-5-nights tournament.
MLive’s Ansar Khan posted a short recap of the game…
Joe Veleno scored two goals and assisted on another while Patrik Rybar needed to make only 14 saves for the shutout as the Detroit Red Wings defeated the New York Rangers 5-0 Monday at the NHL Prospects Tournament at Centre I.C.E. in Traverse City.
The Red Wings (2-1) advanced to Tuesday’s championship game at 7 p.m. Their opponent will be determined after tonight’s games.
Veleno, a two-way center, scored on the power play at 7:13 of the second period after Axel Holmstrom opened the scoring at 2:23 of the second. Veleno closed out the scoring at 18:21 of the third.
Zach Gallant scored a shorthanded goal at 13:39 of the second to make it 3-0 and added an assist. Michael Rasmussen scored on the power play.
[Edit/update: Here are a few quotes from DetroitRedWings.com’s Arthur J. Regner and Dana Wakiji:
Joe Veleno: Based on his performance at the Prospect Tournament, it’s easy to understand why Veleno was granted exceptional player status, allowing him to play in the QMJHL as a 15-year-old. The 6-foot-1, 191-pound center has shown a smooth skating style with terrific passing skills and a shot which seems harder than advertised and is also accurate. He has jelled well with Filip Zadina and Rasmussen, forming a No. 1 line which has been dominant when they’re on the ice. It also is apparent that Veleno has a chip on shoulder because he fell to the Wings as the 30th pick in the first round of the draft, despite being projected to go in the middle of first round. But when it’s all said and done, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise if Veleno emerges as the steal of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Quotable: “It’s been a great experience so far. I’m really enjoying it and really taking it in, the draft and all this, the Traverse City tournament, so it’s been a really good experience and to do it with these guys (Zadina and Rasmussen), it’s been a huge honor. They’re two great players. It’s a real privilege to play with them. I think we just fit each other so well. Z with his shot and Ras, with his big body out there creating some room. I think we all fit each other’s positives and I think we’ve been having good chemistry ever since we’ve been playing together. We’ve been creating offense, playing well defensively and I think we’re just playing good hockey right now. It’s always nice to score goals, for sure. But again, I just try to do both. I want to contribute both ways, not just playmaking, score goals. Today I was finally starting to shoot the puck and it resulted in two goals. I like doing that for sure. — Veleno
Quotable II: “Another smart hockey player. He does a lot of little things that maybe not the average fan can see. He does a lot of little things in positioning his stick, getting himself to open areas and just little details of his game that reflect in the success he’s had in his young career so far.” – Ben Simon, Grand Rapids Griffins head coach
In terms of player impressions, here are my thoughts regarding the Wings’ individual performances:
27 Michael Rasmussen: If the prospect tournament alone were the determinant of jobs on the Red Wings’ roster, the 6’6,” 221-pound Rasmussen would have already earned a job.
He would have done so because: the massive center-or-winger has displayed both tremendous aplomb in terms of going to the net-front and staying there, as well as venturing far and wide to dig up pucks in the corners and along the side and end boards, skating up ice with the puck on his stick to make plays, and as it turns out, he pisses off his opponents while keeping his composure, too.
Rasmussen, perhaps unlike Filip Zadina, can be plugged into a 3rd or 4th line spot and be comfortable doing so at the NHL level. It remains to be seen whether the Wings want to have Rasmussen intern playing 8-10 minutes a night in a crowded forward corps, or whether they want him learning to deal with the bump-and-grind of pro hockey as a goal-scorer in Grand Rapids, but Rasmussen is physically strong, his skating has improved by a step over last year’s speed and edge work, his self-confidence is great and he’s as mentally a “pro” as a 19-year-old can possibly be.
90 Joe Veleno: Veleno very quietly leads the Wings in scoring at the tournament with 2 goals and 4 assists for a total of 6 points over the course of 3 games played, and Veleno plays a very quiet game. At 6’1″ and 191 pounds, he’s not overly physically imposing, but Veleno is already a man in a man’s body (though there’s room for improvement strength-wise), Veleno skates strongly, his passing and playmaking skills are excellent, his shot is underrated, he wins draws and his defensive positioning is equivalent to that of a 25-year-old. Veleno’s presence on the first line freed up Michael Rasmussen to “do his thing” offensively, and Veleno hasn’t yielded an ounce of drop-off offensively as he helps Filip Zadina with some growing pains.
With more to develop in terms of both his physicality and the game he plays, I would suggest that the Wings are looking at a strong 2nd line center, not just a stalwart 3rd-line checking center.
