The Detroit Red Wings engaged in their final practice of their 2021 training camp on Tuesday, spending most of their time working on situational power play vs. penalty-killing drills, working on puck retrieval and breakouts, and generally attempting to replicate in-game situations.
There was a little less out-and-out skating from end to end of the rink today, and much more strategy regarding defensive zone coverage and trying to capitalize on scoring chances. Blashill did not spare the rod when he felt that a team that was clearly a little tired after 6 days of training camp was lollygagging a bit.
In the second group, I noticed that he spent a fair amount of time with Moritz Seider, who, according to coach Blashill, needs to a) know what he’s going to do with the puck offensively before he gets it and b) know that the simple play is often the wisest play defensively speaking.
Blashill also told the media that he’s going to put Filip Zadina on a line with Sam Gagner and Joe Veleno for a bit, taking Zadina away from the Larkin-Bertuzzi pairing, and he stated that Lucas Raymond will have to be the best player on the ice after every game he plays in for the Red Wings to keep him on the roster to start the season; otherwise, the Wings see no harm in sending him go GR for “finishing school” (my term, not his).
The Red Wings now head back to Little Caesars Arena to prepare for tomorrow’s game vs. Chicago (8:30 PM EDT, NBCSCH/NHL Network ‘Joined in Progress’) and Thursday’s tilt vs. Buffalo (7:30 PM on DetroitRedWings YouTube).
After a Friday “off,” October’s schedule is quite busy, with 3 games taking place over the course of 3 days:
Given that Detroit plays 8 times in 11 nights, the Wings will need their 4-day break before the home opener vs. Tampa to rest and recuperate, even with the Wings dressing two teams for the majority of their exhibition games.
Anyway, today’s Red Wings practice took place over the course of three acts:
First, T-Bone Codd, Jonatan Berggren and Kaden Fulcher engaged in a “skills skate” that was supposed to start at 8:30 AM, but actually started at 8 AM. The pair of skaters and goaltender skated on the ice for a full hour, with goalie coach Jeff Salajko, player development coach Dwayne Blais, Grand Rapids Griffins coach Matt MacDonald and player development specialist Niklas Kronwall all helping Codd and Berggren work through a set of shooting and passing drills.
I believe that Codd’s being sent back to the OHL today, but we’ll see what happens with Berggren, who’s not quite ready to practice, and Fulcher, who’s been subbing as a third goalie with whichever “team” practices first.
Second, a “Red Team” without Filip Zadina or Wyatt Newpower (who were swapped out to “Team White”) engaged in the aforementioned set of drills under coaches Blashill, Doug Houda, Alex Tanguay, Grand Rapids Griffins coach Ben Simon, assistants Todd Krygier and Matt MacDonald, alongside coaches Blais, Salajko, and Brian Mahoney-Wilson. The situational drills mostly involved attempts to properly position players in 5-vs-5 and 5-on-4 circumstances, though bench changes were utilized to simulate 2-man forechecking while line changes were made.
I thought it was noteworthy that GM Steve Yzerman, assistant GM Pat Verbeek, the aforementioned Niklas Kronwall and one Jiri Fischer (who is now a player recruitment specialist) all took in both practices, keeping their eagle eyes on the Wings’ players and goaltenders…
Third, the “White Team” got barked at quite a bit as the players did their best to engage in a sixth day’s worth of situational drills, and they did listen to their coach, because the team seemed to “get it” more and more as practice continued.
That being said, there was a sense of relief when practice finally wrapped up around 11:30, and the players and coaches headed off to have lunch, pack and drive home to Southeastern Michigan.
It’s quiet here at Centre ICE Arena as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan and I work on our articles, so, building upon days one, two, three, four and five of training camp, here are my player assessments for the final day:
#22 Mitchell Stephens: The 24-year-old isn’t big at 5’11” and 190 pounds, but man, does he ever skate, and does he ever play the game with pace. That’s not to suggest that Stephens will become the next Darren Helm, but he is a very useful 4th line center who wins draws and physical battles against bigger and heavier men, he’s done a fine job of essentially out-working Carter Rowney, Chase Pearson and Joe Veleno for the spot he’s going to earn on the Red Wings’ roster, and his work ethic seems to be a little contagious (in the vein of, “And this is a good contagious“). I’ve been very impressed with his all-round game, and after bouncing around the NHL and AHL, I believe that this is the year he earns an NHL spot.
