The Detroit Red Wings opened training camp on Thursday at Centre ICE Arena in Traverse City, skating three teams–Delvecchio, Lindsay and Howe–through their paces over the course of almost five hours’ worth of on-ice activities.
Today’s drills were somewhat simple in nature–after the goaltenders worked with goaltending coaches Jeff Salajko and Brian Mahoney-Wilson, practices began with sets of dump-and-retrieve drills, full-ice 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 rushes, some very brief glimpses of net-front drills and power play specialization.
In both game-like situations and away from those drills, coach Jeff Blashill was quick to make the “losing team” skate laps–or plain old have a team skate a lateral lap across the rink and back if he wasn’t happy with the pace with which a drill was executed.
Alex Tanguay, Doug Houda, new skills coach Dwayne Blais and player development coach Niklas Kronwall were all on the ice to assist Blashill, as were Grand Rapids Griffins coach Ben Simon, assistant coach Matt MacDonald, and Shawn Horcoff and Daniel Cleary made appearances to help out Team Lindsay, the first group on ice.
The Wings are icing 3 teams for training camp, but Team Lindsay is only 11 players strong (10 with T-Bone Codd absent due to injury), and it mostly consists of prospects and Griffins-contracted players. That being said, it was given a full hour’s worth of practice before ceding the ice to Team Delvecchio and then Team Howe.
The “bigger teams” have 24 and 26 players on their respective rosters, and they skate for almost two hours, engaging in much more “normal” training camp drills over the course of their ice time.
Starting with video, they’re brought out to engage in simple puck retrieval and breakout drills, and then things got a little more complicated from there, with heavy emphasis on the pace of play as players transitioned between offensive and defensive roles in drills that emphasized puck pursuit, breakouts, neutral zone play and layering in players as the drills progressed.
It would probably be unfair to issue letter grades for effort or intensity over the course of a first day, but I would suggest that nobody got an “A+” and nobody earned an “F,” either, as the players attempted to get their legs back under them in their first 100% NHL-tempo practice since April of this year.
Lines were kind of hard to suss out, but The Athletic’s Max Bultman did a really nice job of examining the Wings’ lines and pairings:
Forward lines today (keep in mind Vrana isn't here, and order is mine):— Max Bultman (@m_bultman) September 23, 2021
Red Wings defense pairs today (again, order mine)— Max Bultman (@m_bultman) September 23, 2021
In terms of player assessments, albeit brief ones, here’s what I witnessed on the first day of training camp, on a team-by-team basis:
#56 Pasquale Zito: The young Windsor Spitfires forward continues to improve in terms of his pace and urgency as he gets his legs back under him after a full season of not playing hockey. Zito’s not big at 6′ and 176 pounds, but the 18-year-old, selected in the 2021 draft, chugs toward the net with gusto and stays there, and he’s a good forechecker as well, adding a dash of chippy play to his game. He’s got a long way to develop, but the foundation of a good middle-six forward who agitates is there.
#58 Cameron Butler*: Butler continues to impress me the most among all of the Wings’ try-outs. That’s not to say that the 6’4,” 210-pound Niagara IceDogs alum will earn a contract–he probably won’t get that far–but the big 19-year-old is speedy for his size, he’s got a physical bite that displays itself from time to time, and he’s got a professional pace to his game. His shot and passing skills are good, and his skating is very good, and, overall, he just needs some time to actually play in the OHL and go back into the draft as a potential power forward down the line.
#61 T-Bone Codd*: Codd, all 5’10” and 175 pounds of him (if that), got knocked out of the prospect tournament with a hard hit in the Columbus game, and he hasn’t returned. That’s too bad, because “Davis” does a nice job of bouncing off of checks when he’s instigating them and he’s bouncing off of checks when he’s receiving them. Another OHL player, he didn’t play in a meaningful game for the Saginaw Spirit last season, so he’s another player who simply needs to earn more playing experience.
#62 Cooper Walker*: The same can be said for Walker, who shot up from 5’9″ to 6′ and from 157 pounds up to 174 over the course of his first draft-eligible year. The Guelph Storm forward got bumped around during the prospect tournament, but he’s fast and can carry the puck up the ice pretty well. More OHL experience necessary!
