Impressions from the second day of Red Wings training camp 2021

The Detroit Red Wings built upon their first day of training camp as Thursday gave way to Friday’s second set of sessions at Centre ICE Arena.

On a day where everyone was more dialed-in, from the six skaters and goaltender on Team Lindsay to the bigger squads in Teams Howe and Delvecchio, the Red Wings’ coaches put their charges through their paces in sets of battle drills, puck retrievals, dump-and-chase plays and especially power play and penalty-killing situations. The players were skated–hard.

Coaches Doug Houda (defense, penalty-killing) and Alex Tanguay (offense, power play) also worked with split squads during parts of practice, ensuring that players who might not necessarily earn a spot on the PP or PK unit familiarized themselves with the Wings’ systems of play, including the wrinkles that Tanguay is adding to the PP.

Yesterday, I suggested that no players earned an “A,” nor did any earn any “F’s” due to any lack of effort or intensity while getting up to speed; today was very different, as just about everyone had their “sea legs” under them, and injuries haven’t set in to the point that players are trying to get through the latter days of camp, either, so the pace of play today today was particularly good.

Because the squads were split at times, the Red Wings went away from many of their usual forward and defensive pairings, and, as previously stated, players who don’t usually earn a power-play shift or kill penalties were doing just that for familiarization’s sake.

In terms of player assessments, here’s what I witnessed on the second day of training camp, on a team-by-team basis:

TEAM LINDSAY:

Forwards:

#50 Dominik Shine**: Team Lindsay only practiced for an hour, as opposed to the usual hour-and-a-half to two hours’ worth of practice for Teams Howe and Delvecchio, but players like Shine were bright-eyed and bushy-tailied coming out at 8:20 in the morning to skate with Jan Bednar and no defensemen. The sextet of forwards who appeared on the ice worked their butts off, Shine included.

Shine, a 28-year-old Griffins-contracted forward, hasn’t been able to replicate his point-per-game production at the NCAA level, but the 5’11,” 180-pound winger does a good job of putting in hard work as a foot soldier on the Grand Rapids Griffins’ third and fourth lines. Shine’s still got some offensive abilities, but he tends to win over fans with work ethic and pride in his defensive game instead.

#51 Hayden Verbeek**: Verbeek, another Grand Rapids Griffins-contracted player, is at a slightly different point in his development as a 23-year-old center who’s a wee bit liberally listed at 5’10” and 187 pounds. Verbeek slid off the Wings’ NHL radar when his two-way contract expired, but Detroit saw enough of him to choose to sign him to an AHL-only deal, and the speedy Verbeek spent today roofing pucks over Bednar and busting his hump during PP and PK drills. I’m not sure whether he can battle his way back into the Wings’ equation as they’re so crowded at center, but he’ll provide good value to the Griffins this upcoming season as a third or fourth-line center.

#52 Jonatan Berggren: Berggren remains injured enough that he’s not taking part in the “main team’s” drills, but the 5’11,” 195-pound center looked fine playing at a slightly slower pace with the Griffins gang today. An innate passer and play-maker, the puck-handling wizard is one of the jewels in the Wings’ prospect crown, and his elite passing skills would be that much more valuable if Berggren would shoot a small minority of the time that he had his puck, because he can score pretty goals, too.

He skates superbly and nimbly, dekes and dangles his way around opponents, occasionally battles his way through them, and he takes no guff, though he doesn’t really engage when players try to goad him into scrapping with bigger, stronger opponents. He needs to play at least half-a-season in Grand Rapids to fully adapt to the North American game, but he’s going to figure out the narrower rink and faster pace of play very quickly as he’s played for three seasons at the men’s league level in Sweden, and once he adapts, he’ll become an asset too useful to not play at the NHL level.

#57 Turner Elson**: Elson is an interesting conundrum for me because the 29-year-old center is a Grand Rapids Griffin through and through, at the AHL level, he doesn’t put up a lot of points, and the 6,’ 191-pound forward sort of does just does his thing and displays a skill set that’s greater than the sum of his parts. He skates quite well, he possesses good passing and shooting skills, and he’s a hard-working honeybee, but he is, at best, a point-per-other-game scorer at the AHL level.

#61 T-Bone Codd*: Codd did not play as he continues to recuperate from an upper-body injury, and the 5’10,” 175-pound free agent from the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit really wanted to play for his hometown Wings, but things just haven’t worked out the way that Codd would have hoped. He bounces off players when he checks them and bounces off players when they try to check him, but, after not playing over the course of the past season due to COVID restrictions nixing the OHL season, the 18-year-old needs to establish himself as a physical force at the OHL level, and try to get drafted next spring.