#25 Taro Hirose: Hirose is in a difficult spot–the 5’10,” 162-pound winger is a sublime passer, absolutely sublime, but that’s what he does best, and the 25-year-old needs to re-establish his relevance as a Red Wings prospect by replicating his near-point-per-game season in Grand Rapids (to the tune of 23 assists and 28 points in 29 games) if he is to knock down some opponents for once en route to earning a spot on the Wings’ roster. Right now, the water bug forward chugs up the ice well, and he’s learned to use leverage and stick position to win pucks from bigger forwards, but he’s a one-note player that needs to prove he can play that note to perfection.
#27 Michael Rasmussen: Rasmussen, massive at 6’6″ and 210 pounds and coming into his own at 22, looks like he’s going to grab and hold onto a spot on the Wings’ third line with Vladislav Namestnikov and Adam Erne. He’s simply grown into his massive body and grown into his role as a two-way behemoth who specializes as a net-front presence on the power play, and does a fine job of working his tail off as a two-way, sometimes shut-down forward at even strength and on the penalty-kill. The big center is adept on the wing, and his skating has improved to a level where he’s fairly fast and very mobile.
#37 Carter Rowney: It’s only training camp, not the exhibition season, but based upon training camp alone, I would argue that the 32-year-old Rowney has gained a leg up on Givani Smith for the Wings’ 12th or 13th forward’s spot. At 6’2″ and 208 pounds, Rowney is big enough to crash and bang when necessary, but he spends most of his time using his size and strength to overpower opponents in one-on-one battles for the puck, skate up and down the ice well, and, when he’s utilized as a center, win faceoff battles and even block the occasional shot. He’s got an understated physical game and he is heavy and hard to play against.
#42 Kyle Criscuolo: The 29-year-old Criscuolo stands at 5’9″ and 175-pounds, and the speedy center is slated to skate for the Grand Rapids Griffins this upcoming season. A plucky little forward with a strong work ethic, Criscuolo doesn’t have much of a chance of making the NHL, but at the AHL level, he can be an integral part of the Griffins’ third line, working with the equally-undersized Dominik Shine and Hayden Verbeek. The line of mighty mites possesses strong work ethic and willingness to out-battle their bigger and heavier opponents, and Criscuolo has good hands by AHL standards.
#48 Givani Smith: Smith is really a puzzle to me. Givani is out of waiver options at 23, and the big, 6’2,” 215-pound instigator and power forward does a fine job of driving his opponents nuts and occasionally dropping the gloves, but Smith hasn’t had the greatest training camp. He’s worked hard, skating strongly in drills and working after practices to tip shots toward the net for PP work, but Smith, who can’t fight his own teammates, hasn’t displayed the kind of edge necessary to out-compete his compatriots for a spot on the roster. Perhaps the exhibition season will afford Smith the opportunity to dish out some physical punishment and truly dominate physically. That’s what he needs to do to earn a spot on the team.
#50 Dominik Shine**: A Griffins-contracted player, Shine is a loyal foot soldier and 3rd line player who overcomes his 5’9,” 175-pound size through hard work and determination. Shine hasn’t been able to replicate his NCAA production at the AHL level, but he is a valuable member of the Griffins and he plays a leadership role in GR.
#54 Bobby Ryan*: Things keep looking up for the Red Wings’ free agent try-out. The 34-year-old Ryan, standing at 6’2″ and 208 pounds, was skating on a line with Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin on Tuesday, and when a slower-skating player skates on a line with elite skaters, things seem to go their way in terms of generating scoring chances. There’s no doubt that Ryan still possesses excellent scoring instincts; he’s able to utilize strong slap, snap and wrist shots, as well as a great one-timer, to defeat opposing goalies, and he knows how to lurk in the dead zones on the ice, but his skating is something of an issue. His work ethic is not, however, and Ryan seems to be making things work as he searches for a 3rd or 4th line role with the team.