#63 Jon Martin**: A big fellow at 6’2″ and 215 pounds, the Grand Raipds Griffins-contracted forward comes to camp at 26, boasting about a 20-point range at the AHL level and around 80 penalty minutes per season. On the “Kids’ Team,” he looks like a man among boys, physically speaking, and that’s because he is one. The Wings don’t invite slouches to their camp, so he can skate up the ice well, but his role is that of a no-frills defensive forward, and he may play in the AHL, or the ECHL.
#64 Luke Toporowski*: Toporowski is a point-per-game player at the WHL level, but he found himself over his head in the prospect tournament. He’s a fast center at 5’11” and 181 pounds and he’s going into his overage season as a 20-year-old, so Toporowski needs to speed up his game at this level to ensure that he lands a professional contract down the line. He’s got the puck-on-his-stick speed to make things happen, but he hasn’t applied that headiness on a consistent basis.
#74 Cross Hanas: A 2020 draft pick, it must be a little disappointing for the 19-year-old to find himself on the “Kids’ Team” after a fairly good prospect tournament. Hanas, 6’1″ and 171 pounds, has posted near point-per-game totals at the WHL and USHL levels, and he simply needs another year or two of development to further his professional aspirations. He’s got the skill set in terms of skating, two-way offensive and defensive abilities, a good shot, good passing skills and especially work ethic to get the job done.
#78 Patrick Curry**: I didn’t see Curry on the ice with the kids, and that’s a bit of a concern as the 5’10,” 185-pound Griffins-contracted forward is one of those AHL-ECHL Bubble Boys. Curry had a good career at Boston College, he’s the definition of a heart-and-soul fourth-line forward, and he’s missing time due to an injury sustained during the second Wings prospect tournament game. He needs to get back to health so he can compete for a job on the Griffins’ roster.
#3 Jared McIsaac: McIsaac didn’t skate on Thursday, and that’s understandable as he has a concussion. The 6’1,” 192-pound defenseman projects, much like Donovan Sebrango, to be a Swiss Army Knife defenseman who can be utilized in any situation.
#49 Seth Barton: I didn’t catch a glimpse of Barton, either, on Thursday, and I’m very intrigued to see him. The Wings signed the 6’3,” 196-pound defenseman out of college at UMass-Lowell, and the 22-year-old projects as another useful mid-pair defenseman whose all-round game appealed enough to the Wings to earn him a contract after three years of college hockey.
#33 Sebastian Cossa: Cossa spent a lot of time working with the Red Wings’ goaltending coaches, and that’s exactly what the raw but talented 18-year-old needs to do. The massive 6’6,” 210-pound Cossa all but oozes potential as someone who dominated the WHL last year on the Edmonton Oil Kings, but there are definite technical flaws in his game, and he’s got to tighten up that 5-hole, his wandering blocker, and his tendency to give up top-shelf glove-side goals when he’s down in his butterfly. Mostly, he needs to get feedback from goalie coaches and then play in games, and this WHL season should provide him with much more experience when compared with his 19-game season in 20-21.
#11 Filip Zadina: Zadina skated on a line with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, and that line seemed to work very well together. Zadna is now 21 going on 22, and the 6,’ 197-pound winger was dominant with Ocelari Trinec of the Czech Extraliga this past season, and then he experienced ups and downs with the Red Wings over the course of 46 sophomore with the franchise.
We all know that Zadina possesses an elite shot that he likes to release from the bottom of the right faceoff circle, we all know that he skates excellently, we all know that he possesses a scorer’s touch and we all know that he’s a smart player who doesn’t take any shit physically. Whether he breaks out this season will depend upon who he plays with, and whether those 7 pounds of strength that he built up over the offseason translate into a sturdier, more difficult to check-off-the-puck player.
#22 Mitchell Stephens: Stephens stands at 5’11” and 190 pounds, but the 24-year-old skates hunched over, so, on a team that’s getting bigger and bigger, Stephens looked kind of small. That being said, he is very fast on his skates, quite tenacious in terms of battling for the puck, and, in doing everything fast, he’s a very useful fourth-line checking center. It’s going to be very hard for Joe Veleno or Chase Pearson to unseat Stephens as the Wings’ resident 4th line guy.
