Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings development camp, day 6: the ever-anticlimactic end

I’ve hadn’t seen a shootout with 74 shooters until this morning, when the Red Wings’ prospects concluded their summer development camp with a 6-3 victory for Team Lidstrom over Team Zetterberg…and a 74-man shootout which took 20 minutes—and left fans confused as all hell get out—because we didn’t know that money was on the line.

The last day of the camp is always strange. The players go through a scrimmage that usually involves 2 30-minue periods of running time and a few odd-man situations. This one happened to involve stop time for the vast majority thereof as Jiri Fischer’s message didn’t get through to the timekeeper, and the various 4-on-4, 3-on-3 and power play situations provided offense and flow…But that disappeared during a 10-minute “dry scrape” that was more interpretive art than anything else and the bizarre shootout.

Just as importantly from the perspective of someone who can go into the locker room, the last day is always strange for a simple reason: instead of reflecting upon the camp or engaging in one last game of soccer, hockey players taking part in a middle-of-the-summer camp spend their last moments in the locker room stuffing their gear into bags, taking a quick shower and figuring out when they can conduct their exit interviews. As the Wings are no longer busing players up from Detroit, the vast majority of the players were catching flights out of Cherry Capital Airport here in Traverse City or were driving home, too, so the team cohesion really broke as soon as the guys peeled their gear off.

Hckey players are used to that kind of routine—show up somewhere, work your ass off for seven days, and then unceremoniously pack up and go your separate ways. No big whoop. But for someone who’s spent the past week getting to know people, and for someone who’s hoping for a little closure and maybe some sort of, “Okay, that’s the end, good luck and see you in September…”

Willie Coetzee made sure that I left the rink not looking totally perplexed, shaking my head and thinking, “Is it really over?” After three very, very brief interviews, I exited the locker rooms for one final time and went up to the north end of the rink to gather my stuff, and as I kind of blankly stared at the ice…But when Willie saw me, he came over, shook my hand and asked if he’d see me in the fall. I said I would and now I have to keep my promise.

And I guess that’s the kind of closure I’d like to leave you with: regardless of whether any of these prospects make it to the NHL, the fact that so many of you footed the bill so that I could come up here and get to know players as both athletes and people is an incredibly humbling feeling, and as utterly exhausted as I am, when you get to spend your week going to a rink in July, with your entire job involving watching tomorrow’s Wings play hockey and getting to meet at least a couple guys who know that you aren’t necessarily “media,” and are always willing to talk with a passionate Wings fan after asking how he is…

I dunno, you learn that whatever these players do in life, the vast majority of them are going to do incredibly well because they’re growing into incredibly solid and strong people as well as hockey players, and character’s the most important “skill” that the Wings’ summer development camp reinforces.

It also serves more practical purposes, of course: for the Wings’ new draft picks, it’s an indoctrination and orientation; for free agent try-outs, it’s an opportunity to try to impress one of the best organizations and earn an invite to the September prospect tournament; for the returning players, depending on their status, it’s an opportunity to refine on-ice skills, continue to learn how to train like professional athletes and either remind the organization that they’ve still got promising skills, to show the team that they’re ready to and serious about competing for a contract during their upcoming seasons, or to prepare themselves for the start of their professional careers; and for returning AHL, ECHL and NHL players, it’s an opportunity to add competitive edges to their repertoires of skills and workout regimens while providing an opportunity for the “older” players who are anything but in Red Wings years to set an example for their younger peers.

As I’m not necessarily one for narrative recaps, I’ll let the Red Wings’ Twitter account tell you what happened during today’s scrimmage…

Petr Mrazek was unable to play for Team Zetterberg because he tweaked his groin on Thursday, nor did Martin Frk, who was nursing an undisclosed injury, and Louis-Marc Aubry hadn’t played all week long as he had sprained his ankle during initial fitness testing; Travis Novak didn’t play for Team Lidstrom after suffering an undisclosed injury on Wednesday, nor did Andrej Nestrasil, who suffered a sprained ankle during Tuesday’s scrimmage

Long story short, the lines were in flux almost all game long and only the defensive pairings remained intact—-for Team Lidstrom, James De Haas and Mike McKee were paired together, as were Max Nicastro and Adam Almqvist, with Brendan Smith and Gleason Fournier playing on the top pair; Team Zetterberg’s defense included Nick Jensen playing with Ben Marshall, Xavier Oullet with Ryan Sproul, Brian Lashoff with Richard Nedomlel and Gleb Korvagin working in as the seventh defenseman.