#76 Tyler Spezia**: Spezia, a Grand Rapids Griffins-contracted forward, is more or less an ECHL scorer, and, again, we’re talking about a 5’10,” 167-pound 28-year-old here, but the Griffins-contracted forward kept roofing pucks over Jan Bednar and picking the crossbar today. He’s an ECHL’er at heart and he’s not going to play anywhere other than Toledo for now, but it’s nice to know that the Wings have a skilled set of centers all the way up and down the organization.

#78 Patrick Curry**: Curry, a Griffins contract, hasn’t played since the prospect tournament, where he took a hard hit. The 5’10,” 185-pound center from Boston College was hoping to earn a spot on the Griffins’ fourth line, but the 25-year-old has had a difficult tournament and camp in that he can’t seem to recover from his injuries.

#79 Kirill Tyutyayev**: Dekes, dangles, slick skating and utter talent define this young man’s hands and feet, but the 5’10,” 176(?)-pound Tyutyayev got cute today–again–when a simpler shot toward the net with one fewer deke or one fewer dangle would have gotten the job done. He’ll figure out the pro game with the Griffins, to whom he is bound via an AHL contract, and I am hoping that, should the 21-year-old sort himself out, he’ll become a legitimate Red Wings prospect with skill to spare.

Defensemen:

#3 Jared McIsaac: McIsaac continues to miss time with a concussion after taking that nasty hit in the prospect tournament game vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 6’1,” 192-pound defenseman simply needs to get healthy for an extended period of time–after missing the better part of two seasons with shoulder surgeries–to sort his game out. He really is a Swiss Army Knife defenseman in the best sense of the term, but without health, he slides off the prospect radar, when he is in fact one of the Wings’ best defensive prospects.

#49 Seth Barton: I wish I knew more about Barton, because the 6’3,” 196-pound graduate of UMass-Lowell is supposed to be a slick puck-carrier and puck-lugger, but he’s been injured throughout main camp, and hasn’t been able to strut his stuff as a result. The Wings thought well enough of the 22-year-old to ink him to an NHL contract on a crowded Griffins blueline, but he needs to play to grab a foothold.

#83 Mason Ward*: Ward had a good day, but I’m still pretty darn certain that the 6’5,” 214-pound defenseman is going to head back to the WHL’s Brandon heat Kings and look to fill out his lanky form as a massive but under-powered defenseman with a some skill to his game. We’ll see what happens as the 19-year-old heads back to the “W” and tries to earn a draft spot this spring.

Goaltender

#60 Jan Bednar: The 6’4,” 200-pound Bednar is still working out the kinks in his game. After a season split between HC Energie Karlovy Vary and the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan, the Red Wings’ goaltending coaches have been very busy with the 19-year-old Bednar, attempting to take a goaltender with a flair for the dramatic and settle him down, so that he can make the routine save. Bednar’s gotten better over the course of the prospect tournament and main camp, but the holes are still there, and he’s got to crank up his save percentage as time permits–which is to say that there is some urgency as he’s 19, but not enough to panic about.

TEAM HOWE:

Forwards:

#14 Robby Fabbri: Robby Fabbri, penalty-killer? It’s something that Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill tried out today, and Fabbri looked fine working as a member of the PK corps. The 5’11,” 183-pound center still needs to take that “next step” offensively, establishing himself as a more consistent offensive force, but the speedy winger may end up finding himself working on both special teams (PP and PK) as a result. A superb skater with an underrated shot and good passing skills, he’s got all the tools necessary to get the job done.

#24 Pius Suter: I asked coach Blashill about Suter, and he was bullish on the Swiss forward’s potential, but the 5’11,” 174-pound center has definitely spent the last couple of days acclimating to a different roster than the one he’s used to skating for in Chicago. Suter is definitely adjusting to playing on a different team and skating under a different system, and no, there’s no Patrick Kane here, but the 25-year-old has dominated the Swiss League for a reason, he lit up the Red Wings last season for a reason, and the strong-skating, stocky little center possesses superb all-round skills and scores sneaky goals. Now he’s got to find a way to translate his skill set onto a team where he’ll receive more opportunity…by taking the initiative.

#26 Riley Barber: Barber was inked by the Red Wings to a two-way contract last year because the 27-year-old tends to post a point per game at the AHL level, and the 6,’ 199-pound native did just that last season, leading Grand Rapids with 20 goals and 14 assists for 34 points in 32 games played. Barber isn’t necessarily a prospect, but he’s one of those depth AHL scorers who will vie for a call-up, potentially ahead of one of “the kids,” should the Wings require a veteran presence. He was surprisingly good in my first viewing of the sharp right winger from Pittsburgh.