#23 Lucas Raymond: Raymond wasn’t necessarily supposed to skate today as he had a “lower-body injury,” but Raymond looked just fine out there among the big boys–if not very good, frankly. The 5’11,” 182-pund 2020 draft pick is all of 19, but he’s played for two seasons at the SHL level, and the right-shooting forward who glides up and down the ice just seems to have no intimidation factor at all.
Raymond sniped a few top-shelf goals and a couple more beautiful markers over the course of his team’s time on the ice, but he didn’t celebrate outlandishly; he just scored, went back to working on his line with Taro Hirose and Stephens, and, when another opportunity to score came up, bang bang, the puck was in the back of the net more often than not. That’s what Raymond does–he scores–and he’s probably going to begin his ascent toward the NHL level with the Grand Rapids Griffins this fall.
#25 Taro Hirose: Wearing a new number, the 5’10,” 162-pound Hirose gets lost in the shuffle because other, more prominent prospects have passed him by on the depth chart, so this is a pivotal seasons for the 25-year-old forward. No longer young by NHL standards, the passing maestro of a left winger needs to have a very good season in Grand Rapids to attempt to elbow his way back into the Wings’ good graces. He’s not going to get any bigger or stronger, but he can get smarter regarding his conduct in battles for the puck.
#37 Carter Rowney: The Red Wings signed the 32-year-old forward very late in the summer, and the 6’2,” 208-pound center played in the Ducks’ system last season. He could very well end up upending Givani Smith from the Wings’ fourth line if things turn out the way that the free agent signing hopes they do, and Rowney looked to be big, aggressive, and fast for his size on the first day of camp. I’m not sure whether his real “upside” is that of a checking forward in Detroit or a scoring forward in Grand Rapids.
#42 Kyle Criscuolo: The Red Wings brought back the 5’9,” 175-pound winger because the 29-year-old is a great foot soldier. Most likely headed for Grand Rapids, where he’s a reliable two-way forward, Criscuolo posted 19 points (11 goals and 8 assists) in only 29 games with Grand Rapids last season, and he’s enthusiastic about being back with the organization that gave him his first crack at the AHL and NHL. I’m not sure whether Criscuolo will be able to elbow his way onto the NHL roster, but he’s a valuable part of the organization as a speedy depth forward and a mentor for younger players.
#48 Givani Smith: It’s fish or cut bait time for Smith, and the 23-year-old stands at 6’2″ and 215 pounds, quite literally willing to fight for his spot on the roster. Out of options in terms of no longer being waiver-exempt, if Smith has a good preseason, but not such a good preseason that he nudges Rowney out of his spot–or he gets passed by Veleno, Pearson or the Swedish Radar Partners (Raymond and Berggren)–I wouldn’t be surprised if another team picks Givani up. He’s a heart-and-soul player who battles for pucks in the corners and down low, goes to the front of the net and stays there, and instigates and intimidates.
#50 Dominik Shine**: Shine, a 5’11,” 180-pound winger, was brought back to the Grand Rapids Griffins because he is, at the AHL level, another reliable two-way forward. The 28-year-old righty from Pinckney, MI has happily signed AHL contracts to give meaningful contributions to the Wings’ AHL arm, and between Shine, Criscuolo and Hayden Verbeek, the team has three undersized forwards who bring their hearts and a lunch-pail mentality to each and every game.
#51 Hayden Verbeek**: Speaking of Verbeek, the 5’10,” 187-pound forward took an AHL deal when his NHL deal ran out to remain with the Red Wings organization. The 23-year-old center isn’t big, but he’s strong for his size, and his AHL resume indicates that he’s probably going to center the Griffins’ third or fourth line as a hard-working center who can be relied upon in all situations. There are hints of more offense in his skill set, but he has yet to display them on a consistent basis at the pro level.