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi: It’s frustrating to know that Bertuzzi won’t be able to play in at least 9 games this season, because the 26-year-old is such an integral player to the team. The 6’1,” 197-pound wing is also one of the most vocal members of the Wings’ forward corps, so his enthusiasm for the game and work ethic tend to rub off on his teammates. He skates very well on the Larkin line, he possesses an array of shooting and passing moves, and he goes to the front of the net, he retrieves rebounds, and he mucks and grinds when necessary to win battles for the puck. It remains to be seen how he’ll ultimately fit as someone who’s going to be in and out of the lineup at times.
#71 Dylan Larkin: Larkin spent half of today’s practice using a Warrior stick and the other half using the CCM Jetspeed 4 stick that he’s been trying out. It’s just a little thing, but we may see a full-out equipment change from Larkin as the regular season approaches. The Red Wings’ captain has done an admirable job of leading his teammates over the course of his seven seasons in Detroit, and it’s arguable that the 25-year-old may or may not be a true #1 center, but the 6’1,” 198-pound Larkin is the #1 center, so he uses his work ethic and determination as much as he uses his elite scoring and passing skills (and that skating stride) to win draws, lug the puck up ice, distribute it as necessary and then go to the net. He’s someone who’s looking to reestablish his status as a 50+-point scorer, and if he stays healthy, there’s no reason why Larkin should not be able to accomplish that goal.
#73 Adam Erne: Erne just looks really confident out there. The 26-year-old stands at a stocky 6’1″ and 211 pounds, and Erne is skating well, he’s firing excellent shots toward the net, he’s giving and receiving passes with pace and he’s just generally playing a superbly confident, composed offensive game right now. Hoping to establish a little more consistency after posting 20 points in 45 games last season, Erne will likely start the year on the Red Wings’ third line, but he’ll earn special teams time as a net-front forward on the power play, and from there, he can snipe pucks toward the net and chase after them. He should better his 11 goals from last season, if not double that total.
#79 Kirill Tyutyayev**: Griffins-contracted, the 5’10,” 176-pound Tyutyayev sometimes looks like he’s in over his head, but that’s to be expected from 21-year-old coming out of the Belarusian league, learning English and looking to establish himself as a North American professional player. He possesses dekes and dangles for days, a hard shot, a good sense of playmaking and passing, and he skates with as many fakes as his hands deliver, giving the Griffins an offensive weapon who will hopefully blossom and establish himself as a legitimate Red Wings prospect this upcoming campaign. It’s not going to be easy as the AHL schedule is a grind, and bigger and stronger AHL players will target him, but I’m not counting Tyutyayev out.
#92 Vladislav Namestnikov: Not overly big at 6′ and 180 pounds, the 28-year-old Namestnikov is looking to recapture some of the magic that he displayed playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers, when he was a point-per-every-other-game player. On the Wings’ third line, the strong-skating, faceoff-winning Namestnikov simply needs to display more consistent form as a steady two-way presence, and the offense should come on its own, especially if he ends up playing with Rasmussen and Erne.
#17 Filip Hronek: Hronek is the Red Wings’ resident Mr. Everything on defense, and if he can get past his own self-doubt and frustration, I believe that Hronek has the talent and the toolbox necessary to truly thrive as the Wings’ #1 defenseman. The 6,’ 188-pound Hronek does a fine job defending with an active, accurate stick that pokes away passes and breaks up scoring chances, his physicality is underrated and a bit nasty at times, and the 23-year-old defenseman feels like he’s been around forever, but he’s still maturing. With a hard and accurate slap shot and a dangerous one-timer, he should do more than simply hit the back of empty nets this upcoming season; he passes superbly, he skates as well laterally and backwards as he does forward, and he’s useful on special teams as a result. He just needs to not be his own harshest self-critic.