So here’s what I thought about the performances of the players in Friday’s game, with a little reflection on the week in its entirety for good measure. Players with asterisks next to their names are tryouts, and Luke Glendening is on an AHL-only contract:

And again, please remember that I’m talking about prospects playing against other prospects in a skill development camp, in July, and that these players have gotten more comfortable playing against each other over the course of the week, so Friday’s scrimmage involved a high level of familiarity with their teammates, opponents, and most importantly, prospects who were employing the skills and style of play they’d learned about over the past week at an incredibly high level.

These assessments are not meant to be be-all-end-all gradations, nor do they indicate what these players might do in a no-holds-barred game against players they dislike, with more than pride on the line:

Team Zetterberg

Tomas Jurco #28: Jurco may be a magician in terms of his stickhandling, and I know he spent the vast majority of this past season with the Saint John Sea Dogs as a passer, but this graduate of the Slovak Power Forward factory is a sniper, plain and simple. The goal he scored was a gorgeous sniping shot that flew past Thomas McCollum’s blocker and found the top shelf, and it didn’t come out of nowhere—it was more an inevitability. Jurco is not particularly strong yet, but his middling size and in-progress strength combine with superb skating and a pure competitive drive that allows him to battle through much bigger and stronger players…And he’s a goal-scorer’s goal-scorer, a corner-picking master of the wrist shot who can fire pucks around and through netminders, in traffic, while being pulled and tugged at, you name it, he scores, scores and scores. He needs to bulk up considerably in terms of core strength and no one should expect him to dominate AHL scoring as he’s going to have his ups and downs in his rookie year, but his potential as a goal-scorer is top-of-the-charts amazing.

Teemu Pulkkinen #62: And if Jurco is a pure sniper, Pulkkinen is the multi-tool shooter. One of his “assists” was a goal as far as I’m concerned, an absolute cannon of a one-timed slap shot that found the back of the net so surely that all I could do was laugh. Jurco’s a wrist shot/snap shot guy that loves to go to the net and score from in tight, like a power forward tends to do: Pulkkinen is much more well-rounded in that he can score from anywhere, and it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a wrist shot, slap shot, backhand, one-timer, snap shot, deflection, rebound, anything…And just as importantly, Pulkkinen can pass almost equally well as he has excellent vision and senses plays developing ahead of time. If that wasn’t good enough, his skating isn’t fast per se, but he is deftly maneuverable in all directions, he skitters by much larger and stronger players, he’ll battle through them if he has to, and I was most floored by his defensive awareness as he’s just as willing to give up a scoring chance to go backcheck or pluck pucks out of defensive trouble as he is to score.

He’s simply not a well-built player by NHL standards—he’s all shoulders and calves, with a tiny little waist—and while he had no problems whatsoever on the smaller rink, I think he’d struggle considerably if he was playing against defensemen looking to knock his head off. That being said, with some more consistency when he does play against men in Finland, my Gord, folks, the Wings have a superstar in the making.

And that is why he will remain in Finland—because the Wings will leave him over there until he is ready to play in the NHL. There will be no AHL apprenticeship for him. He’ll just be ready and that will be that.

Mitchell Callahan #42: Mitchell is at the opposite end of the high-end skill spectrum, I suppose, but if work ethic, attention to detail and plain old affability counted as hockey skills, he’d be off the charts, too. I haven’t seen a player so very happy to smile without his two front teeth while he’s getting the s*** knocked out of him for grinding in the corners, going to the front of the net or plain old mashing his opponents on the forecheck as Callahan. His enthusiasm is endless and it makes up for the fact that he’s never really going to do much scoring or playmaking at the NHL level. What he will deliver thanks to his solid skating and relentless desire is rock-solid defensive hockey and a lot of physical agitation and instigation, and what he will deliver is a tireless desire to get bigger and stronger, become a better skater and skill player and to ensure that he goes about everything almost tirelessly because he simply loves what he’s doing. Because he’s never going to be more than 5’10” and maybe 185 pounds, he can’t survive in the NHL as a brawler, but if you’re looking for a Kirk Maltby-Darren McCarty hybrid, he is just that, and I am fairly certain that Mitchell will be plying his trade on the Wings’ fourth line within the next three years.

