The Detroit Red Wings wrapped up their final full day of 3-team practicing at Centre ICE Arena with a battle-filled day.
The players were challenged by the coaching staff’s emphasis on one-on-one and two-on-two battling during drills, as well as the grueling skating test, where players had to skate 3 laps up and down the ice 4 times, with 3, 2, 1 and then 1 more minute’s worth of rest between reps.
The “teams” were set up differently, with the “Red” team and then the “White” team from Sunday’s scrimmage (with Justin Abdelkader joining “team White), and a slimmed-down team of AHL and ECHL-bound players taking part in a smaller third practice, without the presence of 10 players who’ve been sent back to Major Junior hockey.
Some of the drills that the players took part in were downright mean and nasty on Monday, because the emphasis was on battling for position; the “battle for positions” on a larger level yielded an unyielding set of lateral laps of the rink for the first-to-practice “Red team,” which needed the laps to shake some cobwebs.
Whether engaging in “wheel the puck around the side boards” drills, full-ice 2-on-0 or 3-on-0 retrieve-and-break-out drills, battling drills in which a forward would tangle with another forward before defensemen folded into a big old pile-up, a drill in which defensemen had to “choose their own adventure” by passing the puck to a forward on either side who would immediately attack the net, or a couple of drills in which there were full-ice 5-on-5 situations taking place, the players worked their tails off to grind, jam, hack, whack and otherwise tangle for loose pucks and scoring chances.
Add in a lot of video before and after practice, and you’ve got a heavy day of work; fold in the vicious skating test at the end of a full hour’s practice, and you’re talking about, as Justin Abdelkader put it, an experience that the Red Wings’ players had to “get through together.”
There were some surprises in the skating test, from Dylan McIlrath not completely sucking wind at the end of one set of skaters’ drills to Andreas Athanasiou leading and then lagging in another test, Dylan Larkin, then Tyler Bertuzzi and Dennis Cholowski skating well in front of an owners’ suite packed with Red Wings scouts taking in their last day of training camp, etc.
I had wondered how the Red Wings were going to keep the intensity up given that they scheduled the Red vs. White game for the 3rd day of training camp, with 2 days to go, so I was somewhat taken aback by the level of competition that was displayed on Monday.
I can’t emphasize enough that the players really believe that there are jobs on the line, including the jobs that most players already have, so there’s been no let-up, and one could argue that the level of competition has increased as training camp has progressed.
Does that change tomorrow, when you’ve essentially got the, “Playing in Wednesday’s game vs. Pittsburgh” and the “Playing in Thursday’s game vs. Chicago” groups skating, and the players are thinking about the trip back to Detroit for the start of the exhibition season? I certainly hope not, because maintaining this “60 Minutes of Hell” tag-line’s worth of intensity will benefit the team going forward.
In terms of player-by-player assessments, keeping in mind that the Red and White rosters are not perfect representations of who skated with whom (ECHL defenseman Matt Register, for example, skated with the Red team on Monday)…
Filip Zadina #11: Zadina has looked a hundred times “more ready” to earn a spot on the Wings’ roster during training camp than he had during the prospect tournament, but I’m not quite certain that he’s completely NHL-ready yet. Mostly skating with Andreas Athanasiou and Thomas Vanek makes you look very good, and the 6,’ 196-pound graduate of the Halifax Mooseheads has looked very good on the line, but he’s still shaking the QMJHL tendencies out of his play. By that I mean that Zadina is still trying to create too many plays before he gets a shot on net, and I still believe that he’s going to need some AHL “finishing school” work to rid him of his over-creative tendencies.
Andreas Athanasiou #72: Athanasiou continued to puzzle by taking the lead for the first few reps of the skating test before finishing the test of aerobic and anaerobic fitness dead frickin’ last. There’s no doubt that the Red Wings’ resident speedster is in good shape, and Athanasiou thrived in the battle drills, but the 6’2,” 188-pound center-in-the-making still possesses enough flaws to make you question his consistency. So it always may be for Athanasiou.
