The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/14/11 at 01:01 AM ET
To put things as subtly as a brick, the Red Wings’ decision to add an eighth day to their summer development camp has allowed them to push their new and returning prospects to the absolute edge of their performance envelopes, and in some cases, very, very purposefully beyond them, and what held true for Wednesday’s morning session remained the case in the afternoon.
For the AHL’ers who’ve been working out, save perhaps a week or two off in May, we’re talking about utter physical and mental exhaustion; for most of the returning prospects, we’re talking about ice bags, time on the trainer’s table and in Petr Mrazek’s case, asking try-out Tyson Teichmann to spell him during the afternoon so that his sore…something (he didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask) didn’t get worse.
In the case of Marek Tvrdon, who’s missed the vast majority of the 2010-2011 season due to reconstructive shoulder surgery, the reason he first left Tuesday’‘s practice, hobbling on one leg and returning after the Zamboni scrape, and then leaving halfway through Wednesday’s session and not returning at all was summarized by Tvrdon himself when I asked him if he had a sprained ankle:
“Blest…Blisters. Both feet. What happen when you don’t skate for eight months.”
So a player with custom-made skates who’s been working with one of the best athletic trainers in the NHL—and the Wings’ NHL staff is up there, for the players’ literal and figurative equipment needs—could no longer skate on a day when even the Wings’ steadiest AHL veterans were flubbing drills and fatigue was only remedied by simplification, realistically lowered expectations and, in the case of the afternoon group, a Chris Chelios-inspired session of three-on-three hockey with the nets placed against the half boards on the north end of the rink.
More than a few players with fully functioning feet blew tires during skating drills, some of the slickest passers and shooters around were clanking pucks off goalposts or simply fanning on shots (even the mighty Jurco the Magician looked human today), goalies who had perfect positioning and their pads in front of shots would simply whiff on fluttering pucks and the players’ abilities to keep up with Tomas Storm’s stick drills or the finer points of Andy Weidenbach’s power skating drills, or when the goalies worked with Jim Bedard to focus on lateral movement or recovery.
The effort was there but the execution was lacking due to physical and mental fatigue. It was a sloppy day, even when Curt Fraser, Jim Paek, Keith McKittrick and Jiri Fischer (and eventually Chris Chelios) took over and chose to focus on simpler counter-attack drills and reinforce the basics of puck possession hockey.
Perhaps if I put it even more bluntly, I’m not the only person who’s burnt out this evening. The players are very lucky—just as the incidence of composite stick breakage has been very low, thus far nobody’s really suffered any serious injuries (knock on my empty head) and after tomorrow’s camp-ending scrimmage, they’ll return to Joe Louis Arena for a second round of fitness testing to give the players both feedback as to how and where they’ve improved and what they need to work on (both the players and coaches have stated over and over again that they love the concept of having “numbers” to shoot for), a set of exit interviews with the trainers and then the coaches and team’s management, a 24-hour-a-day grind that’s gone on since, in most players’ cases, July 4th or 5th will conclude with the entire roster taking in Friday night’s Tigers-White Sox game from Mike Ilitch’s suite at Comerica Park.
From what they’ve told me, the players have loved being challenged by the trainers, the four and five-year camp veterans with AHL experience say that they continue to learn new things from skill development coach Tomas Storm and power skating coach Andy Weidenbach, the goalies always feel that while Jim Bedard’s not teaching them anything new, they can always refine their techniques, in terms of the off-ice training, the additions of Griffins strength and conditioning coach Aaron Downey and prospect mentor Chris Chelios have been as revolutionary as bringing Storm and Weidenbach into the picture, the coaching staff’s drills have tossed in new wrinkles in the puck possession game and will provide springboards toward what just about everybody hopes will be the first prospect tournament the Red Wings have ever won, and by and large, the players have both loved having a de-facto road trip in Traverse City and really and genuinely seem to like each other…
But they were more or less ready for this to be over on Monday, which is specifically why the camp’s gone from seven to eight days. Sometimes you have to push people to and past their breaking points to see where there’s room for improvement, and from a bottom-line standpoint, the Red Wings are in the business of drafting and developing players, so refining the art that is the introduction to the “Red Wings way” for newcomers, the reinforcement of how hard one must work to improve both on and off the ice to become a professional hockey player for the returning prospects and that ever-so-subtle reminder to the professionals in the room that they are anything but finished products, all of these things will hopefully add up to another player or two developing into at least a reliable spare part, if not an integral component of the team’s drive train.