11 Filip Zadina: Zadina is definitely having his hiccups and growing pains at this tournament. Despite a goal and 2 assists for 3 points in 3 games, the 6,’ 196-pound star-in-the-making is just trying to rush plays and is trying to deke and dangle and dazzle at the same time, when most of the time, a simpler, more direct play would make much more sense.
As the scout next to me during tonight’s game suggested, Zadina has all the tools to be a frickin’ star in the NHL, scoring at least 15-20 goals a season, and nobody is doubting his shot, his skating, his creativity, his hockey IQ or his tremendous chutzpah or confidence–they’re all elite. He’s just playing at a higher level and pace of play than he has ever encountered before, and as a result, he’s learning by doing that he can’t simply walk along the right wing half boards and wait to rip a one-timer into the net 90% of the time.
He’s got to work harder and work smarter with less time and space than he’s ever had before, at a higher level of competition than he’s ever played, and he just needs to work out his timing and simplify, simplify, simplify.
49 Axel Holmstrom: Axel may never gain back the step that made him a top-two-lines prospect, but Holmstrom showed on Monday that he remains something of a scoring threat despite playing more of a supporting role. Holmstrom’s put strength on a 6’1,” 219-pound frame, and when you combine solid skating, a mature body and brain at 22, sneaky good puck skills and quiet determination, you get the kind of 3rd-liner you want on your team because he’s responsible, he’s smart and there are still flashes of the “power winger/center” potential that he displayed so regularly prior to his knee injuries.
70 Christoffer Ehn: Ehn is just turning pro at 22, and the 6’2,” 193-pound-listed (let’s go with a little optimistic on that one) center is a superb, superb checking line pivot who’s done very well in a second-line role. Ehn is still getting used to the confines of the “small rink” and is still adjusting to the pace of play, but the kid wins faceoffs and grinds down opponents with a surprising level of physical spunk for someone who could probably put another 15 pounds of muscle on his lanky frame and not look any less like a string bean. He’s a speedy skater that works his tail off, his vision as a defensive player is excellent, and he’s responsible in all three zones.
48 Givani Smith: Smith got into a fight on Monday night, and he could have been in three or four more fights had he not either been gently escorted by the refs to the Wings’ bench, or plain old chosen to defer to chirping instead of tossing. This was Givani Smith unleashed, and when you’ve got a 6’2,” 206-pound buzz bomb skating up and down the wing, grinding out pucks and pissing people off, utilizing strong skating and a man’s body to grind away, you’ve got an agitator, and when Smith is at his best–at the very beginning of his pro career–he’s a haul of a pain in the ass.
53 Jordan Topping: Topping could be considered a “bonus prospect” because the Grand Rapids Griffins signed the 6’1,” 185-pound center late in the summer, and Topping has been a quietly superb third-line forward for the Wings’ prospects thus far. Topping isn’t overly big, he isn’t yet filled out, but possesses a fair amount of strength, he’s a good skater and he grinds out pucks along the wing while displaying two-way form. I’m not suggesting that Topping is going to be a steal, but he’s someone to watch in a bottom-six role.
67 Brady Gilmour: Gilmour has done a superb job of stepping into a 3rd-line role and excelled in his role. He’s not big at 5’10” and 170 pounds, but he’s engaged in the bump-and-grind with enthusiasm, playing stalwart hockey by winning faceoffs, making good plays and remaining committed to defensive play while working with Topping and David Pope.
58 David Pope: Pope is in a situation analogous to Filip Zadina’s. Despite being 23 going on 24, and possessing a man’s body at 6’3″ and 198 pounds, Pope hasn’t been able to find the time and space necessary to unleash his excellent shot. Pope possesses excellent offensive skills in terms of his shooting, passing and playmaking, he’s an excellent skater, and he’s smart and confident…
But the prospect tournament is not NCAA hockey, and while Pope is a superb talent, he’s learning the hard way that he has to play harder, faster and simpler than he ever has before.
64 Zach Gallant: Gallant scored a goal, and like the checking-line version of Michael Rasmussen, Gallant has been freed up to focus on the offensive portion of his game, which happens to be pretty solid. Gallant is bigger than Gilmour at 6’2″ and 198 pounds, but he’s a very similar player, a defensive stalwart who works his tail off to play defense, defense and more defense…
So it’s been good to see Gallant streak up the wing with good speed and fire shots at the net. Gallant isn’t going to be a top-six player, but as I’ve said before, he and Gilmour give the Wings superb depth on the 3rd/4th lines.
