The Detroit Red Wings’ final day of training camp took place at Centre ICE Arena today, and the last day of camp is always a little strange.
Between players and coaches thinking about making the trek home and the organization’s recognition that an 8-games-in-11-nights exhibition schedule begins tomorrow against the Penguins (on FSD), not everyone’s head is completely focused on what’s going on at the rink, and that’s true regardless of whether you’re talking about players, coaches or executives.
At the same time, there are on-ice tasks to take care of, and the last practices for the “Red,” “White” and “non-game-day” groups were still spirited, plucky and preceded by long video sessions illustrating neutral zone play, regrouping 5-on-5 and, at the very end, working on power play and penalty-kill entries and exits.The players were “in the moment” enough to execute for the most part, though both the Red and White squads had to do some laps here and there.
According to coach Jeff Blashill, the Red Wings also experienced some “tweaks” to Andreas Athanasiou and Thomas Vanek, but the Wings hope they’re minor, and the team is mostly healthy heading back to Little Caesars Arena.
Overall, the team had a productive day at the rink, and then they scattered to the four winds, with Centre ICE Arena nearly empty at 2 PM.
As I said on Monday, the level of competition over the course of training camp has been fierce, and there are definitely “jobs on the line,” or at the very least, the appearance thereof. The battles for the puck were a little less vicious today, but they were no less contested, and the veterans are certainly playing as if the young kids are coming for their jobs, which is precisely what’s happening.
As coach Blashill stated, the team is about to begin the busiest portion of its season, a season where jobs will be won and lost, but there’s less wear and tear on the players due to the fact that the Wings will continue to ice “split squad” teams for the next week or so. In all honesty, it’s the media that has to grind the hardest over the next week-and-a-half, and I can certainly say that I wouldn’t be looking forward to the schedule that the beat writers have to face between now and the end of September.
In any case, there are player assessments to be made, and while the Red and White rosters are not perfect representations of who skated with whom, when you’re trying to keep track of everyone involved (whoops, hello, Martin Frk, you’ve been injured), you and I will find it a little easier to navigate through the “teams” this way. And so, here are my assessments:
Filip Zadina #11: Hearing that Zadina received a “tweak” on Wednesday is a little concerning, obviously, but he’s been given every opportunity to succeed playing on a line with Andreas Athanasiou and Thomas Vanek, and the 6,’ 196-pound graduate of the QMJHL is working harder and more efficiently in terms of his defensive play, his commitment to create offense and his overall work ethic. I still believe that Zadina would benefit the most from a little time in the AHL to truly rid his game of its Major Junior-related tendencies, as well as to give Zadina some confidence in the goal-scoring department, but the exhibition season will determine where Zadina starts his season.
Andreas Athanasiou #72: Athanasiou simply looks ready to step into a center’s role on one of the Wings’ top three lines, and that’s a big step forward for the 6’2,” 188-pound speed demon. The 24-year-old forward still needs to play a little more consistently on a shift-by-shift basis, but AA believes that consistent ice time begets production, and he’s going to get his share of ice time this upcoming season.
Thomas Vanek #26: We may see more out of Thomas Vanek than we assume. The last time the 6’2,” 214-pound Vanek was playing for the Red Wings, he didn’t earn top-line minutes, but maximized his scoring opportunities in a somewhat limited role; this time around, it looks like Vanek is going to be thrust into a higher-profile role as the 34-year-old attempts to soak up some of Henrik Zetterberg’s minutes. Here’s hoping that Vanek shows that when the level of competition heats up, so does his effort.
Evgeny Svechnikov #37: Svechnikov has skated on a line with Joe Veleno and Michael Rasmussen, and it’s a little ironic that he’s working hard to mesh with a couple of players that would love to steal Svechnikov’s spot on the roster. At 22 years of age, the 6’3,” 212-pound Svechnikov may or may not make the team depending on not only his own play, but also what Zadina and Rasmussen display, and that puts extra impetus on Svechnikov to maximize his “Russian Tyler Bertuzzi”-style game as a puck-grinding, scoring-chance-creating forechecking forward.