#28 Gustav Lindstrom: The 6’2,” 183-pound Lindstrom has looked very good on the Wings’ blueline over the course of training camp, mostly skating alongside Jordan Oesterle, and, at this point, he’s competing with Oesterle for a spot on the Wings’ roster as the 7th or 8th defenseman. Still young at 22, Lindstrom skates very well, uses his stick and speed to make up for any lack of physical strength, and he does possess a sound shot and good passing skills, but he’s going to earn his money as a simple, two-way defender that can ideally be utilized in all situations. I see Lindstrom spending some time in Grand Rapids this upcoming season to build confidence and earn playing time.
#32 Brian Lashoff: Lashoff, at 31 years of age, is integral to the Grand Rapids Griffins as their team captain. The 6’3,” 215-pound defenseman can be utilized in a pinch as a #6/7 defender at the NHL level, but he excels at the AHL level as a Swiss Army Knife on skates, a defenseman that can and is used in all situations to shut down opponents and occasionally add offense to the mix. He’s physical without being nasty, and he just quietly leads the Griffins with poise and dignity.
#44 Donovan Sebrango: The 19-year-old Sebrango is plain old fun to watch. The 6’1,” 194-pound defenseman won’t “wow” you with size, but he’s stocky, he’s strong, and he’s stout in the corners and both behind and in front of his own net. Possessing a physical flair, a willingness to drop the gloves and a tendency to make bombastic plays, Sebrango is still very young and in need of seasoning in Grand Rapids, but he looks and plays like a Swiss Army Knife defenseman in the making, one who occasionally sends long-bomb shots the opposition’s way instead of just blocking shots and stabbing passes and plays away with his smart stick. He possesses high potential as a second-pair defenseman.
#65 Danny DeKeyser: DeKeyser says he’s fully healthy after almost two years’ worth of recovering from major back surgery, and it’s a relief to know that the 31-year-old is skating on two healthy legs again. The 6’3,” 183-pound DeKeyser needs his skating abilities and the leverage he can gain with his astute stick to break up defensive plays instead of overwhelming his opponents with brute strength, and it’s as a strong skater that he is most valuable, serving time as Filip Hronek’s stay-at-home foil (and sometimes Hronek’s panic button). DeKeyser will continue to earn major minutes on the Wings’ defense, but a little less time for DeKeyser and Hronek will do them both good in terms of giving them enough rest to make better decisions.
#82 Jordan Oesterle: The 29-year-old Oesterle is a meat-and-potatoes defender whose best quality is his smoothness–to the point that the 6,’ 188-pound defenseman tends to blend into the woodwork when he’s playing at his very best. A strong skater and seamless, if underrated passer and shooter, Oesterle hopes to both make the Red Wings’ lineup out of training camp and establish himself as 20-point-scorer again. I don’t know whether all of those things will happen, but as far as depth defenders go, the Wings seem to have made a sound decision in bringing Oesterle into the mix.
#84 Alex Cotton: Cotton has probably skated in his last practice with the Red Wings, but the 20-year-old Lethbridge Hurricanes defenseman will head back to the WHL soon a smarter player for having “stuck” this long with the Red Wings’ NHL team. He survived the first round of cuts, and he’s played steady, smart hockey. He skates particularly well in all three directions, and while he’s not overly strong at 6’2″ and 190 pounds, but he’s a point-per-game player at the WHL level, and another year posting those kinds of numbers might encourage the Red Wings to make room for Cotton on a crowded defense.
#29 Thomas Greiss: Greiss id that thing that worries me today, which is to say that he gave up goals, and they started to snowball on him, so it was an up-and-down practice for the 6’2,” 219-pound netminder. That’s Greiss’s biggest weakness, arguably–there are times when his excellent fundamentals fail him, and he starts to give up consecutive goals against–and it was strange to see such a remarkably technically sound goaltender struggle with his confidence, albeit only briefly. The 35-year-old netminder is generally the owner of a stellar glove, strong blocker and stick hand, an excellent butterfly and the ability to cover lots of net with that big body when he drops to his knees. Greiss just kind of lost his net for 20 minutes today, and that was worrisome.