81 Trevor Yates: Yates may have the hardest-working-looking face in the business. The Griffins-contracted graduate of Cornell simply looks like he’s working harder than anyone has ever worked in their lives, and to his credit, he’s working pretty damn hard all the time. At 6’2″ and 203 pounds, Yates gives no quarter to anyone, and at 24 years of age, he plays a mature, seasoned game that’s well-tailored to the pro game. He’s going to fight damn hard for a spot on the Griffins’ deep forward corps.
92 Maxim Golod: Golod, on the other hand, is an 18-year-old who looks much younger, and the 5’10,” 160-pound Erie Otters forward has done a fine job of working to the maximum of his potential…But Golod is very much so a man in a boy’s body, and he’s been bumped around a bit. Does he have goal-scorer’s chops? You bet, but he’s still got some growing to do physically and in terms of his game.
21 Dennis Cholowski: Cholowski’s posted a goal and 4 assists for 5 points over the course of only 3 prospect tournament games, and he’s mostly gotten rid of that extra deke and dangle while taking over as the Red Wings’ #1 defenseman. Cholowski may or may not make the Red Wings’ roster out of training camp, but he’s sure looked good when it’s counted for the Wings’ prospects.
At a mature 6’1″ and 195-to-200 pounds and possessing all the skills of a top-pair defenseman–excellent skating (forward, backward, laterally, edges), superb passing and playmaking skills as both a puck-lugger and someone with the vision to be a puck-distributor, a bomb of a shot and better and better physical acumen in terms of keeping up with the bump and grind, Cholowski and Saarijarvi have been everything that the Wings have asked them to be at this tournament, and especially given that Dennis is coming out of
college and then the WHL, his pace and urgency have been impressive. Cholowski makes the right play, and he makes it right quick.
76 Trevor Hamilton: Hamilton is a Grand Rapids Griffins-contracted defenseman, and he’s going to have a hard time landing a spot with the Griffins because their blueline is crowded, but at the prospect tournament, the 6,’ 198-pound 2-year graduate of Penn State has been nothing less than the perfect stay-at-home partner for Dennis Cholowski. At 24 years of age, he’s displayed a level of maturity commensurate to his level of experience, and while he’s coming out of NCAA hockey, like Cholowski, he’s done a great job of adapting to the pace of play.
He’s a strong skater, physically sound despite not being overly big, and he makes simple plays and smart plays with little effort. Where he fits in terms of the Griffins and Red Wings’ longer-term plans is a different story–he’s a mid-pair defenseman who’s on a short developmental curve–but to say that he’s exceeded expectations for a prospect tournament is accurate.
63 Jared McIsaac: McIsaac, the master of the sublime, finally showed his 18-year-old youth by trying to run over a Ranger and going shoulder-first into the boards, taking himself out of the game halfway through the third period. He looked to be healthy after the game, but it’s hard to tell whether a shoulder that got trauma is going to act up, and coach Ben Simon pled his sociology degree when asked about McIsaac, and I plead English major.
McIsaac has played a superb tournament because he does a lot of what Hamilton does–he makes the simple, safe, steady play 100% of the time–but he’s only 18, he’s still growing into a 6’1,” 193-pound frame, and he’s hammering out the kinks while working along a player who is high-risk, high-reward in Vili Saarijarvi. I’ve been tremendously impressed by McIsaac’s maturity and poise, and again, he’s still at the start of his developmental curve, so there’s more coming.
29 Vili Saarijarvi: Vili looks like he’s in trouble the vast majority of the time that he has the puck or is battling for the puck, but Vili is not in trouble the vast majority of the time he looks like he’s making an offensive play, a darting jab for the puck or even a surprisingly adept mash-and-grab play along the boards.
Vili will never be big at 5’10” and 182 pounds, and Vili will never be a physical defender, but he’s always just a step ahead of his competition. I can’t say whether that will be the case at the NHL level, but the prospect tournament is a pretty damn high level of play, and Vili makes his bread and butter in half-second increments.
Saarijarvi is a better skater than Cholowski, with elite speed and forward/backward/lateral skating, he’s got excellent pace to his superb passing, shooting and puck-lugging skills, his vision is great and he’s not physical, but he can hold his own and then some against players who are always going to be bigger, and to some extent, stronger.
Saarijarvi will probably start the season in the AHL, and because he struggled in his rookie campaign, it may do Saarijarvi some good to have to replicate his tournament level of play over the course of what in the AHL is a 76-game haul.
