Abel to Yzerman
by George Malik on 09/11/10 at 04:51 PM ET
I’m back at the hotel after this morning’s Wings’ prospects practice for several simple reasons, with the first and foremost being the obvious—when the Grand Traverse Insider reported that Ken Holland re-christened a newly-expanded Centre Ice Arena on Wednesday, they didn’t mention the “in-progress” part. There’s a press box, but at present, it exists as a small perch above the ice sans flooring and without seats and internet access for the media. The rink looks fantastic, but the innards and infrastructure…will hopefully get fixed by the time the main camp begins.
The on and off-the ice aspects of this morning’s session were a bit weird, too, mostly because I’m unfamiliar with the facility, and my media connection wasn’t present at the time. I didn’t have access to any players despite the fact that the line between fans and players is very thin: aside from a small security staff, the players have to walk through the lobby or up through the stands to get to their workout facility, and the vast majority of the Wings’ coaches and scouts sat in the crowd.
Among those in attendance for the Wings: Grand Rapids Griffins coach Curt Fraser, assistant coach Jim Paek, Red Wings video coordinator Keith McKittrick, director of player development Jiri Fischer and goaltending coach Jim Bedard reprized their on-ice roles during the summer prospect camp, guiding the players through a briskly-paced 45-minute practice. In the stands, Mike Babcock, Paul MacLean and Brad McCrimmon watched attentively for portions of the practice, as did assistant GM Jim Nill (Yahoo Sports’ Nicholas J. Cotsonika talked to him, but I missed out), several of the Wings’ scouts were there, and, making an appearance behind the Tampa Bay Lightning’s bench (they practiced before the Wings did) and then moving to the personnel-only “mezzanine,” one very fit and very tanned Chris Chelios watched the practice while talking with one of the Wings’ scouts.
I spent part of practice talking with Matt and Megan Saler of On the Wings and the OTW gang, who kindly attempted to equip my cell phone with wireless internet, but Sprint and Verizon apparently don’t play well together, so after some repeated attempts to download and install a internet-via-phone-tether program, we decided to watch the Wings practice. Matt and I were pretty sure that we saw Steve Yzerman watching the Bolts practice from an upstairs room reserved for NHL personnel where they can snack on food and drink coffee (the media is restricted to a small part of the room, and there’s a big curtain that says, “NHL SCOUTS AND PERSONNEL ONLY PAST THIS POINT” on the curtain, as well as a “guard” of sorts).
I also spoke to a gent named Bryan who informed me that the Wings’ coaches held a tremendously detailed coaches’ clinic before the Wings’ prospects took to the ice at 11:30. Brad McCrimmon explained penalty-killing, defensive positioning, how defensemen need to utilize their sticks and feet via a video of the Wings’ PK and penalty-killing “box” and videos illustrating now Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall position themselves; Jim Bedard discussed goaltending drills; Curt Fraser went over “pre-ice” drills and warm-up activities; Paul MacLean talked about the power play, breakouts, and gaining the offensive zone; and Mike Babcock talked about coaching philosophies, attempting to foster success by instilling a passion for the game which, in part, helps convince kids to keep playing hockey, and he talked about the Wings’ systems of play, breakout, their offensive zone play and their defensive responsibilities.
The Wings did all of that out of their own time as a courtesy to Traverse City-area youth hockey coaches, which is pretty damn cool, and the team didn’t charge admission for the first practice, either.
As far as the practice itself goes, to me, anyway, it looked like a bit of an “orientation” camp for the prospects as well. Thomas McCollum had the net to himself at the north end of the rink, which Sarah Lindenau from RedWingsCentral suggests means that he’s starting when the Wings’ prospects play Dallas tonight at 7 PM. Petr Mrazek and Jordan Pearce split time in net at the south end of the rink, with Mrazek getting more time in the net than Pearce did.
Most of the drills involved puck retrieval, the transition game, and, mostly, getting the goaltenders ready for lateral passes in front of the net. The forwards and defensemen did split up halfway through practice, and as McCollum took lots of long shots based upon lateral passes from defenseman to defenseman or a coach (Fischer or Paek) along the half boards sending it back to defense…
Any goaltender knows that, despite all the padding you have, the blocks of padding on one’s thighs can shift to the point that your chest protector might get dislodged, and I think that McCollum took a shot in the lower abdomen around 12:05. He didn’t return to the net, attempting to shake off the effects and stretch at the south end of the rink instead.
The initial drills involved goaltenders taking the dump-in and sending it to his defensemen, who attempted to clear the zone and then reverse direction and attack the net, battling five opponents who first “attacked” on the forecheck and then switched off to “defend” the net. McCollum looked like he had quite a few holes in his technique for most of the day, in all honesty, so he wasn’t particularly spectacular.
At the other end of the ice, Pearce remains Pearce—frickin’ huge despite his listed 6’1” status, but wearing leg pads with thigh rises so high that they tend to inhibit his movement, and he remains a very raw player in terms of his ability to get squared up to shooters when moving across the crease. In other words, he still looks like an ECHL goaltender, not a polished prospect by any stretch of the imagination.
Petr Mrazek really surprised me, however. He’s still small (maybe 5’10” and a hundred and seventy pounds with 20 pounds of goalie equipment on) but he tends to play a Giguere-style “block the puck and worry about the rebound later” game, and at the summer strength and conditioning camp, his puck-blocking style—which, oddly enough, is balanced by extraordinary athleticism—involved Mrazek over-committing to shooters, moving wildly across the crease and finding himself easily spun around and spun out, because once you get a blocking-style goalie turned around, he’s not particularly good at scrambling (as opposed to say, McCollum, who definitely grew up in Western New York and watched Dominik Hasek as a kid). Today, anyway, Mrazek looked polished, poised and conservative in his movements, deftly moving around the crease and tossing rebounds aside with an authoritative air.
