The Detroit Red Wings’ prospects took part in an “hour-plus” practice on Friday, and while they won’t be playing tonight (due in no small part to the big football “Patriot Game” between Traverse City West and Traverse City Central this evening), the Wings’ prospects needed to regroup somewhat after losing control of the game during last night’s 5-4 win over Dallas.
As such, Grand Rapids Griffins coaches Ben Simon, Matt MacDonald, Todd Krygier and Mike Knuble were joined by two goaltending coaches (Brian Mahoney-Wilson and the as-yet-unnamed “new guy”) and both Daniel Cleary and Shawn Horcoff on the ice…And as the team skated in David’s Rink at Centre ICE Arena, a certain Steve Yzerman watched practice intently (with Pat Verbeek by his side).
I would describe Friday’s practice as something of a “corrective lens” placed upon a slightly near-sighted Red Wings team.
Coach Simon and his assistants were very vocal as the team engaged in a slate of drills meant to emphasize moving the puck up through the neutral zone while under pressure, controlling gaps between defensemen and opposition forwards while defending, battling in front of the net and along the boards, and skating, skating, and skating some more at high pace, especially when the players were beginning to fatigue.
After practice was over, and the chirping subsided (with the players being encouraged to be more vocal with each other, which was easier for some than others), Jonatan Berggren and Chase Pearson spoke with the media, and both players were remarkably forthcoming, and honest about their chances of making the Wings out of training camp:
Chase Pearson mentioned in his press conference that he’s essentially been in the Wings’ organization for six years now, and, at 24, he feels that he’s ready to make the next step, but both he and Berggren said that they’re willing to start in GR if necessary.— George Malik (@georgemalik) September 17, 2021
Team-wise, going into tomorrow’s game vs. St. Louis (7 PM EDT on DetroitRedWings.com), it’s worth mentioning that, as The Athletic’s Max Bultman reminded me, many of the teams that have taken part in the prospect tournament chose to hold summer development camps in August.
Between border issues due to COVID, as well as the fact that the prospect tournament coincided and training camp were both coming quickly as of mid-last-month, the Wings chose to emphasize as much development as competition over the course of the three games that they’re playing in the abbreviated tournament, and, in many ways, the Griffins’ coaches and Wings’ skill development gurus are being tasked with bringing more than a few players who had…Unusual…2020-2021 seasons up to speed for training camp.
So Friday’s practice may have been particularly pivotal in terms of the direction that the team takes, regardless of whether they win or lose tomorrow (again, vs. St. Louis, at 7 PM) or Sunday (vs. Columbus, at 6 PM), getting in as much skill development and skill refinement and peer-vs-peer play are essential as the team heads toward training camp, when coach Blashill and his staff won’t be as forgiving, and things will be moving at 100 miles an hour.
In terms of player assessments, the Red Wings more or less employed the lines that they utilized during last night’s game when lines were called for, and there wasn’t much in terms of a “tell” as to whether Sebastian Cossa or Jan Bednar would start on Saturday, because all three goaltenders (including Victor Brattstrom) received equal work in the nets.
#23 Lucas Raymond: We keep on hearing that Raymond is a passer, a Mitch Marner-style, playmaking winger, but the 5’10,” 183-pound Frolunda HC graduate has done nothing but snipe, snipe and snipe over the course of two practices and one game for the Red Wings thus far.
The thing that I found interesting about Raymond is that, in addition to lurking in dead zones, waiting for the puck, he’s not very vocal, and while that can be used to his advantage if he’s sneaking into an open spot on the ice, he also needs to let his teammates know where he is. If Raymond has a biggest flaw, it’s that he needs to get his jaw yapping and his stick smacking the ice, perhaps against his better instincts.
Overall, no, he’s not big, and yes, he needs to work on his strength, but his ability to make plays happen, usually working alongside his “Uber Driver” Joe Veleno and his “radar partner” Jonatan Berggren, is damn impressive, and he snipes, snipes and snipes some more. He can make underrated plays as well, but, thus far, it looks like Raymond is going to be penciled into the Wings’ long-term lineup as an every-tool player who focuses upon his elite goal-scoring abilities. At all of 19 years of age, Raymond does need some time at the AHL level to fully adjust to North American hockey, but his development is on a fast track.
#46 Chase Pearson: Pearson will probably go back to Grand Rapids for one more half-season’s worth of finishing school, which would be a disappointment to the 24-year-old center with the big, flowing locks and the impeccable work ethic. A power center of the checking variety, the 6’2,” 200-pound brick house of a gentleman has grown into his body and grown into his game, and he spent a good portion of Friday’s practice building upon the lessons he learned during Thursday’s game, skating with Kirill Tyutyayev and Cross Hanas, and then working on faceoffs when he had the time to do so.
I really like Pearson as a player and a person, and he’s going to be easy to root for as he competes for a checking-line role with the Red Wings. He will eventually make the NHL, I believe.