Joe Veleno #90: Veleno has done everything he possibly can to attempt to convince the Red Wings to play him on their roster as an 18-year-old, and he’s come damn close to succeeding. The 6’1,” 191-pound center is likely headed back to the Drummondville Voltigeurs, but his excellent two-way play and offensive spunk in terms of his playmaking abilities have earned him a “long look” during the exhibition season.
Michael Rasmussen #27: The Red Wings and Rasmussen might both feel a little less pressure for the 6’6,” 221-pound forward to perform if Rasmussen had the option of playing in the AHL, but per the NHL-CHL agreement, if Rasmussen doesn’t make the Wings’ roster, he has to go back to Tri-City of the WHL for their entire season, and Rasmussen really doesn’t want to do that. As a result, the power forward with a knack for scoring and tipping in goals may end up starting on the 4th line–which won’t hurt the 19-year-old’s development as he can excel in any role.
Luke Witkowski #28: Witkowski may end up slotting into the Wings’ lineup as the 7th defenseman given the team’s abundance of forwards. At 6’2″ and 210 pounds of instigating force, Witkowski provides an element to the team that it does not possess without Witkowski’s fisticuffs, and the 28-year-old’s grit and jam do belie a solid-enough skill set that he is not a detriment to his team.
Luke Glendening #41: Glendening is likely to start the season as the Wings’ fourth-line center, but he may have some new linemates in Rasmussen and another forward who’s angling for a roster spot in Dominic Turgeon. The 5’11,” 194-pound Glendening remains essential to the Wings’ penalty-kill, but he’s a better player when he’s not utilized as a shut-down center.
Chris Terry #15: The AHL scorer will probably spend the year in Grand Rapids, possibly earning a call-up of the Eric Tangradi or Ben Street variety as the 5’10,” 197-pound Terry hasn’t looked out of place among more seasoned NHL’ers.
David Pope #58: Skating with the “extras,” Pope is bound for the AHL and needs to get his sea legs under him as the 24-year-old attempts to jump the professional learning curve. The goal-scoring 6’3,” 198-pound winger will try to make the jump from NCAA hockey to the AHL looking to play a simpler, more urgent game.
Christoffer Ehn #70: Ehn will also begin his AHL career this fall, and the 6’2,” 193-pound center is a speedy checking forward who comes from a tremendous professional organization in the SHL’s Frolunda Indians. The Griffins’ roster is fairly stacked, but Ehn should not have much trouble establishing himself as a checking-line dynamo.
Axel Holmstrom #49: Ideally, Holmstrom finds his form alongside Ehn. The 22-year-old Holmstrom at least appears to be in the process of regaining the lost half-to-full step of skating speed robbed by recurrent knee injuries, and the 6’1,” 219-pound Holmstrom has good skills. Is he a complementary winger, or is he something more?
Libor Sulak #47: Sulak stands a lanky, bowlegged-skating 6’2″ and 207 pounds, and the 24-year-old defenseman looks just intimidated enough by the North American game’s pace and flow that he’ll probably start the year in the AHL. Sulak, like Filip Hronek, is more apt to skate the puck up the ice himself than pass it to his teammates, but the excellent three-direction skater (forward, backward and laterally) has good vision and poise as well, so he should round into a top-level prospect over the course of his rookie North American Pro year.
Joe Hicketts #2: If the Wings were to go with a #6/7 defenseman, Hicketts would be their guy, but it appears that the 5’8,” 180-pound defenseman will have to wait another couple of months before a spot on the Wings’ blueline opens up as Detroit seems to be leaning toward playing Dennis Cholowski or Filip Hronek with a big club blueline starved for offense. Hicketts is faster this year as he worked with a power skating coach, and he remains no less bombastic in terms of his ability to generate big hits.
Dennis Cholowski #21: The 6’1,” 195-pound defenseman plays a simpler, steadier and safer game than Filip Hronek, utilizing his vision and skating to send seeing-eye passes up the ice or utilizing his stickhandling ability to shake an opposing forechecker before skating the puck up ice himself, and Cholowski’s skating, vision and conditioning have the Wings reconsidering what appeared to be a slam-dunk decision to give Filip Hronek the #6 spot on defense.
Filip Hronek #24: Remains the clubhouse favorite to earn that spot on the blueline, however, despite and perhaps because of the 6,’ 170-pound defenseman’s tendency to make dangerous and daring dashes into the play to deliver the puck to his forwards via self-started rushes. Hronek is a fantastic skater and has oodles of self-confidence, which helps him defy the odds and defy the danger created by his darting into the rush at almost every opportunity.