Alan Quine #59: So much remarkable potential, so far to go. Quine’s speed is truly elite, absolutely elite. He blows the doors off people as he skates by them and through them, carrying the puck all the way, making gorgeous plays and time and space for his teammates while carrying defensemen on his back, rocketing through the neutral zone and cycling, spinning around and circling in the offensive zone, and while his core isn’t built up, his upper-body strength allows him to lean over gain leverage as he tucks down into his skating stride…

But whether that will hold up in September is another story. He’s still an OHL player going into a likely successful contract year, and while he can indeed make amazing plays at amazing speed, he might be in the second year of a five-to-seven-year odyssey to learn how to do what he’s done here in Traverse City on a higher stage.

Marek Tvrdon #60: When Tvrdon is interested, he is Tomas Kopecky, except that unlike the lanky Kopecky, Tvrdon is built like a Mac Truck, straight up and down, bulging at the seams. He scored and he played like a Slovakian Power Forward with a glimmer in his eye, crashing and banging his way up and down the boards and toward the net, where he can score garbage goals with the best of ‘em.

But when he doesn’t have that glimmer in his eye, when he’s frustrated, easily tired out or in his own little universe because he’s utilized the “language problem” to allow him to escape some of the mundane responsibilities of being more than just a star in the making, he reminds you that Tvrdon is quite the project, even with a contract in hand. His consistency of effort, attention and physical endurance all need to improve, and whether he likes it or not, he’s been living in Canada for two years, and there is no excuse for him to try to pull a Pavel Datsyuk given that he’s not skilled enough to get away with not grinding it out, nor does he seem to understand as much by feel.

He’s got a ton of upside but he’s a long-term project.

Martin Frk #48: Again, I only saw Frk for a week, but I saw exactly what he claimed to be and exactly what he’s been claimed to be. If there is such a thing as a power sniper, Frk is it: he loves to crash the front of the net but score pretty, slick goals there, tapping in passes and rifling home pucks from close range, his skating is better than advertised, he’s got no fear of the kind of punishment he’s going to take for sticking his nose where defensemen don’t think it belongs. Willful, prideful and almost cocky, he wants to be a difference-maker, and that’s awesome.

But willful, prideful and almost cocky also yields easy frustration and a bit of an attitude that the Wings kept in check because of the Czech presence at camp, and I can understand why he was sometimes seen as a problem child in Halifax. The fact that he missed the vast majority of the season with a concussion puts him behind the developmental curve, too.

I’m going to be very curious to see what he can do when he’s fully healthy, has trained to bulk up and he’s more in the mix come September.

Luke Glendening #72**: Glendening is more visible in game situations than he is drills because Glendening has a wonderful work ethic, strong speed and while he is going to earn his lunch money as a steady defensive forward with strong leadership skills, he can make things happen in a pinch. He can’t finish very well, but that doesn’t stop him from trying, and his bulldog mentality is very encouraging. He’s still just coming out of college, but having played at Michigan, he’s in good shape to begin his pro career in terms of both his physical conditioning and his ability to keep up with the kind of puck possession hockey the Wings and Griffins play.

Rasmus Bodin #75: Again, a boy who’s just grown into a man’s body. Occasionally incredibly physical, occasionally slick and polished in front of the net and along the half boards, mostly a little confused this week that he couldn’t simply and naturally run everyone over the way he did in the Swedish second division (which is a step up from the league Johan Franzen first played, where players do indeed need to work day jobs). Raw player, tons of raw potential, but he needs to be tamed a bit and needs to find out whether he can compete with HV71 Jonkoping’s under-20 players, never mind pros.

He’s got enormous potential and an enormous amount of work to put in to put himself together.

