The Detroit Red Wings’ prospects took to the ice at Centre ICE Arena in Traverse City, MI this morning for an hour-long skate ahead of tonight’s game opposite the Dallas Stars.
At present, it appears that Wings prospects’ coach (and Grand Rapids Griffins bench boss) Ben Simon will be starting 24-year-old Victor Brattstrom in the net, as Brattstrom received his own net for most of the morning skate, and he was the first goaltender off the ice.
It also appeared that the Red Wings were going to ice a power play unit of Joe Veleno, Chase Pearson and Lucas Raymond up front, and Jonatan Berggren and Jared McIsaac on defense. Expect that quintet to receive a significant amount of ice time with the man advantage, and Veleno, Pearson and Raymond to possibly play together on the first line.
The emphasis for this morning’s skate was, for lack of a better term, getting up to speed with in-game situations. Coaches Simon, Todd Krygier and Matt MacDonald worked very hard to establish good habits in terms of forechecking, power play entries (with net-front presence a big emphasis) and puck retrievals, penalty-killing, breakouts, and quick neutral zone transitions.
The Red Wings don’t screw around when it comes to the pace of their game, and this year’s roster seems to have the foot speed and pace of play to keep up with their coaches’ demands.
There was some rust that had to be worked off for everyone on the ice this morning (and it was a full roster of healthy players; whether things remain that way depends upon how tonight, Saturday and Sunday’s games go), and there were hiccups here and there, but there was very little yelling on the part of the coaches…
And, when Brattstrom, Sebastian Cossa and Jan Bednar were working with goalie coach Brian Mahoney-Wilson and a new gentleman I have not yet been able to name, the goaltenders worked on rebound control, angles (particularly in Brattstrom’s case), puckhandling and attempting to nip little errors in the bud. For example, Mahoney-Wilson felt that Cossa’s blocker hand was wandering a little too freely, so the pair spent a good five minutes readjusting his blocker and stick position to ensure that he’s not giving up goals while reaching for the puck on his blocker side.
Again, the pace of play was quite brisk, so practice wrapped up in 45 minutes, with Lucas Raymond leading the stretches and issuing a “three star” selection (Jonatan Berggren got his “first star” selection, and Berggren took a lap as a result); the players were told to wear black coming to the game tonight, and, by 11 AM, only stragglers remained.
Stretch! pic.twitter.com/iVVOZn24eP— George Malik (@georgemalik) September 16, 2021
I was impressed by the fact that Griffins-contracted forward Cameron Butler and Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Mason Ward stayed out for an extra half-an-hour to work with Cossa and Bednar, patiently assisting the goaltending coaches as they focused on getting in as much one-on-one time as possible with the goalies. Butler and Ward didn’t need to be nearly missing their bus for the sake of being good teammates, but that’s what they did.
Anyway, I’m aware that most of you want some player assessments, and these are very, very early observations, but here we go:
#23 Lucas Raymond: Raymond both displayed all the “hands” that he’s famous for, and he was a little too cute in his first morning skate. The 5’10,” 183-pound winger skates superbly well, he’s possesses a good combination of skill and tenacity, he wins battles for pucks, and he makes getting up and down the ice look fairly easy. But Raymond was trying to score top-shelf goals and was delaying a bit in terms of shooting, and in North America, you’ve got to get that shot off more quickly. All of 19, Raymond has some lessons to learn, and we’ll see how quickly he masters them.
#46 Chase Pearson: It was only a morning skate, but Chase Pearson, “hockey hair flow” in tow, looked ready to battle for a spot on the Wings’ roster. The 24-year-old center had a fantastic season with the Grand Rapids Griffins last year, and this morning, he centered Veleno and Raymond, working hard to go to the front of the net and stay there on the power play, and winning one-on-one battles from the faceoff circle on out. He looked very capable, very calm, and very mature out there.
#51 Hayden Verbeek**: The 23-year-old, AHL-contracted center isn’t particularly big at 5’10” and wasn’t particularly consistent in terms of his level of play this morning. There were moments where I certainly saw the talent and work ethic available from the AHL veteran, and there were moments that he faded into the background. Verbeek has a lot to lose in terms of potentially ending up in the ECHL if he doesn’t have a solid tournament or training camp, so he’ll have to “bring it” on a consistent basis.
