The Detroit Red Wings’ prospects engaged in a spirited and sometimes chaotic morning skate ahead of tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks’ prospects (7 PM EDT on Fox Sports GO).
As stated in the morning skate interview post, the biggest news items of the day involve Kaden Fulcher starting tonight and the Wings icing a line of Taro Hirose, Joe Veleno and Filip Zadina up front.
It also appears that Moritz Seider will skate on the left side of Alec Regula; at the other end of the spectrum, it was good to see Jared McIsaac getting some work in after the Wings had practiced as McIsaac is still recovering from shoulder surgery.
As far as the substance of practice was concerned, Grand Rapids Griffins coach Ben Simon kept things simple: the players engaged in retrievals of dump-ins, first with a “wheel” around the boards and then with a reverse play facilitated by a drop pass; the players then worked through center-ice breakout passes up the wing, folding in net-front screens and secondary shots from the blueline when possible; retrieving dump-ins from the offensive zone and pumping pucks back to the point for screened shots was emphasized; the players then engaged in power play-vs-penalty-kill drills, with 5 men skating against 4, playing to the coach’s whistle, and practice wrapped up with work on individual skills, with the centers taking faceoffs, wingers taking shots and defensemen working with coaches as the goaltenders continually got tips from goaltending coaches Brian Mahoney-Wilson and Jeff Salajko.
The atmosphere was a little different as coach Simon brought in Todd Krygier to his staff, and while coach Simon is measured, and assistant coach Matt MacDonald is fairly quiet, Krygier is a “yeller” in a big way, so he made his presence known.
In all honesty, coach Simon wasn’t afraid to blow the whistle to stop play, either, and while he told the media that this was more of a morning skate practice than one that worked on systems play, the message regarding everything seemed to be unified: play with pace, control the puck, and keep things simple.
The Red Wings posted this Tweet while I was writing this, and I’m glad they did, because you’ll notice Taro Hirose speaking with Givani Smith. The pair spent a significant amount of time sharing tips and tricks, and it was encouraging to see Hirose step up as a leader:
Coach Simon looks ahead to tonight’s opening match against the Blackhawks in the 2019 NHL Prospect Tourney. #LGRW #DRWPT pic.twitter.com/SuJtpXTJvZ— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) September 6, 2019
In terms of individual player assessments, let’s keep it simple, and refer back to the backgrounder piece I wrote yesterday.
Keep in mind that players with a * next to their names are Grand Rapids Griffins-contracted players; players with **’s next to their names are free agent try-outs.
11 Filip Zadina RW: It was hard to figure out where Zadina’s head was at, despite speaking with him after practice. Possessing oodles of game-breaking offensive skill, is Zadina feeling a little more confident about himself after putting in a hard-fought, up-and-down rookie season in the AHL, and an OK stint with the Red Wings? Zadina didn’t want to look back, only forward, focusing on the summer he mostly spent in Detroit working out with the team and his determination to try and earn a spot on this year’s roster.
42 Mathieu Bizier C**: Bizier, a free agent invite who took off in the QMJHL after being traded to Gatineau, showed some pep, but he’s like the rest of the try-outs: he’s going to have to maximize his opportunities to play on the roster, should he be afforded the privilege of doing so.
46 Chase Pearson C: There were a few guys who looked “ready for action,” and the 6’2,” 197-pound Pearson looked ready to work on a secondary scoring line with Ryan Kuffner. Again, there are a lot of checking forwards in the Wings’ system, so Pearson has to step up and stand out from the pack.
48 Givani Smith LW: Smith looked like a player who was going to flex his scoring muscle if at all possible. The 6’2,” 206-pound power forward is more of an agitator than anything else, but he seems intent upon showing that there’s more to him than toughness.
56 Ryan Kuffner RW: Kuffner buzzed around the rink on Friday, looking a little impatient as he prepared for his first prospect tournament game. At 23, we’ll see whether his college pedigree as a prolific scorer can hold up in closer quarters.
62 Cody Morgan C**: Morgan’s speed stood out among the try-outs. 5’11” and 183 pounds, the Flint Firebirds forward posted prolific numbers after a mid-season trade last season.
67 Taro Hirose LW: Hirose was all business at the rink today, confident and composed on and off the ice. Hirose knows there are high expectations upon his shoulders as he prepares to begin his pro career in earnest, and the 5’10” mini mite appears willing to take them on.