Michael Babcock #70*: I don’t know if Michael will ever play hockey on anything more than an NCAA basis, if he does so at all, but it won’t be for a lack of trying, nor will it be for a lack of enthusiasm. Constantly smiling and willing to make fun of the fact that he’s 5’9” and 155 pounds instead of getting mad about being a small player (a.k.a. having “small man syndrome”), Michael is a little speed demon whose hands can’t quite match his feet, but he’s working on them and he’s working on himself. He kept up with the Wings’ top prospects for a week, he wasn’t treated any differently than they were on or off the ice, and he seemed to enjoy every minute of it, almost celebrating the times he was gently nudged for making mistakes more than he did his many victories. And he’s more than smart enough to land a degree and prove that mom and dad done raised a fine young man who will make a name for himself based on his first name as opposed to his surname.

I hope he comes back next year and I hope he’s telling me that he’s earned a university scholarship, but if he doesn’t come back, it was a pleasure to meet him and watch him have so much fun.

Phillipe Hudon #61: Maybe at the opposite end of the temperament scale, Hudon is deadly serious, albeit with a smirk on his face, and won’t stop the fact that he’s six flat feet tall and a still lean 180-185 pounds deter him from playing like a power checking forward. He is superbly fast, he has a great shot, good passing skills and he loves to crash and bang up and down the ice, along the boards, in the middle, you name it, anywhere, incredibly competitively winning battles based on will as much as skill and making sure that he’s taking care of his own end of the ice.

He’s not without faults and not beyond making mistakes because he’s still learning and still growing, but if there is anyone who should not be counted out simply because he’s never going to be as large as he plays, it’s Hudon. Very serious, very level-headed and very bright, he wants to grow into a mucker and a grinder of the first order, and no one should bet against him going into a contract year.

Robert Rooba #64*: Again, and again, so smooth that he’s invisible. Naturally big, consciously strong, impeccable defensively speaking, an excellent skater, good passer, a smooth, slick and polished professional player, Rooba’s problem is that he can’t dent the net to save his life. He is remarkably well-rounded and hard to appreciate for all the right reasons, and this already professional player knows that he’s got to go back to Finland, continue to develop while competing against men and maybe polish off learning a fifth language while he’s doing that. We’ll find out whether his invisibility translates into something tangible.

Brian Lashoff #23: Lashoff still makes occasional defensive gaffes, and he made a big one on Friday, getting caught up ice and witnessing a goal being scored on his goalie as a direct result, but as he said yesterday, he understands that even a Brad Stuart II in the making has a ways to go before he’s ready for prime time.

But he’s close, and he is generally impeccable and admirable defensively, solid and sound as can be as a shot-blocker, penalty-killer, physical and sometimes nasty defenseman and a natural leader, the level-headed Lashoff can also man a power play point when necessary, take long shifts and gobble up ice time if necessary, fire off superb outlet passes and hard shots, and if he’s asked to play an offensive role, he can more than get the job done on an interim basis. He’s just best suited to a #3/4 defenseman’s spot as a mobile Swiss Army Knife, and he’s still all of 22, going into his second full season with the Griffins. He needs to keep gaining experience, keep building up an already professional fitness level and just put in his time as he slowly works his way toward earning a full-time spot on the Wings’ blueline.

That, and you might not meet a better human being. Hide your daughters.

Nick Jensen #71: Jensen is as wild and woolly, literally in terms of his flowing locks of red hair, as Lashoff is refined. Jensen’s a risk-taking offensive defenseman with fleet feet, a great sense of vision, playmaking ability and a solid shot, but mostly he’s a puck-lugger as opposed to a puck-mover, and he wants to make plays happen as creatively and consistently as he can.

That also means that he’s got a long ways to go in terms of more effectively using his 6’3” frame, that he’s got to time his rushes better and that he’s going to use up the two more years of college eligibility he has, at minimum, to develop into someone the organization his rights belong to will allow him to patrol their blueline, but there is vast potential there and he is certainly willing to learn and work his ass off to fulfill it.