#27 Michael Rasmussen: It’s almost hard to believe that Rasmussen is all of 22 years of age given how long he’s been in the Wings’ system. The 6’6,” 210-pound center probably played a year in the NHL too early, he spent a full year in the NHL, and last year was wacky, with Rasmussen playing in the ICE HL in Austria, the NHL and the AHL. He’s not going to develop into the stalwart #1 center the Wings drafted him to be, but he’s going to become a big, heavy and useful 2nd or 3rd line center who can shut down opponents and then score on special teams because he goes to the front of the net and stays there. I think his skating has gotten better, his hands have gotten a little better, and his confidence has finally arrived, so I’m hoping for a big season from “Big Ras.”

#46 Chase Pearson: Again, Pearson is probably ticketed for the AHL this season, but not much longer after that, presuming he doesn’t steal a job as a call-up. Dependable as can be and strong at 6’3″ and 202 pounds, the slow-to-develop 24-year-old center possesses an admirable work ethic, he wins draws, he skates strongly, he checks hard and sometimes with some snarl, he passes, shoots and has solid-enough offensive instincts, and he’s reliable as hell defensively. He’s going to be the Wings’ 4th line center, sooner or later.

#54 Bobby Ryan*: I’m just not sure whether Ryan, who’s now 34, has the legs to earn a spot on the Wings. The 34-year-old is big and strong at 6’2″ and 208 pounds, he’s got a wicked shot as a wrister, snap shot and slap shot, he knows how to go to scoring areas and “dead areas” on the ice to sneak behind opposing defensive players, and he’s a solid citizen–who’s worked on his skating–but he’s still plain old slow, if still maneuverable. He’ll latch on to some team as a depth scorer, but the Red Wings are trending younger and faster, and this free agent try-out is neither young nor fast any more.

#58 Cameron Butler*: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Butler has been the best of the Wings’ draft-aged free agent try-outs. That being said, the 6’4,” 210-pound power winger is probably heading back to the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL to get some actual playing experience in after a hockey-less OHL campaign last year. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s skilled, and he’s only 19, but he’s not so skilled in terms of his skating, shot, passing, checking or offensive instincts to have stolen a spot off the Red Wings’ crowded forward roster. If he has a fine OHL season, the Wings may be one of the teams interested in drafting him as a 20-year-old next summer.

#64 Luke Toporowski*: Toporowski was much, much better today than he was on Intimidating Thursday, but the 5’11,” 181-pound speedster kind of is what he is at 20 years of age–someone who can score a point per game at the WHL level, but someone who can’t quite place all his good tools in a solid toolbox at a higher level of play. He’s fast, he’s got a really solid shot and he passes fairly well, but he’s gotten bumped around and out-classed by his NHL-ready brethren. So the free agent try-out will look to have a lights-out “overage” WHL season, and sign a pro contract somewhere.

#67 Dennis Yan**: So far, so good for Dennis Yan for me. The Grand Rapids Griffins inked the 6’2,” 192-pound winger who’s bounced around between the AHL and ICE Hockey League over the past two seasons because he’s particularly speedy and carries the puck at high speed. Yan has never been able to replicate the point-per-game pace he scored with at the QMJHL level, but the 24-year-old is a speed merchant when he’s got the puck on his stick, and that can be a useful quality to have at the AHL level.

#73 Adam Erne: At 26 years of age, Erne came into his own as an NHL player last season, scoring 11 goals and 20 points in 45 games played, and the 6’1,” 211-pound (read: stocky) gentleman hopes to post 15-20 goals, if not more, this upcoming season. Erne has a surprisingly deceptive shot, he goes to the net and jams home rebounds, and he skates well enough to hustle to scoring areas. I am hoping that Erne does indeed find the consistency to match the potential he displayed last year.

#74 Cross Hanas: Hanas is a 19-year-old winger who plays for one of the WHL’s best franchises in the Portland Winterhawks, and the 6’1,” 171-pound Hanas needs to have a big season going into his overage year to battle his way into the Wings’ plans. I like the skating, shot, passing and two-way work ethic that he displays, and he hasn’t fallen off a cliff after a good prospect tournament, which is a good sign, but Hanas needs more seasoning before attempting to make the professional jump.