Dylan McIlrath #4: At the other end of the danger spectrum, the massive 6’5,” 236-pound defenseman is a heavyweight defender in more ways than one, offering serious checking, hitting and occasionally fighting as a prime-time AHL defender. His skating holds him back from NHL duty, however.
Jake Chelios #84: Something of a wild card signing, the 27-year-old is a 6’2,” 185-pound defenseman whose offensive abilities are fairly good, but Chelios mostly plays a simple, steady game, and at the AHL level, at least, Chelios is a good second-pair defenseman. We’ll have to find out whether he’s got any NHL upside over the course of a season played in the “A.”
Jimmy Howard #35: Howard has his good days in practice and has his bad days in practice, but the 6’1,” 218-pound Howard does a solid job of stopping the puck when it is dropped in playing situations, and so the 34-year-old goaltender is the Red Wings’ starter.
Harri Sateri #31: Sateri is an odd duck in terms of his netminding style, but the 6,’ 207-pound KHL graduate makes things work playing a somewhat dashing, dangerous “reflex” butterfly style. Sateri will probably start the majority of the games for the Grand Rapids Griffins this season.
Justin Abdelkader #8: Abdelkader was in a bad mood on Tuesday, and Abdelkader’s bad mood benefited the 6’2,” 214-pound forward as he crashed, banged, mucked and ground out loose pucks in the battle drills, and did a fine job of tipping pucks when he got some power play duty. I hope we see a more consistent Abdelkader stepping up to fill that big “A” on his jersey this season.
Tyler Bertuzzi #59: A little more comfortable in his own skin and comfortable in a game that makes things particularly uncomfortable for opponents, the 6’1,” 190-pound Bertuzzi is a buzz bomb of a 23-year-old forward, forechecking excellently due to an underrated level of skating and oodles of will and determination. Bertuzzi should post more points playing with Larkin and Mantha.
Dylan Larkin #71: Larkin has been holding back some of his temper over the course of training camp, but the 6’1,” 198-pound Larkin has looked almost starving to get at the rigors of real competition as he grinds on his teammates. The 22-year-old forward is an elite playmaker and very good goal-scorer whose skating, vision and skill are all superb, as is his work ethic.
Anthony Mantha #39: The 6’5,” 225-pound Mantha will have to replicate his training camp performance to hit 30 goals this season, and that’s because the 24-year-old forward has done a great job of not only scoring and tipping in goals, but he’s also displayed a greater competitive streak and more willingness to focus on attention-to-detail plays. Somewhat relieved that he doesn’t have to be the net-front guy with Tyler Bertuzzi on his wing, here’s hoping that Mantha’s sniper instincts are as good as they’ve appeared to be over the past couple of seasons.
Gustav Nyquist #14: Nyquist has also looked more determined, and the 5’11,” 184-pound waterbug has done a solid job of attacking the net, holding onto pucks along the side boards and working down low to facilitate offense as he skates alongside Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm. There’s an urgency to his game, stated and backed up on the ice.
Frans Nielsen #51: Nielsen has also stated that he feels he needs to step up, and while he’s 34, the 6’1,” 188-pound center has looked more determined as he attempts to both generate offense for his own team and shut down the opposition. It’s going to be interesting to see whether Nielsen can deny Father Time while displaying his most consistent form.
Darren Helm #43: Helm won’t be getting any faster at 31 and won’t bring more strength to the mix at 6′ and 196 pounds, but he has promised, as his linemates have, to be more consistent and determined on the ice, and thus far, Helm has looked the part in training camp. He suits Nielsen’s wing well as Helm possesses smart two-way skills.
Jussi Jokinen #20**: Jokinen has at least kept up with young linemates and has sometimes displayed the tremendous hands that he possesses. The question remains whether the 35-year-old pro try-out is better than Rasmussen or Zadina at scoring and scoring in a 3rd or 4th-line role, and whether the Wings ultimately decide that Jokinen is the best alternative because he is the most consistent player. The exhibition season will determine his fate.