#57 Turner Elson**: Another Griffins-contracted forward, the 6,’ 191-pound Elson is another reliable two-way player at the AHL level, and, for Grand Rapids, the 29-year-old center has always displayed oodles of speed and the knack for scoring an integral goal from time to time. He may have NHL hands at times, especially as a passer, but he doesn’t have the toolbox.
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi: The thing I like least about the Bertuzzi Situation is that Bertuzzi is leveraging his immense popularity in the locker room into not being held culpable for not doing his job as a teammate.
Otherwise, Bertuzzi is an integral player for the Red Wings as a heart-and-soul forward who goes to the net, instigates successfully, wins battles for the puck on the forecheck, skates well, pounds home goals and is easy to root for. The 6’1,” 197-pound winger is now 26 and was re-signed to a two-year contract at $4.75 million per season because he makes the players around him better and helps drive play.
He won’t be able to do that 9 times this season because he’s afraid of a shot, and that will give other players opportunities to steal his job.
#71 Dylan Larkin, “C”: Larkin found himself in a no-win situation discussing his pal’s decision to the media, and he was particularly prickly during his press conference today as a result. Larkin is heading into his prime as a 25-year-old, but the 6’1,” 196-pound center has a lot to prove, too, coming off a rough season points-wise.
Larkin may be changing things up in more ways than one as he was using a CCM helmet and a CCM stick despite being a long-time Warrior Hockey user, and he’s just on the edge of recovery from that nasty check from Jamie Benn to his neck that almost required surgery…
But you know Larkin’s story by now. Elite skater. Excellent passer. Fine shooter. Good two-way play. Wins draws fairly regularly. Plays hurt. Wears the “C” because he’s earned it and tries to earn it every night. He’s the Wings’ heart and soul, and he’s going to try to reassert himself this season as a near-point-per-game offensive force.
#89 Sam Gagner: Gagner has become more of a defensive forward as he’s gotten up to the ripe old age of 32, but the 5’11,” 197-pound center definitely still has his offensive instincts, and he’ll still score the elite goal or dish out a slick assist from time to time. I think that the Red Wings are lucky to have him as a mentor and role model for younger players as much as a defensively-minded forward who works hard and plays consistently despite limited minutes.
#2 Nick Leddy: Today was the first time I’ve really watched the 6,’ 205-pound defenseman skate for the Wings, and the 30-year-old skated on a defensive pairing with Moritz Seider–which seemed seamless at times. Leddy is, more than anything, a defenseman who plays with pace, in terms of both his skating and his passing and shooting. His vision of the ice is great, his passing and shooting skills are good, but his skating skills allow him to range from 30-45 points over the course of a full season, and put up 31 points (2 goals and 29 assists) over the course of only 51 games last year. Leddy is going to be a big upgrade from what the Wings possessed or did not possess last season, and if he can mentor Seider along, that’s a huge bonus for Detroit.
#28 Gustav Lindstrom: Lindstrom may have to take a step backward to take a step forward. The 6’2,” 183-pound Lindstrom isn’t particularly heavy for his size, and he’s still working on winning that extra physical battle, so the 22-year-old may have to head back to Grand Rapids for one final AHL campaign before graduating to the Red Wings on a full-time basis. Lindstrom also defers to his teammates a little too much in terms of outlet passes, so the more that he can take the initiative himself and make plays on his own, the better, because he possesses a well-rounded skill set and real top-4 NHL potential.
#32 Brian Lashoff: The Grand Rapids Griffins’ captain is now 31 and serves as a depth defenseman and emergency call-up at the NHL level, but the 6’3,” 215-pound defenseman is Mr. Everything in Grand Rapids, where he serves as the top-pair defenseman, he provides steady, stay-at-home play, works on special teams and very occasionally doffs gloves. He’s an inspirational figure because he’s so very hard-working and so very down-to-earth, and he’s mentored more than a few of the Red Wings’ regulars in some way, shape or form.
#44 Donovan Sebrango: Sebrango brought the same level of fearlessness and panache to training camp that he did to the prospect tournament. The 6’1,” 194-pound defenseman is all of 19 years of age, but he’s full of self-assuredness and confidence without being full of himself, and when you put that much courage into the heart of a shot-blocking, pass-poke-checking, hard-hitting stay-at-home defenseman, you get yourself an exciting player who will likely stand as a stalwart on the Wings’ second or third defensive pairing one day.