#90 Joe Veleno: Veleno, like Pearson before him, is almost NHL-ready, but probably needs another half-to-full-season in Grand Rapids for finishing’s sake. One could argue that the big 6’1,” 206-pound center may need to gain a little more confidence to make plays with the puck on his stick so he can fully develop into a superb 2nd or 3rd line NHL center. The strong-skating, strong-shooting, wise-passing forward busts his hump working hard in all three areas of the ice, but it’s hard to see him as an offensive machine in the NHL at the present moment. He was great during the prospect tournament, but he definitely left fans and pundits wanting more in terms of his self-confidence with the puck, and perhaps some more time in the AHL will pop the cork on that simmering bottle of skill. Veleno, like Rasmussen, is all of 21, but he’s been a Wings prospect for years, and he’s almost ready to go.

#92 Vladislav Namestnikov: I’ll be honest regarding one 28-year-old Vladislav Namestnikov: I thought that the smart two-way forward was a little underwhelming and inconsistent. 17 points (8 goals and 9 assists) in 53 games isn’t bad, but Namestnikov skates superbly, wins his fair share of faceoffs and can make plays with the puck on his stick, and I was expecting a point-every-other-game or so from someone who, at his best in the NHL, has averaged a point every other game. If he can apply more consistent effort to his game, Namestnikov has a sneaky shot and good passing and play-making abilities, and the better he responds, the better off the Red Wings are as a whole.

Defensemen:

#17 Filip Hronek: The idea with Hronek this year is that less will be more. Instead of playing 23-25 minutes and getting absolutely burnt out, the 23-year-old defenseman might generate more offense (especially with that wicked one-timer that didn’t do anything west of the Czech Republic last season) and might be more consistent defensively playing 18-20 minutes a night. Hronek isn’t big at 6′ and 188 pounds, but he’s strong, he’s got some snarl to him, and he skates superbly in all three directions, gapping up to his defensive targets and using his poke check and that old-school, heel curve blade with the square toe to knock down pucks and passes. When he transitions to offense, Hronek takes no prisoners, posting 26 points (2 empty-net goals and 24 assists) in 56 games this past season, and it would be ideal for him to become a point-per-every-other-game player. To do that, he’s got to have some energy in his tank, and playing a little less should help Hronek do more with his skill set.

#18 Marc Staal: If Bobby Ryan is too slow as a 34-year-old forward, Marc Staal is just mobile enough to remain quite relevant as a 34-year-old defenseman. The 6’4,” 208-pound lug of a man from Thunder Bay is, at his best, a stay-at-home defender who complements Troy Stecher on the Red Wings’ third defensive pairing. Staal blocks shots, jabs at passes, checks well, is maneuverable, and knows how to play an effective, if no-frills game, and the Wings re-signed him as a free agent because there wasn’t anybody who could do his job better than Staal does.

#20 Luke Witkowski: Again, with the exit of Dylan McIlrath from the Grand Rapids Griffins, it was incumbent upon the Red Wings to bring in an AHL veteran who can “keep the flies off,” because you still need an enforcer at the AHL level. So the Wings brought back Luke Witkowski from the Tampa Bay organization, and the 31-year-old will provide a bit of versatility as someone who can play both forward and defense, and a bit of pugnaciousness as someone who can and will intimidate and deter intimidation of the Red Wings’ young, skilled forward corps. He’s also savvy enough to be recalled in a pinch, especially when toughness is needed.

#21 Dan Renouf: Renouf is listed at 6’3″ and 200 pounds, and that’s down a bit from the 210-to-215 pound weight that he started his pro career aspiring to be. The free agent signing and 27-year-old comes back to the Wings after a stint in the Hurricanes organization and a stint in the Avs’ organization (yuck, ptooey!), and he’s mobile, possesses a solid enough all-round game, and wants to get his name back into the call-ups’ conversation while returning to the organization that first signed him.

#65 Danny DeKeyser: DeKeyser looks like a player skating on two legs, and if you are familiar with the 31-year-old’s back issues over the past two years, that is welcome news. The 6’3,” 183-pound scarecrow of a man is not necessarily the strongest person, in no small thanks to a fast metabolism that prevents him from putting on weight, so he needs to skate very strongly and use his leverage and smart stick to shut down opponents. Ideally, he’ll work with Filip Hronek on the Wings’ first or second defensive pairing, and, ideally, he’ll be able to skate strongly again and reclaim his status as an effective shut-down defenseman.