#31 Calvin Pickard: Pickard is another goalie for whom bad goals tend to pile up, usually on his blocker side and five-hole, but when the 29-year-old netminder is consistent, the 6’1,” 210-pound Pickard is utterly and completely unremarkable in the best sense of the term. When the AHL starter plays within himself, he’s able to stifle opposition shooters using a tight butterfly style that’s just got few to zero holes, and, when Pickard is consistent, he makes a hard-to-play position look easy. Ideally, he finds consistent form with the Griffins this upcoming season.
#36 Kaden Fulcher: Fulcher just needs time to play to sort out the holes in his game, and the 23-year-old is going to be in a pitched battle with Toledo Walleye starter Billy Christopoulos for playing time this upcoming season. A big goalie at 6’3″ and 210 pounds, Fulcher is still working on finding the best possible means by which to stop the puck easily and simply, and there are times that he does not stop the puck easily because he’s a big, bombastic goaltender. He needs to settle down a bit and let himself simplify a hard position.
#11 Filip Zadina: Zadina, like Hronek before him, has one big enemy, and that enemy is his own self-doubt, which can really stifle a player who possesses oodles of self-confidence. Ready to establish himself as a reliable scorer at 21 years of age, the 6,’ 197-pound winger possesses an elite set of wrist, snap, slap and one-timed shots, he passes better than you would imagine a sniper to pass, he skates particularly well and he is more physical than he lets on, especially when his temper gets the better of him. Mostly, it’s time for Zadina to post a 15-to-25-goal season because he’s going to earn the opportunity to do so, be it alongside Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, or Sam Gagner and Joe Veleno (during the preseason), so he needs to execute.
#14 Robby Fabbri: The 25-year-old Fabbri is another player in search of consistency of offensive contributions. At 25, the 5’11,” 183-pound winger posted 10 goals in only 30 games played last season, but the Wings envision the smooth-skating, smart-shooting Fabbri as a 20-goal-scorer, and it will take all his effort and resolve to find consistent form in the goal-scoring department. Fabbri may be marginally less talented in the shooting department than Zadina, but he’s a better passer and playmaker, and he’s a smoother skater, with a fair amount of hustle and “zip” to his game as well.
#23 Lucas Raymond: Raymond, according to coach Jeff Blashill, will have to play as the best performer on the entire ice surface during exhibition play for the Red Wings to keep him as a top-six forward. That’s an incredibly tough task to ask of a 19-year-old who stands at 5’11” and 182 pounds (maybe?). Raymond is an absolutely elite scorer whose nose for the net and ability to unleash an array of shots (his snap shot and one-timer are particularly excellent), he skates smoothly and sometimes downright elegantly as he surveys the ice for scoring chances, be they for himself or for his teammates, he’s an underrated playmaker, and he knows how to go and stay in the quiet areas of the ice to sneak his way into scoring beautiful goals.
I think that Raymond will eventually be a top-six NHL scorer, but at the present moment, it suits him best to get used to the North American grind, in schedule and in terms of playing against big, strong and physical opponents, by excelling with the Grand Rapids Griffins this upcoming season.
#24 Pius Suter: As Jeff Blashill has called him, Suter is a “headsy player,” because he’s not very big at 5’11” and 174 pounds, he’s not the fastest player or the best shooter on the team, but man, does Suter possess an extremely high Hockey IQ. He chugs up the ice smoothly with or without the puck on his stick, he makes excellent plays to teammates in scoring position, and the little pug of a center knows how to out-smart opponents on his way to scoring goals by himself. Hustle and work ethic deliver for Suter in a way that size and strength cannot, and hockey smarts tie his skill set together.