Thomas Vanek #26: At 34 years of age and sometimes half-a-step slower than the 6’2,” 214-pound veteran was the last time he played in Detroit, Vanek can still generate scoring chances almost at will for his teammates, and when he’s on his game, the Austrian sniper and passer is still an elite player. The problem is that Vanek, like Athanasiou, goes through stretches when he’s not playing at his peak level of effort and intensity, and then he can be a bit of a liability. He’s got to continue to work to be more consistent, regardless of his age.
Evgeny Svechnikov #37: Sporting the same number as his brother, the 22-year-old Svechnikov looks bigger and stronger than before at 6’3″ and 212 pounds, and Svechnikov insists that his vicious self-criticism has waned somewhat. For Evgeny, less harshness on himself should yield a determination as to whether Svechnikov is a support player or an author of offensive chances by himself. Right now, it appears that Svechnikov is a Russian Tyler Bertuzzi, a forechecking forward with the ability to stir up pucks for teammates; can he deke and dangle and dazzle on his own?
Joe Veleno #90: If Veleno was a year older, he’d make the Red Wings’ roster, and a year from now, the 18-year-old Drummondville Voltigeurs center will be stealing someone’s job. Veleno has done a tremendous job of confirming the Red Wings’ suspicion that they’d swiped an absolute steal with the 30th overall pick, and the 6’1,” 191-pound center has played sterling two-way hockey since the start of the prospect tournament, displaying a maturity beyond his years in terms of his skating, passing, shooting, playmaking and two-way skills. It’s exciting to have a prospect like Veleno in the organization, even though he’s headed back to the Q for this season.
Michael Rasmusen #27: All business, the 6’6,” 221-pound forward will likely start the season out on the wing because Rasmussen is more apt to go to the front of the net and cause havoc, or grind out the puck down low, when he’s freed up from his defensive responsibilities. Rasmussen, in my opinion, is the Wings’ most NHL-ready player, because the talented shooter, skater, passer, checker and shot-deflector can learn just as much playing on the 3rd or 4th line as he can playing top-six minutes. Between his size, strength, skill level, and the simple fact that he’d have to be sent back to Tri-City of the WHL as a 19-year-old if he were to be demoted, I believe the Wings will keep him on their NHL roster.
Luke Witkowski #28: Of all the people to look good in battle drills, Witkowski, a big boy at 6’2″ and 210 pounds, out-skilled many skill players in one-on-one situations. We tend to forget that the 28-year-old is in the league not only because he can fight and play forward or defense, but also because there’s a passable skill set available in the bearded Bohemian’s repertoire.
Luke Glendening #41: Glendening isn’t going to out-size people at 5’11” and 192 pounds, but he sure works his ass off to try and win battles for the puck and utilize his competitive nature to play responsibly in checking situations. His skating might be a little underrated as well…But there’s no doubt that he’s a player who has to play to 100% of his potential to be effective, too.
Chris Terry #15: Brought in to score at the AHL level, the 5’10,’ 197-pound journeyman most recently posted point-per-game totals for the QMJHL’s Laval Rocket, and with Eric Tangradi and Ben Street gone to greener pastures, the Red Wings are hoping that the 29-year-old Terry will deliver points by the bushel for Grand Rapids. He’s capable enough of a skater for spot NHL duty, too.
David Pope #58: Pope seems slated for the AHL for certain as a 24-year-old turning pro after 4 years with the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and fulfilling his potential will involve filling opposition nets in short order. At 6’3″ and 198 pounds, Pope has the conditioning necessary to deal with the AHL’s bump and grind, and his sniper’s hands and strong skating should yield a fairly painless transition from NCAA to AHL hockey.
Christoffer Ehn #70: Another turning-North American-pro forward, Ehn comes to the Wings after several successful seasons with the SHL’s Frolunda Indians, and the 6’2,” 193-pound Ehn is intriguing because he’s a shut-down forward of the Dominic Turgeon variety, but he’s a shut-down forward who also skates very, very well and very, very quickly. At 22, Ehn will have to establish himself as a reliable 2-way forward this upcoming season in Grand Rapids.