#70 Troy Stecher: Stecher projects as a 3rd-pair defender with hints of much higher levels of skating and skills for now. Not big at 5’10” and 184 pounds, the former Canuck had an up-and-down season for the Wings last year, finishing at -13, but he’s an excellent skater, he gaps up well on his defensive targets, he can check fairly well for a player of his size and he has the offensive tools necessary to put up at least 20 points in a good season, making skilled plays. Ideally, Marc Staal gives Stecher the room to roam on the ice and seek out some offensive forays.

#84 Alex Cotton: I really enjoyed The Athletic’s Max Bultman’s profile of Cotton. At 19 going on 20, Cotton may want to turn pro, but the 6’2,” 190-pound defender needs to fill out a little more physically, and he needs another point-per-game campaign with his Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL before the Red Wings really, seriously consider inking him to a rookie contract on a crowded blueline.

#86 Adam Brubacher*: Brubacher, a free agent try-out, is a meat-and-potatoes, basic stay-at-home defenseman, which is a good thing. The 6’3,” 202-pound defender isn’t elite at any one skill, nor is he elite when you bring his disparate talents together, but he knows how to defend and he knows how to check and use his smart stick to get out of any troubles that his slightly heavy-footed status puts him in. He’s going to earn a pro contract from someone for playing so very solidly over the course of the prospect tournament and main camp.

#87 Ryan Murphy: Murphy was a slightly surprising free agent signing. The 5’11,” 175-pound defenseman won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s best defenseman last year, and the 28-year-old posted 27 points in 37 games with the Henderson Silver Knights in the process of winning said award. The Wings seem to believe that they needed an AHL stalwart in inking Murphy, who does everything fast, and is stocky for his size. He hasn’t overly impressed me, but I have yet to see him in his natural environment, i.e. on an AHL blueline.

Goaltenders:

#33 Sebastian Cossa: Cossa is still very raw at 18 and coming off a dominant WHL season with the Edmonton Oil Kings…There are times that I wonder why the Red Wings drafted the 6’6,” 210-pound goaltender ahead of Swede Jesper Wallstedt, but I remind myself that they believe that Cossa has a higher ceiling, and I remind myself that Cossa is going to get a lot of playing time over the next season or two in the WHL, which is usually a heavy-schedule, hard-travel league. Cossa has worked harder and harder with the Wings’ goalie coaches over the course of the prospect tournament and main camp, and he’s getting his head wrapped around the concept that he cannot use his size alone to stop pucks. Refining his technique and playing with more control will afford him better command of his massive frame, and it will shut down the wandering blocker, five-hole issues and top-shelf glove side hole that most 18-year-old goalies who are 6’6″ struggle with. Give him time, and experience.

#34 Victor Brattstrom: The hard-working Brattstrom had some hiccups today, and sometimes that’s going to happen. The 24-year-old stands at 6’4″ and 200 pounds, and he’s come a long way from the Jonas Gustavsson clone I watched play at the summer development camp three years ago. Having bounced around between the SHL, the Allsvenskan and the Finnish Liiga, Brattstrom arrives in North America looking to find the consistency on small ice to challenge Calvin Pickard for the starter’s spot in Grand Rapids, and his controlled butterfly game and high technical acumen–and his work ethic–all bode well for him going forward.

#39 Alex Nedeljkovic: It kind of bothers me to say that Alex Nedeljkovic is a “small goalie” at 6′ and 203 pounds, but in today’s NHL, that’s what he is. His lack of massive size just doesn’t seem to faze the 25-year-old goaltender, and I’ve been impressed by his rock-solid fundamentals, his skate-to-the-top-of-the-crease aggressiveness and his lack of any obvious “holes.” He’s paid his dues in the ECHL and AHL, he earned a better contract than the Carolina Hurricanes were willing to offer him based upon a limited NHL resume, and he should help the Red Wings stabilize their goaltending in a post-Jonathan Bernier world.

TEAM LINDSAY:

Forwards:

#11 Filip Zadina: I think we are all hoping that this is the season in which Filip Zadina finds some offensive consistency. Still young at 21 years of age, Zadina filled the nets with ease in the Czech Republic last year, came back to the U.S. for the abbreviated NHL season, and the 6,’ 197-pound winger posted an OK 6 goals and 13 assists for 19 points in 49 games played last season. Just as more was expected of Filip Hronek after a dominant Czech League performance, Zadina was so dominant with Ocelari Trinec that I think we all forgot how damn hard it is to be consistent at the NHL level. Possessing an elite shot that he loves to rip from the bottom of the right faceoff circle, good passing skills and strong skating abilities, Zadina is an elite sniper and good all-round player who can take another step this upcoming season.