Xavier Ouellet #54: So smooth and subtle when he’s interested, so remarkably able to start plays, head-man the puck to the point that he backs opposing defenses off by carrying it up the ice before depositing it on a teammate’s stick, such a slick shot, wonderful sense of positioning and an innate ability to shut his opponents down without using too much physical force, if he has to use any at all, Ouellet could very well be the prototypical Red Wings puck-mover, a true top pair guy. Easy.

If he makes sure to remember that it ain’t easy. His attention waned at times, he went through the motions, he made mistakes that reminded me that he isn’t particularly large nor particularly strong, and there’s something to be said for fading into the woodwork like Glendening or Rooba do, but when you have Ouellet’s skills, you’re not quite Lidstrom-like enough to disappear. When you’re Ouellet and you disappear, you’re not giving it your all, and he has to give it his all on every shift.

He’s got a contract and he’s got another year in the Q before he begins his pro career, and he will need time to develop, but his upside is absolutely elite.

Ryan Sproul #22: Ditto for Sproul, perhaps a combination of Jensen in his offensive overexuberance and…Erm…He’s raw in a way that most of the big guys are, except that he’s a giant at 6’3” with gangly arms and legs and a remarkably heavy, hard shot, great vision, good passing and playmaking skills, ever-improving skating and a mean streak a mile wide. When Sproul finds the toolbox for all his tools, my goodness, he’s a poor man’s Pronger, huge and skilled and gritty. But he is equally 19, equally growing into his body and equally growing into his game.

He will lead the Soo Greyhounds as their #1 defenseman this season and he will beat the hell out of fellow 16-to-20-year-olds, and then he’ll have to find out whether he can be as dominant as a pro.

Ben Marshall #50: Another long-term project, Jensen’s grown by leaps and bounds from the 5’6,” 150-something-pound kid the Wings drafted two years ago, but he’s not going to be more than 5’9” or 5’10,” depending on the day, and while he can get more fit and a little bulkier, I don’t think he’s going to fill out all that much more at maybe 175-180 pounds. What he’ll have to do is become more explosive and more competitive as he skitters up ice, controls the puck, makes slick, seamless plays and fires a surprisingly powerful shot on the net, and a little more effective as he out-competes much bigger opponents for the puck and uses astute positioning to make up for his lack of size. The Rafalski comparisons might come, but on a very deep University of Minnesota team, he’s going to have to work very hard to earn them.

Richard Nedomlel #3: Maybe it was appropriate that he wore Andreas Lilja’s number, because he frustrated the hell out of me as a spectator. Gigantic at 6’3” or 6’4” and still growing into an enormously long-limbed body, he’s come so far from the stumbling, bumbling big man he was a year ago that it’s silly, but he’s got a long ways to go and a lot of consistency to find before he can justify the Wings giving a contract to a player that is far too easygoing for his own good. You can tell that he’s used to the concept that in the WHL, he can beat the hell out of people and leave opponents quivering in fear, and kinda coast from there. He has the skating to be more than a tolerable defenseman skating-wise and he has the hands to make passes and plays and he has the positioning and hockey sense to serve as a very fine #5/6 defenseman that rather naturally intimidates people because he’s a frickin’ horse, but he’s got to get more serious about putting all those aspects of his game together on a shift-by-shift basis.

Gleb Koryagin #77*: Great hands, not so great feet, smart playmaker, short stick, physically underdeveloped, got into trouble quite often in his own zone, completed most of the drills but looked like someone who needs to go back to high school and keep working on his game.

Petr Mrazek #34: Petr’s Petr and Petr, of course, pulled a groin and tried to play through it on Thursday, thus taking himself out of Friday’s scrimmage because Petr’s easygoing-ness-masks-shyness yields the, “Oh, I was overathletic on that save and I think I pulled something, but I’ll just stretch it, I’ll be fine, I shouldn’t make a big deal” problems that goalies who don’t want to be a problem make of themselves. For the vast majority of the Wings’ summer camp, the once-over-athletic goalie displayed remarkable restraint in playing poised, positional and rock-solid hockey, smoothly and seamlessly standing up, butterflying and battling to stop pucks with his toes, pads, upright torso, wonderful glove, superb blocker, sneaky poke-checking stick and his superb anticipation, making very hard saves look easy.