#47 Wyatt Newpower: The Wings signed the 23-year-old Newpower as a free agent because the big 6’3,” 207-pound defenseman was impressive with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. Newpower is certainly big, heavy and rangy, but the defenseman hasn’t displayed the same level of confidence or aplomb while wearing a red jersey. Yet. I understand why the Wings signed him, but I want to see more from him in terms of steady stay-at-home play and a physical snarl.
#53 Moritz Seider: One of the “Jewels in the Crown,” at all of 20, the 6’4,” 197-pound Seider just fit in absolutely seamlessly with Nick Leddy on the first day of camp, and that’s what you’re expecting from the organization’s top prospect. Seider skates superbly in all three directions (forward, backward and laterally), his transitions between directions of play are excellent, he carries the puck as much as he astutely passes it, he’s got a heavy shot and he’s got some snarl to him. It remains to be seen whether Seider starts on the Wings’ roster, but he’ll be given a long leash during training camp and the exhibition season with which to prove himself to be NHL-ready.
#77 Oscar Plandowski: The 18-year-old, 2021 draft pick out of the QMJHL’s Charlottetown Islanders has impressed me in two aspects of his game: skating and pace of play. The 6,’ 182-pound Plandowski isn’t necessarily an elite prospect, but boy, does he skate like one. Like Seider, his three-directional skating is excellent, he gaps up on his checking assignments well, and his passing, playmaking and shooting skills are all good. He’s just pretty raw at all of 18, and he’s got a lot of potential, so it would be good to see him continue to develop for another season or three with his QMJHL team.
#82 Jordan Oesterle: Oesterle didn’t stand out on the first day, which is okay, because he’s a #5-6-7 defenseman who is looking to make his hometown team (he’s from Dearborn Heights) by hook or by crook. The 29-year-old plays a simple, no-frills game, but he’s crossed the 20-point mark with Arizona once, and if there is point-every-other-other-game offense in Oesterle that can be harnessed at the NHL level, the Wings need that. He, like so many of the Red Wings’ other free agent acquisitions, also skates very, very well.
#29 Thomas Greiss: Greiss came out on the ice with a set of new pads, a new glove, and an old blocker, which is generally how goaltenders tend to break in gear…And he looked good. The 35-year-old goaltender isn’t gigantic by today’s NHL standards at 6’2,” but he’s a thick one at 219 pounds, and Greiss does a fine job of playing a big man’s butterfly style with enough speed to smoothly and easily stop pucks with a smart glove (he’s gone back to the one-piece cuff), sneaky blocker, those quick toes of his and his intelligent stick, and when Greiss goes down, he remains upright, maximizing his chest protector’s coverage. No complaints on the first day for a veteran netminder.
#31 Calvin Pickard: My issue with the 6’1,” 210-pound Pickard is that he’s so smooth 80% of the time that you’re utterly shocked the 5% of the time that he gives up weak goals. The 29-year-old Pickard is an utterly seamless netminder most of the time, a scrambly fellow about 15% of the time, and prone to a weak 5-hole or blocker side goal in rare instances. It’s that tendency to let up a bad goal at the wrong time that’s kept him in the AHL, and he’s going to be pushed really hard by Victor Brattstrom and the next goalie on my list.
#36 Kaden Fulcher: Perhaps The Forgotten Prospect, Fulcher is 23 now, he’s ticketed for the ECHL, where he’ll battle the sensational Billy Christopoulos for playing time in Toledo, and the 6’3,” 210-pound Fulcher is certainly finding his game on a late-bloomer’s timeline…But there’s something about the retro-pad-weaering Fulcher that makes me not want to count him out. He’s big, when he’s smart and tidy in his stance, he’s a really good puck blocker, and there remains potential in him, should he earn an AHL recall and stick there. Admittedly, he’s not necessarily a prospect right now, but being on the periphery has never hurt players before.