So to build Red Wings, sometimes you’ve gotta break the new recruits, and that’s happened in more ways than one over the past seven days. The players have skated and shot and mucked and ground and stretched and lifted and trained their butts off, their minds have been filled with new techniques and refinements of the concepts of on and off-ice skill development that they already know, and they’ve been pushed to their limits for their own and their would-be employers’ benefits.
But they also know that this supportive environment only serves as either an introduction to the organization and/or a springboard for a prospect tournament where playing time, places in the organizational pecking order, invites to the main camp and both contracts and futures are on the line.
So that’s all that this really was, then. A start. A start that kicked the asses of every player in attendance and has me pretty burnt out, too. But that’s the point, blisters and mental and physical fatigue included.
I described today’s drills pretty decently in my mid-day post, and as there’s one more day to go for both the players and myself, here’s the list of players participating in the camp…
38 Thomas McCollum
66 Tyson Teichmann*
2 Brendan Smith
32 Adam Almquist
64 Danny Dekeyser*
42 Max Nicastro
15 Richard Nedomlel
62 Ryan Sproul
3 Brad Walch*
47 Brent Raedeke
14 Gustav Nyquist
60 Trevor Parkes
70 Willie Coetzee
58 Landon Ferraro
58 Nick Oslund
68 Adam Estoclet*
24 Dean Chelios*
63 Julien Cayer
45 Casey Fraser*
Injured: Gleason Fournier
34 Petr Mrazek
31 Evan Mosher*
25 Brian Lashoff
54 Sebastien Piche
27 Travis Ehrhardt
56 Bryan Rufenach
61 Xavier Ouellet
75 Artem Sergeev*
77 Jake Chelios*
41 Nick Jensen
28 Tomas Jurco
53 Louis-Marc Aubry
65 Mitchell Callahan
71 Travis Novak*
50 Brooks Macek
74 Alan Quine
29 Marek Tvrdon
73 Phillipe Hudon
72 Zachery Franko*
49 Jesse Fraser*
Note: Players with an * next to their names are try-outs.
Here are the details regarding tomorrow’s scrimmage, which costs $5 to attend…
This year’s camp wraps up on Thursday, July 14 with another intrasquad scrimmage as well as a skills competition (8:30 – 10:00 a.m.). More information on Traverse City ’s Centre Ice Arena can be obtained by visiting www.centreice.org.
And here’s the roster breakdown of “Team Zetterberg,” which participated in skating drills this afternoon:
White team: Mitchell Callahan, Travis Novak, Sebastien Piche, Alan Quine, Jake Chelios,, Nick Jensen, Artem Sergeev, Marek Tvrdon, Evan Mosher
Red Team: Brooks Macek, Louis-Marc Aubry, Bryan Rufenach, Jesse Fraser, Tomas Jurco, Brian Lashoff, Travis Ehrhardt, Zachery Franko, and substituting for Petr Mrazek, Tyson Teichmann.
In terms of observations regarding individual players, keeping in mind that they were and are exhausted and banged-up:
Marek Tvrdon: To find out that he was playing on blistered feet on top of reconstructive shoulder surgery and a barely-played in draft year…He’s a gamble. He’s exactly what the Wings think he is—a big, strong Slovakian power forward whose game is a little less subtle and a little more gritty than Tomas Jurco’s, who goes in straight lines a little more and who could really flourish as a very faithful post-Red Wings Tomas Kopecky reproduction, but he needs to play a for a full year and find himself again. He’s in really good shape for someone who’s missed so much time, but all that working out doesn’t necessarily translate to anything other than flashes of being able to handle himself with the big boys.
Evan Mosher: If ever there was a goalie that looked like Jean-Sebastien Giguere, James Reimer, Henrik Lundqvist and the kid down the street who plays the Quebec Butterfly style…He’s a very solid Quebec Butterfly goalie, with a very good glove hand (albeit a high one) for a puck blocker, a mobile blocker hand, and excellent lateral mobility which offsets a slightly narrow butterfly and holes that open up when he skitters from side to side. But like any puck blocker, and especially a puck-blocker with a puffed-up chest protector, when you turn him around he’s gonna have trouble stopping the puck unless he can flash out a leg. See me in September and I might have a different story for you, but right now it is just so very hard to figure out what makes a goalie different when he plays a patented style with almost no variations from the norm.