But he went and did the splits going post-to-post like he’s used to doing in junior hockey, where he faced a Curtis Joseph-like workload of 35+ shots a night, and he’s neither flexible enough nor physically developed enough to deal with that kind of stress and strain, and he went and yanked himself right of a game. Amazing goaltender in the making goes and reminds you that he is in fact just beginning his pro career.

Jake Paterson #68: Paterson got better and better throughout the camp, and on Friday, without Mrazek to relieve him, he reminded everyone that he is in fact just under three weeks from being drafted, getting backed into the net and more or less ran over and overpowered as shots found the post, shots found his five hole and pucks snuck through holes that shouldn’t have been there. Do those lightning-fast toes, superb glove and blocker, solid stick hand, Corey Schneider-style positioning and calm but pesky demeanor mean tha he’s got loads of potential? You bet. But he needs to go back to the Saginaw Spirit and play two very good years of hockey before he even thinks of turning pro, and while he does so, he needs to get bigger and mostly get more consistent.


Team Lidstrom:

Willie Coetzee #45: He had another fantastic game, but he’s got to do what he did in the camp and in the ECHL at the AHL level. He possesses fantastic hands, he’s fast as fast can be, shifty, slinky, he has a great top-shelf shot and he can make plays, but he’s just never going to be particularly big and will never be particularly strong, so that immense brain on his shoulders and already professionally calm demeanor will have to further apply themselves as he scratches and claws his way into a scorer’s role. The skill is there, the will is there, the commitment is there and the humility is there. It’s just up to him to apply them.

Brent Raedeke #47: Equally humble, equally professional, equally facing an uphill battle. He’s a granite bedrock-solid defensive forward who wins faceoffs, wins battles, diligently and conscientiously takes care of his own end and does so with an understatedly speedy stride and an actually excellent ability to set up teammates or occasionally fire a sneaky shot at the net, and he will win physical battles against players ten years older, half a foot taller and thirty or forty pounds heavier, but they will always be half a foot taller and forty pounds heavier. He’s got to continue to prove to his coaches that he deserves to play on the third line, not the fourth, if not the second, at the AHL level so that he can work his way up the food chain and join the fourth line of an NHL team like the Wings one day.

Trevor Parkes #37: Parkes was wonderful and Parkes was terrible. He roared up and down the wing with reckless abandon, starring as he does during scrimmages, scoring a hat trick because he plowed his way to the net instead of remaining along the boards, crashing the net and crashing the crease and riffling hard shots past Paterson while sneaking into the slot or into a back-door scoring position. As a pro, I don’t know if he’s going to score like that. His meat and potatoes will involve consistently plowing over his opponents as a true power winger with size, strength and skating speed to spare, and if he can deposit goals on a semi-regular basis, that’s great. But his consistency has to improve as he is as streaky as can be.

Andrej Nestrasil #49: He didn’t get to skate due to that sprained ankle during the first scrimmage, and it’s a shame, because he’s got a power forward’s body, a power forward’s physicality, a power forward’s plow-you-down speed and a finesse forward’s hands, playmaking and finishing touches. And he is indeed getting bigger and stronger on schedule, he is indeed getting more mature and more serious and more appropriately funny instead of simply being a ham for ham’s sake, and he would have felt a lot better had he dazzled in the second scrimmage instead of watching it. I feel bad for the guy.

Riley Sheahan #15: Power center, if you will. Still loves to go up the middle the way Parkes goes up the side boards, is an excellent skater, has a slithery shot, passes well, is big and getting bigger and strong and getting stronger and fast and getting faster. You may have seen his potential in his cup of coffee with the big club, and he is much more than his career at Notre Dame advertised in terms of his strong offensive potential, but he’s going into his first pro season and the easygoing young man will have to get used to playing against those big men that are going to think he’s a college boy who assumes he’s got more time and space than he really does and can have his block knocked off. I think Sheahan will prove them wrong, but the proof is in the pudding.