#52 Jonatan Berggren: Berggren’s first morning skate on North American ice was a bit puzzling, because he passed every time he got the puck on his stick. No massive man at 5’11” and 183 pounds, Berggren definitely has the skating skills and offensive chops to transition well from a point-per-game player in the SHL to a strong performer at the AHL level, but he’s got to be more demonstrative to do so.
He and Raymond spent the morning being a little too cute for comfort’s sake, and, in Berggren’s case, all those elegant passes mean very little if he can’t put the puck on net himself from time to time.
#56 Pasquale Zito: In a word, Pasquale Zito looked rusty out there, which was expected as the 18-year-old 2021 draft pick hasn’t played a competitive game in a year now. That being said, the 6,’ 174-pound center with the gangly skating stride is going to be measured upon his performances during games, and his ability to play an instigator’s role, and morning skates are not the time to stir the pot by pissing off your fellow teammates. Zito didn’t push any boundaries during Thursday’s morning skate, and that’s okay.
#58 Cameron Butler*: Butler’s size and strength are evident as the 19-year-old stands at 6’4″ and 203 pounds, and the Niagara IceDogs forward had fairly good hands and fairly good feet, but he didn’t stand out to the positive, nor toward the negative, in my first viewing.
#61 Davis Codd*: What I liked the most about “T-Bone” wasn’t that he was dominant as much as he was there during drills. Playing mostly as a penalty-killing forward, Codd would go to the front of the net and stay there, he would work hard in the corners, and he generally looked capable despite his 5’9,” 163-pound frame. The Brighton native and Belle Tire/Little Caesars minor program graduate can turn some heads during this tournament if he’s able to muscle his way onto the roster.
#62 Cooper Walker*: Another small player, Walker stands at 5’9″ and 157 pounds, and the Guelph Storm forward was quiet during his first morning skate.
#64 Luke Toporowski*: Toporowski is someone I’m not sure what to make out of. The 5’11,” 179-pound forward is speedy enough to get to where he needs to be, he’s got solid hands and the slightest bit of his father’s physical bite, and he posted a point-per-game in the USHL this past season, waiting for the WHL to start up during the pandemic, but he wore a white jersey during this morning’s skate, which indicated a bottom-six role and limited opportunities to impress for the free agent invite.
#74 Cross Hanas: Given how out-of-sorts Hanas seemed during the World Junior Summer Showcase in early August, it was good to see the 2019 draft pick look comfortable in his skin again. Hanas has the skating skills and the passing/shooting abilities to become an impact player, and when he focuses on moving those heavy feet, he’s speedy, so I believe that there is some upside for the Wings to end up signing a potential offensive contributor down the line if Hanas reestablishes himself as a scorer and point-per-game player at the WHL level this upcoming season. His campaign to earn a contract starts tonight, however.
#78 Patrick Curry**: Again, Curry is 25 years of age, and the graduate of Boston University is here to “mentor the kids” more than he is here to play games and try to impress the Grand Rapids Griffins. Curry is being counted on to step up and give the younger players a professional work ethic to emulate, and, during main camp and the exhibition season, he’s going to battle to earn a spot in Grand Rapids over Toledo.
#79 Kirill Tyutyayev**: An utter wild card, Tyutyayev looks bigger than his listed 5’9,” 146-pound listed size, which is great given how tiny he was when he was drafted…And he was speedy, smart with the puck, and finished his chances very, very well over the course of the Wings’ hour-long practice. Again, Detroit grabbed the 20-year-old on an AHL deal so that they didn’t lose his rights, and it’s going to be an uphill climb for Tyutyayev to learn the North American game, but if he pans out, there’s a high skill level and a high hockey IQ waiting to be tapped.
#90 Joe Veleno: I’m making the assumption that Veleno is the unofficial captain for the tournament, likely to wear an “A” on his sweater as the 21-year-old works on the first line of the tournament team and attempts to parlay strong play among his peers into more confidence and poise coming into the main camp. Veleno does have something to play for–an unlikely spot on the Wings’ roster, even if it is on the third or fourth line–and the more he dominates among his peers, the better.
#3 Jared McIsaac: It was just a morning skate’s worth of viewing, but McIsaac, having had both shoulders reconstructed at the tender age of 21, looked capable, smooth and composed. The 6’1,” 196-pound defenseman looks like he’s going to take the #1 spot on the blueline with no Seider at the tourney, and between his skating skills, his passing and shooting abilities, his vision and his ability to defend, McIsaac looks like he’s ready to send a positive message after battling through two injury-marred campaigns.