#14 Robby Fabbri: In a weird way, this is a make-or-break-it year for the 5’11,’ 183-pound winger, because the 25-year-old has posted no more than 18 goals at the NHL level as of yet, and he’s got a 25-goal-scorer breathing down his neck in Lucas Raymond. Fabbri has established himself as a reliable, speedy scorer on the Wings’ second line, and while he’s not big, he keeps the puck on his stick in traffic, and under duress. Fabbri’s also a very good passer, and he’s a bit of a shootout specialist to boot…But I’d sure love to see him play with a wee bit more hustle at times, and go to the net with just a touch more urgency.
#20 Luke Witkowski: List him as a forward, list him as a defenseman, however you want him to be. The 6’2,” 210-pound “Holland Native” was re-signed by the Wings after a couple seasons in the Tampa Bay organization because the now-31-year-old possesses a combination of positional versatility and the ability to keep the flies off. Witkowski is the kind of foot soldier most teams like to have in their organization, and with Dylan McIlrath leaving for greener pastures, the Wings needed to bring an enforcer with passable skills back into their lineup. He’ll do the job and enjoy doing the job, and it’s a hard job.
#24 Pius Suter: I was under-impressed with Suter on the first day, which reminds me that it is indeed the first day for a guy the Wings signed as a free agent. Not big at 5’11” and 174 pounds, the 25-year-old Suter nonetheless dominated the Swiss League, and Suter also did a great job of earning a contract by playing dominant hockey against the Detroit Red Wings last season. Now we’ll find out whether his 27 points (14 goals and 13 assists) in 55 games last season were an aberration due to Suter playing on a skilled Blackhawks team, or whether the most underrated free agent out there was underrated only because the Blackhawks couldn’t pay him.
#27 Michael Rasmussen: Rasmussen spoke with the media today, and the 6’6,” 210-pound center spoke maturely and in measured tones, sounding like someone who is more than willing to put in the work necessary to grab and hang onto a third line spot with the Wings. The 22-year-old may be utilized as a center and may be utilized as a winger, and wherever he slots into the lineup, “Big Ras” will crash, bang, swipe pucks, skate up the ice and then head to the front of the net and stay there, which is exactly the type of player the Red Wings need right now, providing size, some physicality, and faceoff-winning abilities. He’s poised for a big year.
#46 Chase Pearson: Pearson is also poised for a big year, but it might come in Grand Rapids. A little older at 24 years of age, the 6’3,” 202-pound center will probably spend one final season with the Grand Rapids Griffins before graduating to the Red Wings as a stalwart checking center who battles his ass off and knows when to disengage when the whistle blows, driving opponents a little batty from time to time as a result. Pearson skates well, shoots well, passes well and is ready to earn his bread and butter as a shut-down forward. The Wings just may be a little too deep for him to break in out of camp.
#52 Jonatan Berggren: Berggren actually skated with Team Lindsay today, being eased back into the lineup after suffering an upper-body injury at the prospect tournament. Another “Jewel in the Crown,” perhaps alongside Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, the 5’11,” 195-pound-listed Berggren is an utterly elite passer who does a remarkable job of seeing the ice and seeing plays as they are developing to facilitate offense. He needs to shoot more–hell, he needs to shoot, period–but his three years spent in the SHL and his consistent work on his skating and strength have created a pint-sized package which distributes pucks that find the back of the net with pleasing regularity.
#54 Bobby Ryan**: I’m not sure whether Ryan will be able to earn a spot on the Red Wings’ roster, or whether the 34-year-old is here to win a spot on another one of the NHL’s 31 teams’ rosters. Ryan is clearly fully recovered from his bicep tear, so he’s ripping pucks at the net very well, and I’ve forgotten how physically skilled the 6’2,” 208-pound forward can be in terms of battling for the puck and coming up with said puck. He’s lost a step in his skating, to be certain, but he’s still at the very least a depth scorer.
#67**Dennis Yan: The Grand Rapids Griffins signed the 6’2,” 192-pound Yan, a 24-year-old left wing, because he played an OK season for the Black Wings Linz of the ICE HL in Austria. Historically a 20-point-scorer at the AHL level, Yan is fast and fast with the puck on his stick, but he has yet to emulate the point-per-game totals he put up in the QMJHL.