Landon Ferraro #41: Side track to right track. Ferraro’s finally no longer getting incredibly frustrated by Landon Ferraro, and that’s awesome, because he’s reasserted himself as a dark horse candidate to become an excellent scorer and playmaker at the NHL level—if he only keeps bulking up because he’s still a wiry and lean 170-something pounds and needs to be much stronger than he is to win more battles along the boards. In terms of his skill set, he’s got a heavy slap shot, a sneaky wrist shot, a nose for the net and rebounds, he’s a great passer, his vision is excellent and he is speedy, speedy, speedy. Now that the obstacle between his ears is out of the way, he just needs to establish himself as a scorer at the AHL level so that he gets a cup of coffee with the Wings and continues to grow into a sneaky sniper over the next three or four years.

Andreas Athanasiou #78: Fantastic hands and feet and an ability to find holes through players who are standing between him and the net, with a wonderful, Ferraro-like release on his shot, Athanasiou seems to appear out of nowhere, blazing a trail of flame behind him and jabbing the puck into the net. But he is very young, very underdeveloped and appears and disappears because of inexperience. And again, he’s built like Darren Helm, under six feet but thin and gangly to the point that you think he must be 6’3” or 6’4,” so he’s going to have a near vertical climb to put meat on his bones. Thankfully, he’s got time, and thankfully, he’s got the right attitude.

Kellan Lain #57*: Again, very big, very fast, very physical, very dependable defensively and very much so in need of more seasoning in college. He was impressive in the scrimmage but for such a massive man, he didn’t make much of an impression.

Dean Chelios #24*: I overheard Dean’s dad, grumpy and wearing shower sandals with white socks underneath after an overnight drive from Chicago to Traverse City comparing his younger son to Luc Robitaille, insisting that Dean can’t skate well enough to get by as a scorer, and that he won’t be able to keep up as a result. I’m not so sure about that, but his son’s explosiveness does come in alligator-like bursts, and he’s not nearly as big as his dad was at his age, so the scrawny and wiry young man has to work his tail off to earn great grades in the classroom and weight room. But he is enthusiastic, works his ass off and knows that he’s going to be judged on his own merits. Deano is Deano and Deano needs to grow-o but Deano will be just fine regardless of whether he turns out to be a professional hockey player.

Ted Pletsch #67*: I liked him more and more as the week continued. Again and again, I’ve called him a poor man’s Riley Sheahan, and I’m sticking by that gun. He can kick ass and take names in the corners, he skates very, very well for his size, he is sound defensively, moves the puck well and safely and grinds and grinds and loves laying people out, but what he needs to do is not get bigger or stronger, but instead, get better at his skating and puckhandling when he goes back to Bowling Green.

Travis Novak #56*: Hands and feet and not much in between, this bright young man probably won’t be back unless he’s brought to the prospect camp as a try-out. Bright young man, good future, but I’m not sure it’s in hockey.

Julien Cayer #65*: He was better in the scrimmage than he was at any point this past week, but the big bruising winger didn’t look like he had the skills to keep up with the Wings’ puck possession system, and he didn’t consistently display the physical form necessary to earn a contract in my opinion. We’ll find out whether he gets the opportunity to come back in the fall.

Adam Almqvist #53: So physically underdeveloped, so remarkably skilled. He skitters and saunters up the ice with remarkable speed, he fires off smartly-placed shots and elegant passes with that five-foot-long stick, he meshed perfectly with Nicastro and he walks the line with amazing lateral mobility. His offensive acumen is already elite and his potential is only hampered by the fact that he’s five ten and skinny as a rake save his shoulders. I am so happy that he’s coming over to the AHL and I think that he’s a wonderful dark horse candidate to be contributing on the Wings’ blueline as a mini Kronwall three to five years from now, because Almqvist, or as it’s spelled on his jersey, Almquist, is Al-mighty good. He’s just got to go from European strong to North American strong and North American in terms of his endurance, ‘cause he was huffing and puffing quite a bit.

Brendan Smith #2: Better and more engaged as the week proceeded, he’s starting to wrap his head around how big his head can be and that’s important. The talkative and brilliant Smith started out as a hot dog and earned his games with the Wings through hard work, and he engaged in a similar transformation during the week, starting it out talking about going on “vacation” and spending its latter portions working very hard in the skill drills and absolutely lapping up the opportunity to show off NHL levels of skating, passing, shooting, playmaking sense and even occasional physical panache. But he’s not going to dominate right off the bat and he’s going to have to keep his worker’s hat on instead of his jester’s hat on. Or at least he needs to put the worker’s hat on over his jester’s hat.