Axel Holmstrom #49: Holmstrom is also looking to establish himself as an AHL regular. Holmstrom’s history of knee injuries while playing in Sweden yield some question as to his overall “upside” because he doesn’t quite have the speed he used to, but Holmstrom’s done a fine job of generating scoring chances through his responsible puckhandling and excellent work ethic during training camp. Is he a third-line forward or a fourth-line support player? It’s hard to tell right now.
Libor Sulak #47: Some may disagree with me, but at this point, I’d suggest that the 6’2,” 207-pound Sulak needs a little finishing in the AHL before he graduates to the NHL full time. The 24-year-old graduate of the Finnish Liiga is a lanky, bowlegged skater who transports the puck up the ice via his own superb skating, and at this point, he’s still adjusting to the 85-foot-wide ice surface and increased pace of play in North America, but Sulak looks like a player and playmaker who could be a significant asset for the Wings’ blueline in another couple months.
Joe Hicketts #2: There are two schools of thought on the 5’8,” 180-pound Hicketts, who is at least half-a-step quicker at this year’s training camp: either you start the plucky little bugger at the NHL level as the Wings’ #6/7 defenseman because he can learn in that spot, or you place him in the AHL until he can crack the roster on an every-night basis. I’m not quite sure what the Wings will do with Hicketts, but as his skating has improved and his conditioning has gotten to the point that he’s making more hits with fewer defensive mistakes, Hicketts has improved his stead among the Wings’ defensive prospects. He may never be more than a third-pair defender, but he may be a rock-solid one.
Dennis Cholowski #21: Cholowski has intrigued as camp progresses, because the 6’1,” 195-pound defenseman possesses a level of on-ice vision that challenges Filip Hronek’s domination of the position. Cholowski is able to make the kinds of plays that Hronek does by dashing into the play without actually dashing up into the rush, using his passing and playmaking to send outlet passes up the ice instead, and Cholowski’s lower-risk skill set is an intriguing foil to Hronek’s high-risk plays. The exhibition season will determine who makes the NHL roster…
Filip Hronek #24: But at this point, there’s little doubt that the 6,’ 170-pound Hronek is the “clubhouse leader” to make the roster, dangerous dashes and all. Hronek is not the best skater among the Wings’ defensive prospects, and he’s certainly not the biggest player, but Hronek does an excellent job of carrying the puck into scoring areas before distributing it to teammates in scoring positions, and the Wings are in desperate need of a defenseman who can do just that task.
Dylan McIlrath #4: McIlrath may not possess the extra stride necessary for NHL duty, but he certainly possesses the physical strength, because he ended up leading the latter portion of the skating test for his squad. Massive at 6’5″ and 236 pounds, McIlrath is a true heavyweight fighter who doesn’t need to use that status too often because his reputation precedes him, and at the AHL level, he is a rock-solid second pair defenseman.
Jake Chelios #84: Griffins bound at 27 years of age, the 6’2,” 185-pound defenseman plays a spare game, choosing to make the simpler and lower-risk play whenever possible. As a result, Chelios is an effective player who will thrive at the AHL level.
Jimmy Howard #35: Howard looked better on Monday than he did on Sunday, sending pucks to lower-risk areas and generally sealing the few holes he does possess. At 6’1″ and 218 pounds, Howard is no lightweight around the crease, but his passable mobility and good positioning provide at least #1A-quality netminding.
Harri Sateri #31: I remain intrigued by the 6,’ 207-pound goaltender from Finland via the KHL as Sateri is essentially the Filip Hronek of the goaltending world, dashing, daring and generally correct in his guesses, but high-risk and high-reward. Sateri is a strong “reflex” goaltender who uses his legs and blocker to make smart decisions with rebounds and his glove to gobble up seeing-eye shots. His stickhandling could be better, but he’s working on it.