#73 Adam Erne: Another player on the True Hockey train gear-wise, Erne also comes into training camp facing a pivotal year. He’s 26 now, and the 6’1,” 211-pound winger had a good year last season, posting 20 points (11 goals and 9 assists) over the course of 45 games…But does he fit on the second line, or the third line? Erne is big and heavy enough to crash and bang on occasion, he’s sound defensively, and, at the same time, he plays with pace, he scores more goals than initially anticipated, and he’s a gritty, net-front presence at times. Where does all of that shake out? That’s going to be up to Erne, and opportunity.
#76 Tyler Spezia**: Another Griffins contract, Spezia stands at only 5’10” and 167 pounds, and the 28-year-old isn’t a big point producer at the AHL level, but at the ECHL level, he is a star, and the small-but-speedy Spezia puts up near point-per-game totals at with the Toledo Walleye. That’s likely the role the Wings envision him playing, and that’s where I see him fitting in, too.
#79 Kirill Tyutyayev**: Tyutyayev didn’t fall off a cliff during his first practice against AHL’ers, but he made eye contact with me a couple of times, and he looked to be up to his ears in terms of realizing what the NHL level takes to get to. Blessed with goal-scorer’s hands, dekes, danges, and pivot-on-a-dime skating, Tyutyayev is now listed at 5’10” and 176 pounds by the Wings, and the Griffins-contracted 21-year-old is facing a Big Jump in terms of competition from the Belarusian league to the AHL, and a Big Jump in terms of games played, a Big Jump in terms of the road grind to come, and a Big Jump culturally…But if the spunky kid from Yekaterinburg can’t do it, who can?
#90 Joe Veleno: Veleno, like Pearson, will probably start the season in the AHL, and Veleno, like Pearson, is on the cusp of earning an NHL job. The 21-year-old now stands at a strong 6’1″ and 206 pounds, and my biggest question for Veleno is whether he projects to be a two-way offensive center for the second or third line, or whether that extra gear of puckhandling that he seems to struggle to obtain will relegate Veleno to a 3rd line defensive stalwart. Wherever he goes, he’ll end up in the NHL.
#92 Vladislav Namestnikov: Veleno’s looking to steal the job of a guy like Vladislav. 28 going on 29 this November, the 6,’ 180-pound forward was a little underwhelming as a defensive forward for the Wings last season, but he still posted 17 points (8 goals and 9 assists) in 53 games played. Namestnikov is fast without being speedy, slick without being slippery, and he passes and shoots well without being elite.
#17 Filip Hronek: Hronek had an average, ordinary first day of camp, which is okay when you’ve got the potential that the 6,’ 188-pound Hronek does. 23 going on 24 this November, Hronek absolutely dominated the Czech league as a goal-scoring defenseman for Hradek Kralove, and he came back to the NHL, seemed to lose his shooting angle, and put up 2 empty net goals. Hronek may benefit the most from the Wings’ increased defensive depth because he will no longer have to play 23-25 minutes a night, and a slightly more restful 18-to-20 minutes per night will likely lead to more offense from Hronek and better decision-making from the quick-skating, smart-passing, surprisingly edgily physical defenseman.
#18 Marc Staal: The Red Wings kept Staal and Stecher together today, and that pairing worked well for them before. The 6’4,” 208-pound defenseman is a stay-at-home sort, and he pairs well with the dynamic-skating, risk-taking Stecher. At 34, he’s no spring chicken, but Staal’s experience is useful, his poise adept, and he’s just no-frills useful to the team.
#21 Dan Renouf: Coming back to Detroit from the Colorado organization, Renouf stands at 6’3″ and 200 pounds, but he looked skinny to me after seeing him at nearly 220. The 27-year-old defenseman is heading to Grand Rapids to start the season, but he’s big enough, hard-nosed enough and smart enough to merit a call-up from time to time.