94 Alec Regula–50 Reilly Webb
94 Alec Regula: Regula and Webb were thrown to the wolves to some extent, and they did well against the Rangers’ big, fast and strong players. Regula is a lanky 6’4″ and 203 pounds (maybe), with lots of room to grow, and Webb is similar at 6’3″ and 201 equally lanky-bodied pounds, and at least at the beginning of the game, the pair were getting their butts knocked around and were gotten the better of in battles for the puck.
Over the course of the game, that changed. Regula in particular played a very solid stay-at-home game, and at 18, the London Knights defenseman displayed the high level of mobility and strong puck control that got him drafted by the Wings. He’s still got to get bigger, stronger and faster, but Regula kept up and worked hard to keep Patrik Rybar’s work level down to a bare minimum.
50 Reilly Webb: Like Regula, Webb is still growing into his body at 19 years of age, and he got bounced around and bumped into fairly heavily early, but he straightened out and flew right for the vast majority of the game. Webb is going into his contract year as someone who has to have a very big year with the Saginaw Spirit, and as the game went on, and as the tournament has gone on, the stay-at-home defenseman has played more and more solidly.
Webb is big at 6’3,” getting stronger at 201 pounds, he skates well and makes safe, steady plays.
#34 Patrik Rybar: Rybar didn’t have an overly busy game with only 14 saves to make for a shutout, but he played an excellent game as he continues to adjust to 85-foot-wide ice. Rybar plays a calm, steady game, butterflying because his 6’3,” 190-pound frame can still clear the crossbar (or nearly so) when he’s on his knees, and he boots and blockers pucks into less-dangerous areas of the ice. His blocker is good, his glove is excellent, he can scramble while remaining composed, and he knows his stickhandling needs a lot of work, so he doesn’t rely on it. That lack of puckhandling ability is his one weakness thus far, and he’s working on it with the Wings’ goaltending coaches. It will never be great, but they’ll get it to passable levels.
Rybar is going to adjust from the Czech pro league to the AHL over the course of the AHL season, and his job is to attempt to unseat Harri Sateri as the Griffins’ starter.
Back-up goalie and scratches:
#36 Kaden Fulcher (goaltender): Fulcher, wearing his Hamilton Bulldogs pads instead of his new red ones, mostly stood on the bench, being a good teammate. The 6’3″-going-on-6’4,” 182-pound Fulcher is a massive netminder who could very well start tomorrow’s championship game and win it.
Unlike Rybar, Fulcher plays a very athletic style, although it’s grounded in fine fundamentals, and he’s still working on a few weak spots (top glove and top shelf while he’s down in the butterfly, chest height), but he’s worked hard on his technique over the past two seasons, and he’s earned a contract with the Red Wings and the go-ahead to “turn pro” with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye because of a combination of work ethic and talent. His blocker, glove, fast feet and occasionally acrobatic “battling” style allow him to either smother pucks or punch them into the corners, and he’s a good stickhandler, which helps out his defense. Perhaps more than Rybar, he’s got very good vision, and anticipates play quite well.
46 Lane Zablocki (forward): Zablocki has been injured and unable to play, and that’s unfortunate for the 6,’ 190-pound winger. He’s a superb checking forward going into his contract Major Junior year needing to both find a home after playing for 3 teams this past season and needing to differentiate himself from the Wings’ legion of grinding forwards.
68 Justin Fazio** (goaltender): Again, Fazio is working for a spot on another team. The 6’1,” 188-pound try-out is working hard during practices to improve his skills with the Red Wings’ goaltending coaches while hoping that the scouts in attendance see the Sarnia Sting graduate and believe there’s something more there.
73 Marcus Crawford* (defense): Crawford, like Hamilton, is a Griffins-contracted defenseman, and the 5’11,” 190-pound defenseman is likely to start his season in either Grand Rapids or Toledo. He’s been a solid performer in the single game he played in, and mostly he’s been a good teammate.
74 Cole Fraser (defenseman): Fraser is making the best of a difficult situation, having sat in 2 of the Wings’ 3 tournament games, and the 6’2,” 191-pound defenseman is physical–and nasty–but for whatever reason, he’s doing his best to keep his poise while drawing the short end of the stick. Like Webb and Zablocki, it’s going to take a big season with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes for Fraser to stand out.
76 Nicholas Guay** (forward): Guay, a 6’1,” 183-pound try-out from Drummondville got pushed around a bit in the game he played, so he played a team-supporting role on Monday.
89 Pavel Gogolev** (forward): Gogolev, like Golod, is 5’10” and 160 pounds, so he looked a little out of his element on the fourth line. Gogolev had more goals in his draft year–30 for the OHL’s Erie Otters–but in a short tournament, you either grab your spot, or a spot grabs you.
* = Griffins contract, ** = Try-out.
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