Justin Abdelkader #8: Abdelkader came to training camp to ensure that he wouldn’t wind up a step behind his teammates, and the 6’2,” 214-pound forward understands that he not only needs to pick things up in the leadership department with Henrik Zetterberg gone, but also that the 31-year-old needs to score a little more consistently to reach the 15-goal mark as a means by which to help his team. He’s certainly driven enough to expect some moderate improvement over last season.
Tyler Bertuzzi #59: Coach Blashill has been understandably talking up the 6’1,” 190-pound forward’s ability to dig up pucks and go to the front of the opposition net alongside teammate Anthony Mantha, and it appears that the 23-year-old Bertuzzi is going to receive a sustained stint alongside Mantha and Dylan Larkin on the Wings’ top offensive line. As a result, the strong-skating, strong-willed Bertuzzi’s point production should increase.
Dylan Larkin #71: A mature veteran at 22 years of age, the 6’1,” 198-pound Larkin can still improve in terms of his shift-to-shift consistency, and Larkin is driven to improve this season. He may not wear the captain’s “C” for a season or two, but this leader-in-the-making possesses elite offensive abilities in terms of shooting, passing, playmaking, skating and winning faceoffs, and he’s going to aim for point-a-game territory at a very young age.
Anthony Mantha #39: Mantha hopes to hit 30 goals this season, and that total may be a bit lofty, but the 6’5,” 225-pound winger chose to work with a power skating instructor over a boxing teacher this past summer, and the 24-year-old forward looks a little quicker on the ice for his efforts. An excellent goal-scorer, Mantha has also been battling a lot harder in one-on-one situations, and a more competitive Mantha gives the Red Wings a lot more scoring punch.
Gustav Nyquist #14: Nyquist, at 29 and in the final year of his contract, has a significant amount (literally and figuratively) to prove coming off a disappointing statistical season, and the 5’11,” 184-pound forward hopes to hit his 30th birthday next fall both on the Red Wings and in possession of better stats. Nyquist suggested today that he and his teammates need to step up in a big way to assuage the departure of Henrik Zetterberg, and the Wings’ resident waterbug goal-scorer at least appears a little faster and more urgent, which is good to see.
Frans Nielsen #51: Nielsen hopes to defy age somewhat at 34 and improve as a scorer as well as a shut-down center. The Wings’ resident two-way mastero will receive ample opportunities to both score more via his excellent passing and check better without Zetterberg there to match up against top lines, and Nielsen says that he’s finally feeling “at home” as a Red Wing in his third season with the team, which is very important for the 6’1,” 188-pound Dane.
Darren Helm #43: Helm appears to be set on the wing and appears to be set upon stepping up like the rest of his teammates, which would be very good for a Red Wings team looking for more scoring depth. The 6,’ 196-pound speedster can definitely do more to play more consistent hockey.
Jussi Jokinen #20**: With the team as a training camp try-out, the 35-year-old Finnish sniper is at least going to try to make the Wings’ roster as exactly what Helm hopes to be–a depth scorer. Jokinen is well-traveled and famous for his equipment peculiarities (his preference for freshly re-palmed hockey gloves and certain sticks precedes him), and he hopes to earn a contract with the Red Wings despite their glut of young forwards nearly ready to make the roster. The exhibition season will tell the tale for Jokinen.
Dominic Turgeon #23: Turgeon appears AHL-bound if only because the Wings want Rasmussen on their roster. At 22 years of age, the 6’2,” 200-pound defensive center is more or less NHL-ready as a checking machine who adores winning physical and puck battles against his opponents. Having already proven that he can score at the AHL level, can he add an edge to his game?
Givani Smith #48: Worries not about an edge as Smith is all edges. The 6’2,” 206-pound power winger will begin his pro career at all of 20 hoping to grind upon and grind down his opponents with big hits, nasty physical play and an incredibly competitive desire to succeed at stripping pucks from opposing players. He’s going to drive the opposition nuts.
Wade Megan #22: Another “third group” skater,the 6’1,” 194-pound journeyman has generally succeeded in scoring at the AHL level, and the 28-year-old comes to the Red Wings and Griffins hoping to reclaim point-per-game form in the AHL. He can also play center at the NHL level when necessary.