#22 Mitchell Stephens: Mitchell Stephens just isn’t big at 5’11” and 190 pounds, and he’s even smaller when he skates in his hunched-over stride, but the little bugger from Peterborough is fast and the 24-year-old is effective as a checking line forward. He’ll probably beat out Chase Pearson for the Wings’ fourth-line center’s job because Stephens is that much more polished as someone with both more AHL and more NHL experience than Pearson, and his tenacity suggests that he won’t be sent back to the AHL easily.

#23 Lucas Raymond: Lucas Raymond is not quite NHL-ready, and that’s okay. At all of 19 years of age, Raymond isn’t big at 5’11” and 182 pounds (said the optimistic Red Wings’ stats), and he’s coming off elbow surgery, so I’d like to see him get some “Finishing School” time with the Grand Rapids Griffins before graduating to the NHL…But he may need a full season, and he may need half a season, because the little bugger, as it turns out, is an elite scorer whose wrist and snap shots find the back of the net with relative ease. Raymond does get pushed around a bit and targeted by opponents, but he has no time to bite on his adversaries’ tomfoolery, choosing to simply play through and win battles for the puck instead of hacking and whacking people who try to hack and whack him. That part of his game may need to be developed in terms of adding a wee bit of snarl to the equation, but, mostly, Raymond wants to pass, Raymond wants to shoot, Raymond wants to skate and Raymond wants to score. And he does just those things.

#25 Taro Hirose: Hirose is sort of a fallen and/or forgotten prospect. At 25, and standing at all of 5’10” and 162 pounds, the diminutive forward doesn’t have a whole lot of runway left in terms of development, but the little water bug of a forward still harbors NHL dreams. Arguably a near-pure play-maker at the NHL level, Hirose skates better than he has previously, he sees the ice very well, and his shot is getting better, but mostly he’s gotten a bit stronger in terms of negotiating leverage in one-on-one battles with opponents via body position. He doesn’t get bumped off the puck as much, and that’s what he has to master to get to the NHL.

#37 Carter Rowney: I was a little skeptical of the Rowney signing, but the 32-year-old forward, who wasn’t signed until September 2nd, seems to line up as a very good depth forward and/or top-line material in Grand Rapids. The 6’2,” 208-pound Rowney is a bit of a late bloomer, not arriving in the NHL for good until three seasons ago, but he’s big, strong, and skates well, and he does have a 20-point season to his credit a couple of years ago with Anaheim. As far as depth players go, you could do much worse than Rowney.

#42 Kyle Criscuolo: At the other end of the size spectrum, the 5’9″ 175-pound Criscuolo isn’t as likely to earn a spot on the Wings’ roster, but the 29-year-old forward came back to the Red Wings’ organization last year, posted a 19-points-in-29-games season with Grand Rapids, and he appears to be en route toward earning another top-two-lines spot in Grand Rapids again. He’s not big, and he’s not super strong for his size, but he gets the job done at the AHL level, and he’s speedy.

#48 Givani Smith: At 23 and out of waiver options, Smith is going to be literally and figuratively fighting for his NHL life against competitive teammates like Carter Rowney this preseason. The 6’2,” 215-pound power forward with bite is hoping to land a fourth-line spot with the Red Wings, providing toughness and checking abilities, as well as the occasional goal or assist. It’s entirely possible, if not probable, that the Wings will keep him on as their 13th forward to start, and from there, Smith will have to carve out a spot for himself in the regular lineup.

#56 Pasquale Zito: He’s 18 and hasn’t played in a meaningful game in over a year due to the pandemic cancelling the OHL season, but the plucky little Windsor Spitfires center is displaying promise right when you expect him to. Not big at 6′ and 176 pounds, Zito is nonetheless a good skater and a hard-nosed player who will be best-served by heading back to the OHL for a season or two. There, he’ll hone his reputation as an instigator–something that doesn’t come across very well during training camp drills–but he has brought enough to the table skill-wise that the Red Wings’ brass are pleased with their decision to draft him.

#59 Tyler Bertuzzi: I don’t like the fact that Tyler Bertuzzi won’t be able to do his job at least 9 times this upcoming season. I don’t like the fact that he’s probably going to be given an “A” because he’s wildly popular in the Wings’ room, despite having made an incredibly, incredibly selfish decision regarding his vaccination status. But there is no denying that the 26-year-old is an absolutely integral part of the Red Wings’ lineup, and the 6’1,” 195-pound winger is the kind of forechecking force, rebound retriever and net-front pest that helps make things click for Dylan Larkin and company. He’s a very useful player. He’d be more useful if he could travel to Canada.