#26 Riley Barber: The Grand Rapids Griffins’ leading scorer this past season, the 6,’ 199-pound Barber hasn’t completely given up on making the NHL at 27, but he is most useful for the Red Wings as an AHL veteran who can post point-per-game numbers at the AHL level. Barber is stocky and fast, he wins physical battles and he passes and shoots the puck fairly well, but he’s been utilized as a checking forward as much as anything else thus far, and he’s played capably in that role. He’ll vie for a call-up and a cup of coffee as a useful 3rd or 4th line presence on the Red Wings this upcoming season, but the Griffins need him to score for them first and foremost.
#46 Chase Pearson: In six months to a year from now, the big 6’3,” 202-pound Pearson will battle damn hard to swipe Mitchell Stephens’ spot from him. Right now, the 24-year-old is best-served by heading to Grand Rapids for one final season of finishing–if not posting at a near point-per-game pace–but the big center is going to earn his NHL paycheck as a stalwart fourth line center. He works his tail off to win one-on-one battles for the puck along the boards, down low and behind and in front of his own net, he gaps up well on opposing forwards, he wins faceoffs, out-works anyone and possesses underrated skills as a shooter and playmaker, mostly because he skates particularly well for such a big forward.
Pearson’s an NHL’er in the making.
#51 Hayden Verbeek**: The 23-year-old Verbeek chose to sign an AHL contract when his NHL deal with the Wings expired to stay relevant, and, thus far, the 23-year-old has remained relevant because he’s a 5’10,” 187-pound speed demon. Perhaps the Wings’ fastest skater, the small center charges up and down the ice, plays very well defensively, and wins faceoffs…And he does everything with pace. He’s just small and facing a stacked set of centers in the Wings’ system, so Verbeek likely goes to Grand Rapids and works on their third line.
#57 Turner Elson**: Another Griffins contract, the 29-year-old Elson is looking to reestablish himself as a point-per-every-other-game player. The 6,’ 191-pound center has served as a reliable part of the middle of the Griffins’ lineup for four seasons now, often wearing an alternate captain’s “A,” and in GR, Elson is a useful player who possesses a strong all-round skill set, versatility to be used on the power play, and a good work ethic.
#63 Jon Martin**: Martin has remained my Mystery Man throughout training camp. The Griffins took a flyer on the 26-year-old forward after a strong season of scoring in the German Second Division, and the 6’2,” 215-pound Martin is definitely a big lug of a dude who skates with pace and is big and strong, but his AHL experience is somewhat limited, and he was a point-per-every-other-game player once. Perhaps he is slated to help someone like Riley Barber along; perhaps he’s slated to head to Toledo to score for the Walleye.
#67 Dennis Yan**: Yan is another wild card for the Griffins. The 6’2,” 192-pound forward posted points at an excellent level in the QMJHL, but the 24-year-old has yet to find the same kind of scoring pace at the AHL level, so the Griffins took a flyer on Yan after a solid season with the Austrian league’s Black Wings Linz. Yan possesses strong skating and fast hands, but whether he can combine his slick passes and shots with any kind of consistency is yet to be determined.
#76 Tyler Spezia**: There is no doubt that the 5’10,” 167-pound Spezia is headed to the ECHL to score goals and post points for the Toledo Walleye, and that’s okay. The plucky little speedster occupies a two-way, AHL/ECHL contract, and he can be called up to score in the AHL if needed, but the 28-year-old is generally the Walleye’s resident point-per-game go-to guy, and you need these kinds of players in your organization as well.
#89 Sam Gagner: At 32, Gagner is considered to be a veteran, and the 5’11,” 197-pound Gagner generally plays third or fourth line minutes for the Red Wings…But the smart-skating, subtly tenacious Gagner also flashes flourishes of absolutely elite goal-scoring and passing abilities from time to time, offering the Wings something of an ace in the hole during games when the top two lines have been shut down. Gagner is no longer an elite scorer, but he is an excellent leader of men, and his work ethic serves as an example for the Wings’ younger players.