Travis Novak: I spoke to the Saint Cloud State senior-to-be after practice and he removed an ice bag from a very sensitive region to talk to me, and all I can say is that for all his fantastic puck-ragging hands and elegantly speedy feet can do, he is all of 5’11” and 160 pounds going into his senior year of college. He works hard, his attitude’s great and he’s very savvy but his body isn’t developing as fast as his hockey skills have.
Sebastien Piche: On a day that everyone else struggled with mental and physical fatigue, the ever-enthusiastic Piche all but glided through the drills while putting on a puck-dragging and skating clinic, and when the team-wide drills began, well, he faded right back into the woodwork, because that’s what a grinding defenseman with a skill set to be so much more does. Very frustrating.
Mitchell Callahan: Callahan can only do so much and be so effective when he’s not allowed to piss off or beat the hell out of his opponents because they’re his teammates. He’s been as conscientious as he is energetic and, in his own goofy way, a solid leader, and he’s going to make a fine grinding forward with a nose for the net and the ability to grind the puck out down low and smartly send it to his more skilled teammates that eventually makes a name for himself at the AHL or NHL level. He’s never gonna be big and he’s never going to be particularly graceful but he’s…A phenomenon unto himself, in a good way.
Alan Quine: He has Gordie Howe shoulders, and what I mean by that is that he’s got a very svelte frame with these “V”-shaped shoulders, indicating more than enough room to put some meat on his bones. Again, he’s a faster player with the puck on his stick than he is without, his footwork is excellent and he likes to head-man the rush, and he’s also pretty darn smart defensively, but he is also underdeveloped physically and learning, learning, learning.
Jake Chelios: If I were to pick a Chelios that had pro potential as of right now, the bigger, ganglier and grittier Jake would get my nod. He’s either a smooth-skating, slick-handed defenseman or a smooth-skating, slick-handed and slightly agitating forward who, like his brother, has an innate hockey sense (of his own—neither Jake nor Dean play like their father) that oustrips his physical maturity and, sometimes, his skills. Dean has a harder road to go because he’s smaller and can really only rely on his slick playmaking ability as his calling card, but they both have potential. I just don’t know if that potential means that they’re going to end up playing professional hockey or not.
Nick Jensen: Jensen’s still lanky and still perhaps a little too tightly wound when it comes to making plays, but he is a gangly, right-shooting defenseman who skates well, sees the ice superbly and passes, shoots and defends with equal aplomb. Again, it’s good that he’s got three years of college eligibility left because there are some very raw spots in his game.
Artem Sergeev: A day after he dazzled he really struggled, flubbing passes and fanning on shots left and right. He remains so very quintessentially Russian in terms of his ability to head-man the puck, confidently skate up the ice and come back to defend based on positioning as well as his size and strength, but he has a ways to go and has a comfort zone on this continent to find, linguistically and otherwise.
Brooks Macek: He’s like Sebastien Piche if Piche was a forward. Macek has utterly fantastic hands, looks like that classic Red Wings-grade undersized, fleet-skating playmaking center when he dazzles on the rush or in a drill, and then he goes and disappears. He’s not filled out yet, either, and he’s going into his last year of eligibility. He needs to have an excellent prospect tournament while proving that he can stand up to the physical grind that awaits him, and then he needs to have an excellent season in Calgary, because he fits into the, “We have you and we can make more of you if we want” draft pick category. For lack of a more delicate term, he’s plateaued and he can’t afford to do that.
Louis-Marc Aubry: This year’s draft picks, including Tomas Jurco, are tired. They’ve only been Wings for three weeks, and while getting drafted is pretty awesome and all, they’re ready to have a little summer and a little peace and quiet. Aubry, in his second year, has just soaked up the knowledge he’s gained to learn how to use his enormous frame (6’4” or 6’5” and all arms and legs) more efficiently, he battles very hard for the puck, he’s an excellent offensive and defensive center who can make plays and score goals of his own and he was picking the back of the net like it was the puck’s home today. His biggest asset is the head on his shoulders, however, because man, he wants to be a Wing. When I asked him about going back to juniors, he responded like any player who has a contract, saying that his goal in the fall is to make the team, and that he’d worry about the rest later. Just…Just a real pleasure to deal with and a real pleasure to watch. He’s come so far in a year and he knows he has a long way to go—and he wants to get there.