As the drills shifted to reversing the puck against the “grain” of play or, increasingly regularly, retrieving the puck and then shoveling it to the slot, where a forward would either pass to a fellow attacker or simply rip a shot at the net, I at least made a few observations in between conversations:
Stephen Johnston…sigh. The Windsor Spitfires forward, former prospect and now free agent try-out still has jittery hands and just looks like a player who’s big, strong, and as yet unable to get his skills on the same page. He still has lots of potential, but he always looks nervous and disjointed in terms of his comfort level.
Willie Coetzee looked a little better than he did during the summer strength and conditioning camp, but he’s still a bit of whirling dervish who has yet to find a sense of balance. His skating is superb, his hands and puckhandling are elite, and when he motors up the ice, he can make things happen, but he still spins out a bit too regularly.
Landon Ferraro, at least in terms of a confidence standpoint, finally looked relaxed and at ease with himself, and in terms of his ability to battle for the puck, a little stronger, too. He and Brent Raedeke spent the final few minutes of practice working on faceoff drills with Fraser at center ice, and Raedeke got peeved at one point because Ferraro was winning draws too regularly and skated away from the faceoff dot, stick whacking the ice in frustration.
Raedeke still looks like the player he was during the summer, which is good. He’s confident, poised, a superbly defensively responsible player and he’s both speedy and relatively slick. He looks like a mash-up of Kris Draper and Dan Cleary, minus Draper’s speed, and he’s definitely going to shine playing as a defensive forward with the Griffins this season because he’s just tremendously level-headed.
I saw Joakim Andersson for the first time today, and he left a good first impression in terms of his skating. The scouting reports describe him as something of a lead-footed player, but he looked like he could get along at a solid rate. No speedster by any means, but he wasn’t Larry Murphy, either.
As I was at the end where defensemen worked (I’ll try to sit at center ice next time as that’s my favorite spot to begin with), I only caught brief glimpses of Trevor Parkes and Andrej Nestrasil, but both looked much more relaxed, and Parkes knows he’s playing for a job and is hustling like a player determined to earn a contract. His “hustle” and “compete levels” were very evidently high, even in passing.
Sebastien Piche remains talkative, very focused and detail-oriented as he’s always talking to coaches or his defensive partners about the specifics of drills or positioning when he there are breaks in play, and while he’s still a very short 5’10” and about 180 lbs, he’s a superb skater, a good passer, and while he still has an Al MacInnis-like wind-up when he shoots, he makes his shots count. They’re hard and high.
Brendan Smith looked a little off today. He remains an effortless skater and elegant passer, he moves very well laterally, like Piche, has tremendous, elite-level vision, and his shots were just kinda…fluttery. He can really rip low, hard shots at the net, but I wonder if he’s got the wrong curve on his stick because pucks also tend to roll off his blade and sputter out about a third of the time that he shoots the puck.
Brian Lashoff looked like a player still establishing his comfort level, but he remains very large, very strong, and very polished. He’s a defenseman you don’t notice very much because he does everything well. He’s skating a little better this year, so he’s growing into that big 6’3,” 210-or-so-lb body.
I really like what I see from Travis Ehrhardt. He’s also a defenseman that you don’t notice all the time, but he plays alongside Brendan Smith as the “stay-at-home guy” (Piche was usually paired with his partner in crime, Gleason Fournier, or Andreas Lilja clone Alex Cord), and when needed, he’s got a rocket of a shot, he passes well and his lateral mobility, skating stride and ability to grind out the puck in one-on-one battles are all superb. He’s not very big (maybe 6’ and 185 lbs) but he’s incredibly strong.
As previously suggested, Alex Cord looks like a Lilja clone, except that he doesn’t do the things that Lilja did that drive people crazy. Less mistake-prone, very solid, very simple.
Fournier still looks like a kid, and he still plays like a raw prospect. He’s incredibly inconsistent—one minute, he’s threading the needle with a jaw-dropping pass, leading the rush all by himself, slithering pucks at the net or bumping somebody off the puck, and the next, he flubs the puck or over-commits to checking a player and gets beaten ridiculously easily.
Of the two try-outs, Brenden Kitchton and Marc Zanetti, I liked what I saw from Zanetti more, and that was only filed under the category of “poise.” Elegance, he doesn’t have, but he is poised.
The practice actually ended a little early, at 12:15 instead of 12:30, so after watching defensemen fire pucks into an open net and the forwards mill about from about 12:05-12:15, I did snap a few pictures of Mrazek and Pearce doing “mirroring” positioning drills—and I am posting pictures on Twitpic as internet connectivity is available. I’m not Sarah from RWC, and I’m just learning how to operate a cell phone camera, but I’m working on it.
I’ll attend the Wings-Stars game this evening—heading out on a very rainy night with my jacket as I learned this morning that the rink’s so cold that you can see your breath at times—and hopefully snag an interview, with a report to come later. Again, any suggestions or observations you’d like to share are welcome.
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Welcome to Abel to Yzerman, a Red Wing blog since 1977. No other site on the internet has better-researched, fact-laden and better prepared discussions than A2Y. Re-phrase: we do little research, find facts and stats highly overrated and claim little to no preparation. There are 19 readers of A2Y. No more, no less. All of them, except maybe one, are juvenile in nature. Reminding them of that in the comment section will only encourage them to prove that. Your suggestions and critiques are welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org