#90 Joe Veleno: Veleno, like Pearson and Raymond, is headed back to Grand Rapids despite a highly likely status as a future NHL’er. The 21-year-old stands a steady 6’1″ and 206 pounds, and the center is probably best-served heading to Grand Rapids to skate on a line with Jonatan Berggren and Lucas Raymond, where Veleno will hope to replicate the kind of scoring his fine shot and passing/playmaking instincts afforded him in the QMJHL. He skates very well, he’s a dogged, determined worker who wills as much as muscles his way toward winning battles on faceoffs, in one-on-one battles for the puck and in out-numbered situations, and he busts his hump on a regular basis. He just needs to regain the kind of scoring confidence he once displayed as a youngster to really prove invaluable as a 2nd or 3rd line center for Detroit in six months to a year from now.
#2 Nick Leddy: I’ve been incredibly impressed by the 6,’ 205-pound defenseman’s skating abilities, and the 30-year-old Leddy is entirely capable of head-manning the rush himself, firing hard shots at the net, making plays and passing the puck to teammates in flight, and generally doing the kinds of offensive things that a 40-point-producer does…But Leddy is equally useful as a human eraser, a player who skates so very well in all three directions (forward, backward and laterally) and gaps up so very well on opponents with that strong stick that he makes other partners’ mistakes disappear. The Wings haven’t had a human eraser in some time now.
#18 Marc Staal: Staal plays a simple, spare game, and that’s just peachy. The 6’4,” 208-pound defenseman is 34 now, and he’s not the fastest man on the ice, but he’s smart and knows how to get to the places on the ice that he needs to be before his opponents are able to do so. Staal’s simple, spare game comes from his smarts, and while he possesses a heavy shot and good passing skills, he mostly uses his physicality and stick to buy time for Troy Stecher to occasionally freelance as a more offensively-inclined defenseman than he usually is. Staal is that dependable partner that you want on your blueline.
#20 Luke Witkowski: Witkowski, serviceable as both a defenseman and as a fourth-line forward, will probably head to Grand Rapids, where the 31-year-old will be utilized as both leader and enforcer. With more than passable skating skills, harsh physicality and fairly good hands in terms of his all-round skill set, the Grand Rapids Griffins badly needed a leader who can drop the gloves in the absence of Dylan McIlrath, so the Holland Native himself headed home, and the 6’2,” 210-pound Witkowski will spend most of his season in the AHL.
#21 Dan Renouf: Renouf is another one of those players who’s looking to become relevant again, and the 27-year-old defenseman would be best served by playing a strong season in the AHL with Grand Rapids. The 6’3,” 200-pound Renouf is a little slimmed down from his previous Red Wings incarnation, and as a result, he’s a little faster and quicker with the puck as well. He’s speedy, he’s physical and he’s generally useful as an all-round defenseman, but he wants to still make the NHL, and doing so requires him to battle through a deep stable of competitive compatriots.
#47 Wyatt Newpower: The Red Wings took a flyer on signing Newpower to an NHL contract at 23 years of age because the 6’3,” 207-pound right-shooting defenseman had a very strong season with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters after spending four years at the University of Connecticut. He was dominant and domineering at times at the prospect tournament, but as training camp took place, Newpower sort of faded back into the woodwork, and I’m going to be very curious as to whether he can stand out positively during the exhibition season.
#53 Moritz Seider: Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill feels that Seider will be at his best when he’s playing as an author of play instead of as a conduit for other players to make plays. The 6’4,” 197-pound Seider needs to be demonstrative and determined to generate offense himself when the puck is on his stick, and he needs to play with some panache on defense. He can do both things: Seider is an elite skater in all three directions; he possesses great gap control and a smart stick, with which his lanky frame affords him the ability to reach around and through opponents to poke away the puck; Seider has a heavy, hard and accurate shot of his own, he sees the ice superbly and he knows how to make plays by sending teammates on rushes, or lugging the puck up ice himself. I do agree with the coach that Seider needs to just do things himself to be most successful, and the more that Seider plays on instinct, the better he’ll be.