#51 Hayden Verbeek**: Verbeek, a Grand Rapids Griffins contract, looked a little underpowered despite his status as a 23-year-old AHL veteran, but in practice, he was skating his way to breakaway opportunities and sniping his way to displays of high-end skill. Verbeek projects as a smaller version of Pearson (he’s a 5’10,” 183-pound forward) with a little more speed and a little better hands, but thus far, he’s been a more than a little bit bipolar in terms of his up-and-down performance in practices vs. the one game he’s played in thus far.
#52 Jonatan Berggren: Of the Wings’ trio of top prospects, I might suggest that Berggren may earn a spot on the Wings’ roster over Veleno, simply because the 21-year-old has played in three professional seasons in Sweden, and because the optimistically-listed 5’11,” 183-pound forward is just such a sublime passer that he may squeeze his way onto the third line if somebody gets hurt during training camp or the exhibition season.
Berggren definitely needs to get stronger, and definitely needs to adjust to the North American rink, but he’s got professional polish to him, and he’s got a surprising amount of grit in one-on-one battles for the puck.
#56 Pasquale Zito: Zito looked a lot better in practice than he did during last night’s game, and, as I’ve been saying, this is to be expected to some extent for the 6,’ 174-pound 2021 draft pick. He’s all of 18, he didn’t play in a meaningful game during his draft year due to the pandemic stopping OHL play, and his job is to instigate and to piss people off, so Zito’s more-than-passable speed and fairly good finishing skills didn’t protect him from looking a in a little over his head in terms of the pace of play on Thursday night. He’ll adjust over time, and his reputation precedes him in terms of his ability to piss people off.
#58 Cameron Butler*: Butler, a free agent invite out of Niagara of the OHL, also hasn’t played in a meaningful game, save Thursday’s, in over a year, and he intrigues me perhaps most of all of the free agent invites because of the fact that he uses his 6’4,” 203-pound size and strength to crash, bang and check. He’s not perfect by any means–there are some glaring flaws in his game in terms of consistency and in terms of his ability to keep up with the level of play he faced last night–but he’s the kind of big power forward that plays like a big power forward, and, at 19, he can either make a big impression here, or he can go right back to Niagara, have a big season, and possibly be drafted by an NHL team.
#61 Davis Codd*: Codd also looked a lot better in practice on Friday than he did on Thursday. “T-Bone,” again, did not play in a meaningful game for the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit last season, and he’s listed at 5’10” and 180 pounds (very optimistically), but the most encouraging thing about him is that he’s fast enough to forecheck, and that the little guy bounces off people who try to check him. It’s fun to watch him play because his work ethic and enthusiasm are contagious, and, like Butler, he can go right back to Saginaw and play better and maybe get drafted.
#62 Cooper Walker*: Walker hasn’t impressed me as much thus far, but that, “He didn’t play last season” caveat holds as he’s from Guelph of the OHL. Listed faithfully at 6′ and 165 pounds, he gets bounced around a fair bit, and getting bumped and ground is different as opposed to bouncing off people who try to hit him. That being said, Walker has enough skill that the Wings chose to invite him, and, hopefully, we’ll see more out of the checking-line center on Saturday and Sunday.
#64 Luke Toporowski*: Toporowski isn’t big at 5’10” and 178 pounds, but the 20-year-old has posted point-per-game totals at the WHL level for the past couple of seasons. He’s not displayed as much of his high-level skill as I expected, but there are games to go here.
#74 Cross Hanas: Hanas, a 2020 draft pick, may stand at 6’1″ and 164 pounds, but he plays heavier than his weight, he skates much better than his stride would technically indicate, and he’s generally been a fine foil to Pearson and Tyutyayev as a passing and shooting winger on the Wings’ second line. I like his work ethic, I like his poise, and I think that he has a very good all-round skill set as a middle-six forward who can do everything passably to very well.
#78 Patrick Curry**: Curry spent a fair chunk of Friday’s practice working with Kirill Tyutyayev, and it was kind of cool to watch the 25-year-old future Griffin extend himself to help a younger, inexperienced player. Curry is a rock-solid defensive center who just plays the game at 110% of his effort and intensity 100% of the time, and he’s going to be a character player and checking line center who provides oodles of professionalism regardless of whether he ends up in Toledo or GR.
#79 Kirill Tyutyayev**: It’s worth mentioning that Tyutyayev wants to be here. The Griffins-contracted star of Thursday night’s game continued to display dekes, dangles and slithery skating on Friday, picking top-shelf shots to pluck goals away from each and every one of the Wings’ goaltenders. He’s very under-developed physically at 5’9″ and 146 pounds, and he’s going to need a good year or two in the AHL to sort himself out playing against much bigger and stronger men who put their dinner on the table for their families by playing hockey…
But his skill level cannot be denied, nor can his flair for playing an enjoyable game.
#90 Joe Veleno: Veleno, like Berggren, looks ready, but he may start in Grand Rapids anyway. The Red Wings probably don’t want the 5’1,” 191-pound center to sit in the press box, and the 21-year-old forward has come a long way in terms of his strength, consistency and overall competitiveness, developing into a fine two-way forward who projects to be a 2nd or 3rd liner with an added bonus of predatory offensive pizzazz, but he may need a wee bit more finishing in GR before he can muscle a roster spot away from someone on the Wings’ center-heavy lineup.