#62 Cooper Walker*: Walker is another OHL alum who didn’t play in a meaningful game last season, and while the Wings list him at 6′ and 174 pounds, EliteProspects insists that he’s 5’9″ and 157, so something must have happened along the lines of a growth spurt recently. The Guelph Storm forward has looked better the more he’s played for the Wings, and he skates well, but he gets bumped off the puck fairly easily, and he’s just young at 19 years of age. He needs to go back to the OHL and have a good season offensively, work on his strength, and try to get drafted.

#63 Jon Martin**: A very late Grand Rapids Griffins signing, Jonathan Martin is a 6’2,” 215-pound forward who most recently posted 24 points in 37 games in the German second division. He’s bounced around the AHL for the past couple seasons, and he’s looking to find a home in Grand Rapids. At his best, the AHL-contracted forward posts about 30 points and earns a penalty minute per game, illustrating his rough and ready all-round game. He’s blended in to the lineup thus far.

#71 Dylan Larkin: At the other end of the spectrum, the lineup tends to mirror the 6’1,” 198-pound Larkin’s vision of what it means to be a Red Wing. Right now, that involves hard work, determination and consistency of effort, though even you and I would like to see Larkin rebound from a slightly unsteady 2020-2021 season, offensively speaking. The 25-year-old captain of the Red Wings is determined to lead his team back toward playoff contention, even if that means a multi-year battle. He’s got the hands, feet and heart to make it happen, captain.

#89 Sam Gagner: Gagner is only 32, but he plays a supporting role on the Red Wings, most likely to find employ on the third or fourth line this upcoming season. That’s okay for the 5’11,” 197-pound forward, who occasionally displays enough flashes of his once-prolific offense to add a timely goal or assist. Gagner is a hard-working player who’s adapted to being adept at being a glue guy, and there are people who believe that he’s on the team in no small part because he serves as a de-facto director of player development on the team itself.

Defensemen:

#2 Nick Leddy: In theory, what Nick Leddy brings to the Red Wings’ defense is some well-deserved and desperately-needed depth in its “top four.” The 6,’ 205-pound defenseman was, is, and can be a point-every-other-game player at 30, and he’s smart, steady, and while not necessarily speedy, he keeps up with play due to his smarts, his intelligent passing, good shooting skills and overall vision of the ice–and he is a very maneuverable skater. Right now, Leddy looks like he’ll be mentoring Moritz Seider on the Wings’ second defensive pairing, and that shows a lot of trust on the Wings’ part.

#28 Gustav Lindstrom: Lindstrom, at the present moment, is a borderline NHL-AHL guy, and that’s got to be a little frustrating for the 22-year-old defenseman. Still growing into his 6’2,” 183-pound body, Lindstrom is an impressive mix of skill and skating, he passes well, he’s learning to not be overpowered in physical battles, and the more assertive he becomes, the better, because he’s got the skill set to take the initiative himself.

#32 Brian Lashoff: Lashoff, at 31, will captain the Grand Rapids Griffins this upcoming season, and while he’s a depth defenseman at the NHL level, at the AHL level, he’s a do-everything defender who maximizes his 6’3,” 215-pound size to play a steady all-round game. Lashoff isn’t a big point producer, but he can be used on the PP, the PK and he can gobble up minutes at even strength, all while setting the tone for his teammates in terms of his work ethic and determination. These kinds of support players are essential to make an NHL team’s marriage with their AHL franchise work.

#44 Donovan Sebrango: Coming in hot? It’s hard to say where the 19-year-old Sebrango will end up after this season. He’s a plucky defenseman who plays with panache and self-confidence bordering on likeable arrogance, but he’s also a stay-at-home defender who blocks shots, uses his stick to break up passing plays, he checks very hard and he fights on occasion. He generally takes no shit and dishes more out than he takes, and he’s still developing, so it’s entirely possible that, a year from now, the Wings may have a depth defenseman with bite on their hands.

#47 Wyatt Newpower: Newpower sort of straddles the line between NHL defenseman and AHL defenseman at a different spot than Lindstrom. The 23-year-old Newpower had a very strong season with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, and the Wings were willing to sign him to a 2-way deal because the 6’3,” 207-pound defenseman got something of a reputation as one tough cookie. I haven’t seen that edge to his play yet, but I’ve seen a very solid skill set and superb skating from the still-developing d-man.