#65 Danny DeKeyser: Let’s all hope for Danny’s sake that the 31-year-old, two-way pivot is back on two legs after a full year of recovering from significant back surgery. The more DeKeyser can be an anchor and not an anchor-weight on the middle pairing, the better everyone will be. He’s actually a very good skater who’s mobile when he’s got two legs, and he’s made the smart pass and scored the occasional key goal from time to time. DeKeyser will never be the #1 defenseman the Wings thought they’d signed out of college, but as a middle-of-the-lineup player with smarts and leadership ability, he is an asset.
#70 Troy Stecher: The aforementioned Stecher is an intriguing defenseman to me because he’s essentially a 3rd pair guy in Detroit, but he possesses first-pair skating skills, and when the 27-year-old gets his body and brain together, he does a fine job of generating offense (and, occasionally, scoring chances for the other team). Stecher worked very well with Marc Staal, and now, with more depth on the Wings’ blueline and forward corps, he and his defensive partner won’t be overworked.
#83 Mason Ward*: Raw. The 6’5,” 214-pound free agent invite out of Brandon of the WHL is the son of a long-time NHL’er, and Ward has done a good job of at least encouraging other NHL teams to give the 19-year-old another look in this year’s upcoming draft. He’s been pushed around too much for the Wings to have interest in him, but he’s got room to grow horizontally, and room to grow in terms of experience.
#84 Alex Cotton: Cotton, a 2020 draft pick, is heading back to the WHL for his overage season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes as a point-per-game defender, and while he hasn’t been able to put all the disparate parts of his game together at this level yet, being a point-per-game producer on the blueline is nothing to sneeze at. He’s a solid skater, he makes his decisions quickly, he’s got good shooting and passing skills and his head is up all the time.
#86 Adam Brubacher*: A free agent invite, the 25-year-old kept up with the Wings on the first day of camp, and the big and heavy defenseman, 6’3,” and 202 pounds of him, is going to earn a pro contract somewhere due to his performance at the prospect tournament.
#87 Ryan Murphy: Murphy was signed to a 2-way contract as a free agent after posting nearly a point per game with the Vegas Golden Knights’ AHL team in Henderson, and he’s not big at 5’11” and 175 pounds, but he’ll look to build upon last season’s Eddie Shore Award-winning season.
#34 Victor Brattstrom: The 25-year-old Brattstrom has to win the hardest-working-goalie award, because he was on the ice at 9 AM working with Brian Mahoney-Wilson and Jeff Salajko, attempting to refine small parts of his game that don’t translate well from the Swedish and Finnish leagues to North American hockey…and he kept things up over the course of playing during the Wings’ first training camp practice. A massive 6’4″ and 200 pounds, Brattstrom’s ability to block most of the net is impressive, but he’s honed that blocking style into more of a controlled butterfly, and it works for him, especially with a sharp glove and blocker and nimble toes.
#39 Alex Nedeljkovic: At 6′ and 203 pounds, Nedeljkovic looked tiny compared to his compatriots in Team Howe’s net, but Nedeljkovic’s combination of an aggressive style, standing at the top of his crease, and rock-solid fundamentals are what keep the young man in business.
I’m really curious to see what Nedeljkovic can bring to the Wings’ net in terms of some stability and continuity, because the 25-year-old dominated over the course of a short season with the Hurricanes last year, and he’s got a great AHL resume, but it’s time to see what he can do over the long haul. Aggressive, sharp on his feet, with a unique grip on his stick, a strong hybrid style and great seal of the ice, we’ll see what more he can do to refine his game to play as consistently as possible.
#60 Jan Bednar: Speaking of consistent, Bednar, a 2020 draft pick, is still working on learning how to not have to make the spectacular save look routine and the routine save look spectacular. A big 6’4″ and 200 pounds, Bednar is doing his best to find consistency while working with the Wings’ goaltending coaches, and it’s going to be a process for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan netminder. If he can get his game together, he’ll be another legitimate goaltending prospect instead of just a flash in the pan.
*= Free agent invite, **= Grand Rapids Griffins contract
In the fundraising department, we made the hotel bill(!), but I’m still in need of gas/grocery money, and, put bluntly, my cell phone is dying an ugly death, so if you’re willing to lend a hand in exchange for my training camp coverage–or to keep TMR operational, period–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.