#3 Jared McIsaac: Comfort level, improved. I really like the 21-year-old’s upside as a Swiss Army Knife defenseman, someone who can be utilized in all situations and against all opponents; for the present moment, McIsaac very much so needs to get in a good, injury-free season in Grand Rapids after losing the better part of 2 of the last 3 seasons due to shoulder reconstruction surgeries. At 6’1″ and 195 pounds, he’s not huge by today’s standards, but he reminds me of Brad Stuart in a very efficient fashion, and I believe that he’s got NHL potential in his package. He just needs to get comfortable playing hockey again.
#44 Donovan Sebrango: Sebrango is wild and raw at 19 years of age, but he’s probably going to be able to work his game’s kinks out while playing in Grand Rapids this upcoming season. The 2020 draft pick battled his way into a Wings contract via a strong 2020-21 season in GR, and while there are some glaring faults in his game in terms of his consistency and his concentration, there’s no doubt that there are equal parts flourish and finish in his pounding defensive game, when it shows up.
#47 Wyatt Newpower: A 23-year-old free agent signing, the Wings plucked the 6’3,” 194-pound right-shooting defenseman away from the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters because they saw enough in Newpower to add to a burgeoning defensive core. Thus far, Newpower has been “safe and steady,” which is fine enough, but he’s supposed to be absolutely punishing physically, and perhaps it’s a little too early for him to really lean into people, but it’d be nice to see him step up and clobber somebody.
#77 Oscar Plandowski: A 2021 draft pick, the 18-year-old Plandowski skates superbly well (again, with a power skating coach on his maternal side), and his reach is useful and he gaps up well on a team that needs to work on its gap control, but he’s still 18, and at 6′ and 190 pounds, he could easily add another 20 pounds to his frame and not be overweight because he’s lanky. He’s displayed some hiccups because he lacks some experience at playing NHL-level hockey, but there’s a lot of potential in the smooth-skating defenseman.
#83 Mason Ward*: Another lanky guy in a very different stratosphere, Ward stands at 6’5″ and 195 pounds, and he needs to get into a game or two to show the Wings what the son of an NHL defenseman can do. Ward has been quiet for the most part, but there’s some physicality evident in his game, and the more physical he plays, the better.
#84 Alex Cotton: Again, Cotton has been a point-per-game player at the WHL level for several seasons now, and while he wasn’t exactly dominant during Thursday night’s game, there were flashes of elite offensive skill in the 6’2,” 190-pound defenseman’s game. He skates well, his head is up when he makes plays, and he anticipates the flow of play particularly well. He does need to work on his defensive game a bit, and that’s what this week is for.
#86 Adam Brubacher*: Brubacher is listed as a free agent invite–my bad here–but I’m anticipating that he’s going to earn an AHL or ECHL deal from the Red Wings or someone because the 6’5,” 205-pound defenseman who played for the Manitoba Moose last season is such a cement truck of a man. There’s nothing fancy in his stay-at-home game, but he crashes and bangs with authority, and he gets the job done superbly well as a 25-year-old with maturity to his game.
#33 Sebastian Cossa: I’m not even going to guess whether Cossa or Bednar play on Saturday or Sunday, because Friday wasn’t about a morning skate’s worth of extra work for the back-ups…
And, again, there are some holes in Cossa’s game that he needs to address, specifically where his blocker comes in and when he’s in the butterfly, at crossbar height, but he’s all of 18 and just under two months from being drafted 15th overall, and he’s got massive amounts of skill in that 6’6,” 203-pound frame. I believe that Cossa will eventually be an NHL goaltender, as long as he continues to work on himself. He did that quite regularly and with some enthusiasm on Friday, working with the Wings’ goaltending coaches to improve his stance and improve his overall game.
#34 Victor Brattstrom: Brattstrom was well-hydrated on Friday, which is to say that the 6’5,” 198-pound 24-year-old looked a lot more consistent than he did during Thursday night’s game. That yielded lots of big stops and elegant play from the polished professional netminder and graduate of KooKoo of the Finnish Liiga. He’s ready to push Calvin Pickard for starts in Grand Rapids.
#60 Jan Bednar: Bednar, on the other hand, is the real work in progress here. The 6’4,” 194-pound goaltender will head back to Acadie-Bathurst of the QMJHL to continue to play steadier, simpler and more efficient hockey instead of trying to focus on spectacular saves at the expense of the routine ones. At 19, he’s got room to grow.
*= Free agent invite **= Grand Rapids Griffins contract
In the fundraising department, I’m still about $500 short of my hotel bill, and my cell phone is dying an ugly death [Sprint makes me pay the sales tax and activation fee for a new phone, so I’m struggling with my ancient Samsung Galaxy 7, whose screen is peeling off the phone itself], so if you’re willing to lend a hand in exchange for this prospect tournament and main training camp coverage, you can use Paypal at https://paypal.me/TheMalikReport, Venmo at https://venmo.com/george-malik-2, Giftly by using my email, email@example.com, at https://www.giftly.com, and yes, you can contact me via email if you want to send me a paper check.