#53 Moritz Seider: At all of 20, Seider might be able to take the bull by the horns and earn an NHL spot out of training camp with the Red Wings. Barring anything fluky happening, the 6’4,” 197-pound Seider will translate his massive frame and elite skill set into an NHL career full of promise. He’s big, he’s getting stronger, he skates seamlessly in all three directions (forward, backward and laterally), he’s got a great stick and gap control to break up plays, he passes superbly, he shoots hard and he’s got a bit of a mean streak when it comes to hitting. He’s an all-round defenseman who should fit in just fine with the Red Wings’ plans, and if his appearance with the media was any indication, he’s not letting all the social media love go to his head, which is a relief.

#77 Oscar Plandowski: Plandowski is only 2 years younger than Seider, but he’s at a very different level of development. The son of a skating coach is an elite-skating defender who still needs to grow into his 6,’ 182-pound frame, and while he can pass excellently and has a decent-to-good shot, he needs more experience playing for the QMJHL’s Charlottetown Islanders before turning pro. At all of 18, he’s got time to grow.

#82 Jordan Oesterle: I’m not quite sure where Jordan Oesterle fits into the Red Wings’ blueline right now. The Dearborn Heights native is 29, he’s a solid 6′ and 188 pounds, and he is a veteran NHL defenseman by any standard of the definition, but is he a 6/7 guy, does he find his job usurped by Gustav Lindstrom, does he end up in Grand Rapids by some hook or crook, or does he end up in Seider’s spot if things don’t go well for Moritz? All of those possibilities are out there for the strong-skating defender. We’ll see how things shake out.

Goaltenders:

#29 Thomas Greiss: Greiss is still listed at 6’3″ and 219 pounds, but the 35-year-old looks a little lighter in his goalie pants and a little lighter on his feet right now. He’s been adept at stopping pucks using that big blocking body and strong butterfly style, and he’s made an adjustment in going back to the one-piece catch glove after struggling with some control issues and pop-outs last season. He handles the puck superbly and his rebounds are purposeful, he’s got quick hands and feet, and he’s going to give Alex Nedeljkovic a fight for that #1 goaltender’s spot.

#31 Calvin Pickard: This is an awful thing to say as a goaltender, but to me, Calvin Pickard is just inconsistent enough in terms of his blocker side and five-hole to be a salvageable target for Victor Brattstrom. Pickard is generally a rock-steady, simple-style-playing goaltender who utilizes his 6’1,” 210-pound frame to seamlessly and easily stop pucks, but there are minute lapses in concentration that yield the occasional soft goal, and that’s why he hasn’t been able to stick at the NHL level since 2016-2017. The 29-year-old is never too old to re-learn consistency, so we’ll see what happens in the Griffins’ crease this season.

#36 Kaden Fulcher: Fulcher is something of an outlier as a forgotten prospect. At 23, the 6’3,” 210-pound goaltender is slated to play alongside Billy Christopoulos in Toledo this year, but if Brattstrom falters, or wants to go back to Sweden, Fulcher will step in at the AHL level. He’s big, he’s got a slightly brash style to him and he’s learning to seal the holes and stop the lack-of-concentration-goals that have him in the AHL. Don’t count him out yet.

*= Free agent invite, **= Grand Rapids Griffins contract

It goes without saying that Jakub Vrana, #15 in the lineup and #1 in your hearts, is flying into Cherry Capital Airport this evening, after a long slate of visa issues (going back weeks, I’ve been told). Whether he plays at all during training camp is a mystery, but the sooner the 25-year-old gets his 6,’ 196-pound frame into a Red Wings jersey, the better off the team will be. Vrana represents a first-line winger for Larkin and Bertuzzi, or a second-line scorer to work with Fabbri and Suter, and most everyone expects him to equal his 11 points in 11 games with the Wings last season, and 36-points-in-50-games campaign.

Finally, there’s one more day of real training camp activities. Come Sunday, the Red vs. White game will occur, and after that, the Wings will hold two practices up here in Traverse City before heading to Chicago next Wednesday to open the preseason, and then Ken Kal reported that DetroitRedWings.com will stream the home preseason opener vs. Buffalo next Thursday.

The Wings’ preseason is an ugly affair–they play 8 games over the course of 12 nights–so they’ll likely keep two teams’ worth of players around until the final game or two.

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, rtxg@yahoo.com, at https://www.giftly.com, and yes, you can contact me via email if you want to send me a paper check.

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George Malik

My name is George Malik, and I'm the Malik Report's editor/blogger/poster. I have been blogging about the Red Wings since 2006, when MLive hired me to work their SlapShots blog, and I joined Kukla's Korner in 2011 as The Malik Report. I'm starting The Malik Report as a stand-alone site, hoping that having my readers fund the website is indeed the way to go to build a better community and create better content.

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