Dominic Turgeon #23: Turgeon will probably start the season in the AHL, where the 22-year-old checking dynamo also plays a two-way game, and I am very curious to find out whether the 6’2,” 200-pound center can replicate his AHL offense at the NHL level. He certainly adores winning battles for the puck.
Givani Smith #48: Smith has done a good job of letting the Red Wings know that he wants to be their first call-up, and the 6’2,” 206-pound winger may be only 20 years of age, but his ability to agitate and instigate by harassing, haranguing and otherwise annoying his opponents offers an intriguing package for the short and long term.
Wade Megan #22: Megan has kept up when he’s skated with the red or white teams, and the 6’1,” 194-pound AHL scorer hopes to earn an early call-up alongside Chris Terry.
Matt Puempel #54: I’m not quite sure what the Red Wings have in the 28-year-old Puempel, and neither do the Red Wings. The 6’1,” 205-pound winger has scored 20+ goals here and there in the AHL, and the Red Wings re-signed Puempel hoping that he’s still got that offensive ability.
Niklas Kronwall #55: One cannot deny Niklas Kronwall’s levels of effort or determination, so the 37-year-old 6,’ 194-pound defenseman will continue to play, and hopefully he will continue to play with a little less pressure on Kronwall to serve as the team’s shut-down guy.
Vili Saarijarvi: The 5’10,” 182-pound defenseman will head to Grand Rapids hoping to become next year’s Filip Hronek. The 21-year-old defenseman still needs to establish himself at the professional level, but the hurried but never rushed defenseman possesses the skating, passing, shooting and playmaking skills necessary to be a top-four defenseman once he gets his pro legs under him.
Danny DeKeyser #65: I am hoping and crossing my fingers regarding DeKeyser, who has at least looked a lot like his younger self during training camp, using his tremendous stick skills to make up for the fact that the 28-year-old is not very strong at 6’3″ and 192 lanky pounds (on a good day). DeKeyser is at his best when he plays a simpler, safer game, and he has looked simple and safe over the course of five days of training camp.
Nick Jensen #3: Thankfully for Jensen, the 28-year-old defenseman always believes that his job is in jeopardy, so the 6,’ 194-pound defenseman works his butt off to maximize his skating abilities and use his skating to power a defensive machine. The problem is that his job really is on the line this time around.
Jonathan Ericsson #52: Ericsson has been fine but not great, and that’s to be expected as the 34-year-old defenseman plodded his way through training camp as only the 6’5,” 220-pound Ericsson could. Ericsson was competitive and urgent, but looked like he was saving some of his competitive juices for the exhibition season, too.
Trevor Daley #83: The 35-year-old Daley still looks speedy and ready to win battles for the puck at 5’11” and 195 pounds, and Daley’s underrated offensive skills should be more evident this season because he seems to be more comfortable as a Red Wing.
Jonathan Bernier #45: Bernier was relatively steady in the net today, and the 6,’ 184-pound netminder did display some holes from time to time, but the streaky netminder was mostly solid as a classical butterfly netminder who hopes to push Howard to a 25-to-35-start season this year.
Patrik Rybar #34: Rybar simply makes saves and makes making saves look easy. The 6’3,” 190-pound Slovak has been excellent despite transitioning to North American rinks and faster play, and he’s just calm, calm, calm as he boots or blockers pucks away and uses his catch glove to gobble up what’s left. Rybar does need to work on his stickhandling…
The other guys:
#17 Colin Campbell*: Campbell will get a chance to play on the PK during the exhibition season, and that’s where the Griffins-signed 6’1,” 194-pound winger does his best work. The 27-year-old is still angling for an NHL contract somewhere.
#42 Martin Frk: Frk has missed almost all of training camp with an injury, and that’s bad news for the 6’1,” 205-pound Frk. The 25-year-old forward possesses an absolutely tremendous shot, but there’s been no indication as to whether he’s found its range or accuracy, and Frk has people angling for his job.
#44 Dylan Sadowy: Only 22, Sadowy still needs to establish himself as a pro among a crowded prospect field. A goal-scorer at heart, the 6,’ 206-pound forward must produce in Grand Rapids to stick around.
#46 Lane Zablocki: Zablocki spent the final day of the Red Wings’ training camp skating alone, rehabbing an injury, and the 6,’ 190-pound Zablocki will soon head to the WHL’s Victoria Royals, hoping to differentiate himself from a fair number of checking forwards playing in their Major Junior contract years.