#44 Donovan Sebrango: I’m not quite sure where Sebrango fits in on a stacked Griffins blueline, but he’s got a lot to fight for after cracking the Grand Rapids lineup as a 19-year-old last season. The 6’1,” 190-pound defenseman plays the game with flair, confidently displaying a hard-nosed, stay-at-home game, and I’m expecting him to have a strong performance over the course of the tournament.
#47 Wyatt Newpower: Newpower, like Zito, has a reputation as something of a physical force, so the 6’3,” 194-pound defenseman who played for the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters last season didn’t press the envelope in terms of being physically intimidating among his peers today. That being said, the 23-year-old could end up in Toledo if he doesn’t play strongly.
#77 Oscar Plandowski: Plandowski earned our third and final “a little too cute” award this morning. The 18-year-old defenseman is the son of a professional skating coach, and that’s evident in watching his edge work and his ability to get up and down the ice in a hurry, to transition from forward to backward or lateral skating, and in his general positioning. He just got a little too fancy in terms of attempting to over-think situations with that big hockey brain of his, and the 2021 draft pick needs to show a little more simplicity in his game to truly shine out there.
#83 Mason Ward*: The 6’5,” 219-pound defenseman and free agent invite out of Brandon of the WHL spent most of his practice helping out his goaltenders, not working on honing his big, physical presence on the blueline. He’s got a slapper for sure, and he looks like someone whose big body can be used as a weapon.
#84 Alex Cotton: Cotton, like Hanas, is going to play this season as an “overager” in the WHL, and I’m hoping to see the kind of dominant offensive game that he’s displayed at the WHL level. The 6’2,” 183-pound Lethbridge Hurricanes defender needs to show that he can create offense at the tournament so that the Wings can be certain that his development is continuing smoothly, despite the fact that the team has two more years to sign the young defenseman.
#86 Adam Brubacher**: One more Griffins-contracted player, the 6’4,” 205-pound graduate of Rochester of the NCAA looked like a player who was ready to make the most of whatever minutes he’s going to be playing against younger players (as Brubacher is 25). The massive defenseman was sound physically, mobile, and very steady in a stay-at-home role, and he looked really comfortable out there among peers who are still mostly strangers.
#33 Sebastian Cossa: I don’t believe that Cossa is starting tonight as Victor Brattstrom was “off first,” and that’s okay as Cossa is going to get a long look of his own from the Wings’ brass over the course of training camp and the exhibition season. There’s a ton of hype regarding the 6’6,” 210-pound Edmonton Oil Kings netminder, and I could see why–he’s massive in size, he covers a TON of net, and it’s hard to beat him, though his wandering blocker hand and tendency to drop into the butterfly first and foremost can leave the top portion of the net available. Cossa is the Wings’ first legitimate goaltending prospect of an elite nature in a very long time, and he’ll get in a game or two yet.
#34 Victor Brattstrom: Brattstrom may be getting the nod tonight because he is 24, because he’s coming off a solid season with KooKoo of the Finnish Liiga, and because he’s expected to play well enough to back up Calvin Pickard in Grand Rapids this fall. The Wings still want to do damn well at this tournament, and if there are any nerves in Cossa or Bednar, they’re not going to hesitate to turn to the 6’5,” 198-pound Brattstrom to earn as many “W’s” as possible. Brattstrom looks a lot like Jonas Gustavsson to me–he’s a big goalie who blocks the puck as much as he stops it–but I am happy to report that he’s softened the edges of that massive butterfly over the course of the past couple of seasons. I thought that he looked very poised and calm, and perhaps that’s what coach Simon wants to lean upon.
#60 Jan Bednar: If Brattstrom is an AHL’er in the making, and Cossa is the elite prospect, Bednar, 19, is the fixer-upper of the trio. The 19-year-old played last season for Karlovy Vary of the Czech Extraliga and then the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL, and he possesses an intriguing mix of size (6’4″ and 196 pounds) and the ability to make the spectacular save look routine…But he also has a tendency to make the routine save look damn difficult, and that’s where Detroit’s goalie coaches are going to double down upon ensuring that Bednar sweats the small stuff in terms of technical details delivered to him over the course of the next week to two weeks. Bednar showed some more stability than was expected this morning, but it’s early yet.
*Free agent invite **Grand Rapids Griffins contract
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