Bryan Rufenach: When he wants to, he can keep up just fine with the rock-solid Ehrhardt and Lashoff while displaying Piche’s skills, and when he doesn’t want to, he looks half a step short, two inches too short and one level of fitness under what he needs to earn a contract after getting an invite to the prospect tournament as what he will be in mid-August—a free agent. It’s big camp or play somewhere else, working your way up from the ECHL or AHL.
Jesse Fraser: Like his brother Casey, as the development camp’s gone further and further along, he’s started to both keep up better and tick more people off by scoring goals and bumping bigger and stronger players out of their comfort zones. In their own ways, they’re like their father—edgy. I can’t see either of them carving out pro careers at this point, but man, they’re making the most of these invites to the summer prospect camps.
Tomas Jurco: He’s really tired. He loves being a Wings prospect and he’s so innately skilled that his hands and his heart live up to the YouTube hype and the, “I don’t want to be a YouTube star” response, but he’s three weeks removed from the draft and he’s tired and sore. That being said, he really does look like he’s one of the top of the line models coming out of the Slovakian Power Forward factory because he can turn on the jets and fly while carrying the puck and then using his size, strength, reach and then slick stickhandling ability to earn highligh reel status. He’s been challenged and let’s see where he goes from here as a top prospect who’s learned that this is just the beginning.
Brian Lashoff: Again, he is bedrock, he is granite, he is that Brad Stuart-style defenseman who you put in the #3 or #4 spot and build around. Big, physical, tough, smart, hard shot, great passes, good skating and mobility for a big man and maturity beyond his years and he’s all of 20.
Travis Eharhardt: Mutt and Jeff, it seems. Ehrhardt is a bit smaller but all sorts of muscular and all sorts of gritty and mean, a real classic stay-at-home defenseman who has just enough skill to keep up as your #4/5 guy. Hard shot, hard player.
Zachery Franko: An Alan Quine-style player. Tiny but with unbelievably fast hands and faster feet than anybody but maybe Novak, he can roar up the ice and make plays, he works his tail off along the side boards and he is so, so skinny. He’ll go back to Kelowna and will hopefully fill out and keep working hard.
Tyson Teichmann: A small goalie who plays very, very big, regardless of whether he’s trying on new gear or is swapping back out his middle-of-the-road “new” Vaughn leg pads and using a glove and blocker that admittedly give him “stingers,” all while playing for the second two-and-a-half-hour session of the day. Sometimes because he is so very slight, he really is full of holes, but for a slight goalie he doesn’t make up for his shortcomings, no pun intended, with speed as much as he makes up for them with rock-solid fundamentals and a hybrid instead of butterfly game, trying to play conservatively instead of overcommitting. His body’s immature as can be but his technique and mental approach are enough that he might just be able to get by.
In terms of tomorrow’s coverage, I’m probably going to post a short blurb and some audio interviews after the scrimmage and then offer some final assessments. I’m not a fantastic game recapper—I do the interpreting more than the storytelling—and I’m pretty wiped, too, so I can only promise you that I’ll do my best to give you what you need (please let me know how you’d like me to approach the final day writing-wise) after a desperately needed nap. This has been absolutely wonderful and I am so grateful that it’s silly for your contributions, but I’m ready for this to be done and to go home on Friday and do the Osgood watch before taking off on a vacation of my own ten days after I get home.
One day I’d like to come up here when the Red Wings aren’t in town, too, because I hear it’s a beautiful city.
Here are my interviews with Travis Novak…
And Louis-Marc Aubry:
Also of Red Wings-related note this evening: In case you didn’t already know, the Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran suggests that Chris Osgood is probably the best free agent goalie out there, at least in terms of his resume;
• According to the Detroit Free Press, Flint’s Tim Thomas took home two “ESPYs”;
• And I’ll be polite in stating this “pro tip”: if you an endeavoring media type, even if you’re a biased fan like me, just expect that if you are holding a sound recorder in your hand, Chris Chelios will either give you the Babcockian Death Stare, the Death Stare’s Sideways Glance or the Total Refusal of Eye Contact. Sorry, Mr. Chelios!
One more thing, and it’s an important “one more thing”: I was asked by more than a few people whether I could find an answer as to why the post-training camp golf tournament charity dinner was canceled, and I was told to tell you that the bottom line was that for the amount of money and volunteers’ time, energy and effort put into holding a full dinner, the event simply didn’t raise enough money to justify the former or especially the latter investments, and that it would be replaced with a “Toast of Hockeytown”-style meet and greet.
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About The Malik Report
The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.