Matt Puempel #54: Puempel has something to prove having re-signed with the Red Wings for two years. The 28-year-old from Windsor has scored 20 goals in the AHL on numerous occasions, but he didn’t do so with Grand Rapids after being picked up in the Ryan Sproul trade. Puempel would be wise to give Grand Rapids a better scoring punch.
Niklas Kronwall #55: Kronwall may be 37, but the 6,’ 194-pound veteran still worked his ass off during practice and the skating test, engaging in both events with a smile on his face and a sense that he may as well enjoy what may be his last go-round. It could be argued that Kronwall’s knees have actually gotten better over the course of the past two years, and the Wings will lean upon Kronwall heavily, so those knees better hold up.
Vili Saarijarvi: At the other end of the developmental spectrum, the 5’10,’ 182-pound Saarijarvi is never going to be bigger than he is, and he’s probably as strong as he ever will be, but the fleet-footed defenseman who always looks like he’s about to be caught but does not get caught will attempt to earn a top-four spot in Grand Rapids at 21 years of age.
Danny DeKeyser #65: DeKeyser at least looks like he’s reclaiming his best weapon–his stick-checking ability–as the 28-year-old defenseman attempts to reclaim his form as a solid two-way defender. The lanky 6’3,” 192-pound DeKeyser has to use his stick strength to make up for his inconsistent physical play, and if he can poke pucks away from his opponents before they get the physical jump on him, he’ll win more puck battles.
Nick Jensen #3: Serious and determined, the 6,’ 194-pound Jensen can fade into the background during some drills, but the 28-year-old’s drive and determination are underestimated at one’s peril. Jensen is, as Blashill and Babcock like to say, “Ultra competitive,” and he needs to get a little more consistent.
Jonathan Ericsson #52: Ericsson had a good day, and the 6’5,” 220-pound defenseman jammed and grinded his way to his fair share of victories in the one-on-one battle drills. Ericsson is no spring chicken at 34 years of age, but he’s going to earn a lot of ice time alongside his defensive partner, Trevor Daley…
Trevor Daley #83: And the 35-year-old Daley looks spry and speedy. The 5’11,” 195-pound defenseman has looked strong in scrimmages and practices, out-battling and out-willing his opponents and skating his tail off. If Daley can lean on his edges and out-skate his opponents to pucks, he’ll be more defensively sound.
Jonathan Bernier #45: Bernier had some holes in his game today, and that’s the problem with Bernier: he’s streaky. The 6,’ 184-pound netminder has impeccable technical skills as a classical butterfly goaltender (i.e. he’s on his knees a lot and drops to the butterfly stance as a matter of course), but there are times that he can be beaten over the blocker or through the catch glove, and those are worrisome moments. He’s got to be better to push Howard.
Patrik Rybar #34: Rybar will start the season in Grand Rapids, but I do wonder whether the 6’3,” 190-pound Slovak netminder is going to start pushing Harri Sateri for starts sooner than later, because his tremendous technical abilities and calm, poised netminding style are earning some serious-ass brownie points. The 24-year-old just looks incredibly comfortable in the net despite adjusting to a narrower rink and faster pace of play in North America, and his play has been encouraging from stem to stern.
The other guys:
#17 Colin Campbell*: Campbell provides a tremendously reliable checking presence at the AHL level, and the Grand Rapids Griffins adore the 6’1,” 194-pound forward. At 27, Campbell’s NHL upside is limited, but at the AHL level, he checks the snot out of opponents.
#44 Dylan Sadowy: Sadowy needs to step up in a big way this season. At 22 years of age, he has yet to establish himself as a pro, and the 6,’ 206-pound forward was traded for to score goals.
#46 Lane Zablocki: Zablocki is injured, but when he heads back to the Victoria Royals of the WHL, the 6,’ 190-pound checking dynamo will have to have a major season in Major Junior to earn a contract with the Red Wings.
#53 Jordan Topping*: Topping has displayed nothing but poise and good orm as a checking center turning pro at 21 years of age. The 6’1,” 185-pound graduate of the Tri-City Americans is a responsible worker bee.