75 Troy Loggins LW*: A high-scoring forward who stands at 5’9″ and 161 pounds, the Griffins-signed Northern Michigan University grad has to play his part on the team…
76 Jarid Lukosevicius RW*: As does the 5’10,” 194-pound University of Denver grad…
78 Gregor MacLeod C*: As does the Drummondville Voltigeurs signing who posted 84 points in 60 games this past season. Loggins, Lukosevicius and MacLeod will be expected to take the roles assigned them and thrive where they are placed.
79 Thomas Casey C**: Casey may be a bit more of a spare part at 5’8″ and 185 pounds, but the Charlottetown Islanders forward is a hard worker with lots of enthusiasm.
85 Elmer Soderblom LW: Soderblom, all 6’7″ of him, just didn’t look big on Friday morning. Perhaps that’s because he’s remarkably coordinated for a man of his size and 18-years. Instead, Soderblom seemed to be adjusting to the North American-sized ice.
88 Chad Yetman RW**: The 5’11,” 185-pound winger posted good numbers with Erie of the OHL, and what he can provide the Wings is yet to be determined…
89 Owen Robinson LW**: And you could say the same thing about Robinson, who posted 41 points in 61 games with the Sudbury Wolves.
90 Joe Veleno C: Veleno wants to be given the opportunity to make the team, and playing as the first-line center in the first game of the prospect tournament should afford the 6’1,” 191-pound center more than enough opportunity to display his fleet-footed skating and excellent playmaking ability. His skating really sets him apart from his teammates, because his skating skills are elite.
28 Gustav Lindstrom: Lindstrom will be playing on North American ice for the first time competitively since his World Junior Championship appearance in 2018, but the 6’2,” 187-pound defenseman looks ready to determine whether he’s able to keep up with a fast-paced game after a strong but unspectacular pro season with the SHL champ Frolunda Indians.
53 Moritz Seider: Moritz is a bit of a puzzle to me. There are moments when he looks absolutely lackadaisical out there, and then he gets the puck on that big toe curved blade of his, and he makes fine plays while keeping his head up at eye level. Seider doesn’t dazzle with dominance, but the subtle stuff impresses. We’ll see whether the 6’4″ defenseman is ready to come over to the U.S. over the course of the next couple of days.
63 Alec McCrea*: The 6’3,” 195-pound defenseman needs to play safe, steady and physical hockey to impress the Griffins’ coaches.
86 Charle-Edouard D’Astous*: The wild card on defense, the AHL-signed D’Astous absolutely dominated at the QMJHL level, but will his offense translate into professional-level polish? I’m very interested to see what the Wings have in the QMJHL veteran.
87 Marc-Olivier Duquette**: A 6’4,” 205-pound Drummondville Voltigeurs product, the more physically he can play, the better.
94 Alec Regula D: Regula has just recovered from a summer-long knee problem, and as I said in the preparatory piece, he’s looking to display offensive chops as he prepares for his final Major Junior season with London.
97 Gustav Berglund D: The 6’2,” 194-pound defenseman from Frolunda has only played with and against 18-year-olds, so it will be intriguing to see whether he can keep up with 18-to-24-year-olds. This tournament is about development for Berglund.
98 Owen Lalonde D**: Lalonde posted good numbers with Guelph this past season, and as a mid-sized defenseman, he’ll have to play steady hockey to earn a steady roster spot.
36 Kaden Fulcher: Fulcher looked more solid out on the ice than I’ve seen him play in a long time. He will start tonight, and the 6’3,” 182-pound goaltender will have to redeem himself after a very shaky performance at last year’s prospect tournament. Fulcher needs to reclaim his spot as one of the Wings’ brighter netminding prospects.
38 Filip Larsson: Larsson didn’t drop down into the butterfly, so the Wings appeared to be resting his groin, hip or knee, but he did take part in the skating drills that Salajko and Mahoney-Wilson provided. Here’s hoping that he gets healthy fast, because the prospect tournament is a great time to gauge where Larsson is at.
68 Sean Romeo**: Romeo is a free agent invite who’s got an ECHL job lined up, and the 24-year-old Ohio State grad looked very smooth and controlled out there. He’ll probably back up Fulcher tonight.
80 Anthony Popovich**: Popovich may have gotten the least work of the four goalies, and again, the Guelph Storm goalie has to work on getting his save percentage up from .900 to around .920 if he is to advance in his craft.