#53 Jordan Topping*: The Griffins-signed center has looked very good as a checking-line forward with poise and polish, and the 6’1,” 185-pound Tri-City Americans alumnus plays a simple but effective checking game.
#56 Dominik Shine*: Another Griffins-contracted player, Shine hopes to become a 20+ goal-scorer at the AHL level, and the 5’11,” 175-pound forward is poised to do just that on a revamped Griffins team.
#57 Turner Elson*: Elson plays as a 2nd line center in Grand Rapids, and the 6,’ 195-pound forward will probably post a point per game again as the 26-year-old looks to mentor the Griffins’ forward prospects.
#61 Bryan Moore*: The 24-year-old Moore stands at 5’11” and 200 pounds, with a wily, wild beard, and Moore is a point-per-game player at the ECHL level, so it is with the Toledo Walleye that he will start.
#77 Matthew Ford: The Grand Rapids Griffins’ captain is 34 but does a fine job of playing on any of the Griffins’ four lines, power play, PK and at even strength while scoring nearly 20 goals per season, and that kind of versatility has afforded Ford a long pro career.
#81 Trevor Yates*: A Griffins rookie, the 6’2,” 203-pound Yates is a 24-year-old graduate of Cornell, and he’s an excellent checking center who will vie for a spot with the Griffins out of camp.
#85 Luke Kirwan**: I’m not quite sure where the 6’2,” 220-pound forward fits, because the QMJHL graduate was very inconsistent in the Q, but the Walleye may be looking for another determined worker bee.
#88 Carter Camper*: A Griffins signing, the 30-year-old Camper is only 5’9″ and 176 pounds, but he’s kept up with the Red Wings’ big teams, and the right-shooting forward posts a point-per-game at the AHL level.
#32 Brian Lashoff: Lashoff practiced with the “third group” for the second time since coming off an injury, and the 6’3,” 219-pound defenseman wears an “A” in Grand Rapids and is a quiet leader on the AHL blueline.
#25 Mike Green: Green skated with the big boys today, and the 33-year-old looked a little tenative to start. The 6’1,” 207-pound Green needs to translate his increased level of physical confidence due to his “fixed” neck into a stronger offensive season for a Red Wings team that really needs #25 to step up and lead its offense.
#62 Trevor Hamilton*: Hamilton played very well during the prospect tournament, and the 23-year-old defenseman will probably start his pro carer with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye. 6′ and 198 pounds, Hamilton is compact but effective.
#73 Marcus Crawford*: Crawford is built like Hamilton at 5’11” and 198 pounds, and the Saginaw Spirit alum also plays a steady game.
#79 Brenden Kotyk**: I’m going to be interested to find out whether Kotyk makes the Walleye out of camp. The 6’5,” 225-pound right-shooting defenseman has played the vast majority of his career in the ECHL, but he’s kept up with the AHL’ers…
#86 MacKenzie Stewart: And the same is true for Stewart, an equally big 6’4″ and 215 pounds of fight-ready experience.
#87 Matt Register. Another big guy with a very different set of skills, the 6’2,” 194-pound Register is the ECHL’s reigning Defenseman of the Year, and he’s likely the Walleye’s #1 defenseman going into this season.
#36 Kaden Fulcher: The Red Wings prospect and try-out turned pro will head to the ECHL to begin his playing career under the watchful eye of Pat Nagle, and the 6’3,” 187-pound Fulcher has oodles of potential as an athletic but schooled goaltender who is able to both play a Jonathan Quick-style reflex game and can use modern fundamentals to seal the post down low. Fulcher still needs to work on his glove and upper chest, but he’s going to have a great mentor.
#38 Pat Nagle: Nagle, a 31-year-old goaltender, won 37 games with the Walleye last season, and the 6’2,” 190-pound netminder plays a spare, simple game that will both benefit the Walleye and help Fulcher achieve his goals.
*= Grand Rapids Griffins signing, **= Try-out.
That’s it for my training camp coverage. I hope it has been of use to you.
I’m still about $500 away from being able to break even on the hotel for Traverse City, so if you’re willing to lend a hand, https://paypal.me/TheMalikReport is the place to go. Thank you for your readership and time.