#56 Dominik Shine*: The Red Wings and Griffins are hoping that the 5’11,” 175-pound Shine can find his form and score regularly at the AHL level after an up-and-down rookie campaign.
#57 Turner Elson*: Elson was brought back for a second year with Grand Rapids after displaying solid form, and the 26-year-old 6,’ 195-pound center will have to continue to average a point per game or thereabouts.
#61 Bryan Moore*: The 24-year-old with the wild beard was signed to help the Toledo Walleye after a nearly-point-per-game season with the Allen Americans, and the 5’11,” 200-pound Moore is a gritty little bugger.
#77 Matthew Ford*: The Grand Rapids Griffins’ captain comes back for a second year wearing the “C” under new coach Ben Simon, and the 6’1,” 210-pound Ford is a versatile player in that he can play on any line, play on the PP or PK, and score 20 goals on a consistent basis.
#81 Trevor Yates*: Yates was brought in to fortify the Griffins’ lineup, and the 6’2,” 203-pound graduate of Cornell will do just that as he has displayed a tremendous work ethic over the course of the prospect tournament and main camp.
#85 Luke Kirwan**: Kirwan is a QMJHL graduate and left wing who may land a spot on the Walleye despite inconsistent point totals in the Q. At 6’2″ and 220 pounds, he certainly brings meat to the table, physically speaking.
#32 Brian Lashoff: Lashoff took his first spin with a practice group after suffering an undisclosed injury prior to training camp, and the 6’3,” 219-pound defenseman has limited upside in the NHL due to his skating, but at the AHL level, he’s a capable top-four guy. He wears an “A” in Grand Rapids and could be a captain someday. At 28, there is still room for growth for Lashoff.
#25 Mike Green: Green remains iffy for contact, so he’s skating with the “other guys” before getting into an exhibition game later in the exhibition campaign. The 33-year-old Green looks much more comfortable after having his neck surgically repaired, and we forget that the 6’1,” 207-pound Green can be a fairly solid 2-way defenseman when fully healthy (in addition to being an offensive force on a team starved for O-ffense from D-fense).
#62 Trevor Hamilton*: Hamilton will probably begin his pro career with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye as the defenseman from Penn State was brought in to bolster the Griffins’ blueline, and the 6,’ 198-pound defenseman has looked steady and strong at 23 years of age.
#73 Marcus Crawford*: Crawford will also start the year in Toledo as a 21-year-old turning pro, and the 5’11,” 198-pound Saginaw Spirit graduate plays a game quite analogous to Hamilton–strong on the puck, good skating and steady.
#79 Brenden Kotyk**: Kotyk was brought in on a try-out as the 6’5,” 225-pound defenseman is a massive 27-year-old looking for a professional home after a career mostly spent in the ECHL. He could very well latch on with the Walleye…
#86 MacKenzie Stewart**: Stewart, also a big guy at 6’4″ and 215 pounds, is also looking for an ECHL home, and he brings fisticuffs to the equation.
#87 Matt Register*: Register, on the other hand, was the ECHL’s Defenseman of the Year last season, and the 6’2,” 194-pound Register may be 29, but he’s an elite point-producer at the ECHL level, and he will anchor the Walleye’s blueline.
#36 Kaden Fulcher: Fulcher turns pro at 20 years of age, a lanky 6’3″ and 187 pounds of athletic goaltender who plays a slightly slimmed-down version of Jonathan Quick’s reactive game. Utilizing strong fundamentals, Fulcher boots, blockers and sticks away pucks and snags pucks with his wide catch glove, and he’s a superb stickhandler as well. He needs to fill some holes, however, so he’ll begin his pro career under Pat Nagle’s tutelage.
#38 Pat Nagle: Nagle is no spring chicken at 31 years of age, but the 6’2,” 190-pound goaltender won 37 games last season, and the Walleye’s #1 back-stopper will be bolstered by the addition of a capable back-up.
*= Grand Rapids Griffins signing, **= Try-out.
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