#70 Troy Stecher: The 5’10,” 184-pound Stecher is an intriguing case for me. The 27-year-old is best-utilized as the puck-mover on the Red Wings’ third pair, alongside Marc Staal, but at every level, the excellent-skating Stecher has proved that he can generate offense, including a gorgeous play that helped facilitate Team Canada’s ascent to the Gold Medal Game at the World Championship this past May. Stecher can deke and dangle with the best of them, but he often goes too far when he’s trying to make a play happen when it’s sometimes not there, and that’s where Staal mops up the mess. I don’t know if Stecher should be given the opportunity to show more offensive chops, because we know he has them, but we don’t know whether he can utilize them without also making mistakes.
#86 Adam Brubacher*: The free agent defenseman from the Rochester Institute of Technology has done a good job of earning a couple of exhibition games out of a strong prospect tournament and a solid training camp showing. Heavy and tough at 6’3″ and 202 pounds, Brubacher is a little heavy-footed at times, but his smarts and stick afford him the opportunity to break up opposing teams’ scoring chances, he’s physical as all hell get out, and he’s mature at 25. I know that he’s going to earn a pro contract somewhere; whether that contract comes from Detroit (which would likely send him to Toledo) is uncertain at present. He’s no frills, no fuss, no muss, but he’s effective in that role.
#34 Victor Brattstrom: Over the past two days, Brattstrom has been two goalies: when he works with the goaltending coaches, the 6’4,” 200-pound Brattstrom is the consummate technician, using his time with Jeff Salajko and Brian Mahoney-Wilson to tweak the smallest aspects of his game which he feels he needs to perfect to succeed in North America. During practices and games, however, the 24-year-old “freelances,” often utilizing acrobatic saves or reflex stops as he abandons his highly technical butterfly game to flop and flail around the crease. That’s been frustrating to watch, because Brattstrom is at his best when he is mostly playing a sound technical game. When he gets away from his fundamentals, he really has to flop and flail to overcompensate, and that’s not going to be a recipe for success over the long haul.
#39 Alex Nedeljkovic: Nedeljkovic turns his blocker hand over when he poke checks, and sometimes he takes his blocker hand out of the game by doing so.
There, I found a weakness in Nedeljkovic’s otherwise seamless suit of armor. And it is pretty much seamless: the 6,’ 203-pound netminder is not big by today’s standards, but he possesses an impeccable glove, an excellent blocker and stick (unless he’s turning it over early), his thighs and toes boot out pucks meaningfully while both standing up and transitioning into the butterfly, he’s upright chest-wise in said butterfly, and he knows when to freelance and battle for the puck by out-willing his opponents to acrobatic stops. At 25, Nedeljkovic was signed by the Wings instead of the Hurricanes due to a limited resume, but he should hold his own and then some while facing a heavier offensive workload in the Wings’ net.
*= Free agent try-out, **= Grand Rapids Griffins contract
I hope that you’ve enjoyed my training camp coverage over the past two weeks. I’ll attempt to talk to the Wings soon about potentially making this a more regular thing for me; if they say “no,” I’ll still cover Detroit as best I can, and get to as many Griffins and Walleye games as time and my other job allow.
Regarding said “other job”: I’m heading home tomorrow because Aunt Annie injured her elbow, and I need to get back to my “other job” in taking care of my 79-year-old roommate. I’ll do as best I can to continue covering things well today, but tomorrow, I’m driving home, and my updates will be spotty until I can unpack.
After Thursday, I’m taking at least a day off, and we’ll go day-by-day from there.
Overall, I hope that TMR is back on track and back in your bookmarks after three hard years in terms of my mother and then my aunt’s health, as well as my own hiccups; let’s hope that things move more smoothly in the future.
In the interim, I am still raising funds. I’m still in need of gas and grocery money, the cell phone replacement is going to hurt because my credit score is a single digit (yay college loans!), and the brakes on the Pacifica are starting to sound rusty.
If you’re willing to lend a hand in exchange for my training camp coverage–or to keep TMR operational–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.