Gleason Fournier #46: Fournier can keep up with Smith in terms of give-and-go play, stickhandling and skating, to the point that he was a nearly seamless partner, but it’s his body and consistency that are keeping him on the borderline between an AHL player and an ECHL player. He really is wonderfully skilled as a passer and he really is wonderfully strong as a skater, but even with a contract in his back pocket, he has yet to get his butt in gear physically and he remains oncinsistent. I don’t know what he’s going to do over the long haul. I’m hoping for the best.

Max Nicastro #58: Nicastro started to get comfortable after almost half a year without playing competitive hockey, and he is most certainly a big bull moose. He can crash and bang and bowl over opponents with ease, crashing and mashing and grinding really involuntarily. It’s not something he seeks to be—he was drafted as a puckhandler and a Jensen-style puck-carrying rusher, and he still has those skills when he wants to display them, but he’s got to work on being less shy about his passing and shooting and skating. For the moment, he’s going to be a fine physical defenseman who is just naturally intimidating. What more he can be, that will be determined by how well he adapts to pro hockey.

Mike McKee #73: Kind of like Nedomlel, and like Ferraro in that he needs to quit chewing tobacco, he’s too easygoing for his own good. That being said, where Nedomlel wants to cruise, McKee wants more and more and more work. He lapped it up all week, regardless of whether it was on the ice or off the ice, taking the physical punishment with a smile on his face and messing up and learning how to skate better and stickhandle with that massive, massive and still growing 63"to-6’4,” 230-plus-pound frame. And he doesn’t lumber about, either, he actually skates really well for a big man.

But he is all of eighteen and he is a long-long-long term project with oodles of potential as the King of Mean.

James De Haas #74: Every day, he got better. Every day, he had more endurance. Every day, he played with more confidence and poise, and every day, while he certainly reminded me that he needs to go play in the BCHL and then play 4 full years of college hockey, he proved that he is, at 18, the prototypical puck-moving wings defenseman in the making. He actually plays like a bigger Ouellet, and that’s a very good thing going forward.

Thomas McCollum #38: if he continues to remove the obstruction between the ears in his lack of belief in himself—he was still steaming about giving up a glove side goal to Tvrdon, or as I will insist, Pulkkinen—he can do anything he wants. He’s a big bear of a man at 6’2” and 210 or 215 fit pounds, but he’s still mobile and quick in the net, his fundamentals are excellent, his skating and footwork are elite, his glove is usually one big puck trap, his blocker is good, his stick is great, his body positioning is excellent, he can be acrobatic as can be when necessary, he can move the puck with the best of ‘em and he no longer stands on his haunches with his hands on his hips, instead placing a massively healthily wide body with tons of surface area at the shooter, and he’s enthusiastic and smart and humble as humble can be, too, but he needs to calm the hell down and remember that taking Jimmy Howard’s career path may take one or two more years in Grand Rapids, and with Mrazek pushing him, Thomas is going to have to give as good as he can get while trying to learn how to be as even-keeled as his competitor.

Parker Milner #29*: Probably not enough space on the roster for him. It’s too bad, because, despite those holes over his pro-high hands and holes between his pro-fly pads with their stiff thigh rises, he’s got just stellar lateral mobility, a good upright torso (like McCollum), he’s great on his knees, his butterfly is excellent and he pivots his whole body toward the puck, twisting and turning as necessary to maximize his blocking surface without turning himself into a pretzel. Great fundamentals, good execution, great head on his shoulders, but the Wings have Mrazek and McCollum and Milner in the pipeline, and by the time the season begins, the Wings may have a veteran AHL’er in the mix as well.

It really is too bad because Milner’s going to be a very good goalie for somebody down the line.

Here are the scant interviews I was able to snag while the players were busy stuffing their gear into equipment bags:

• Thomas McCollum briefly spoke about his performance and the weird-and-wacky shootout…


Download file

• Max Nicastro remains particularly cautious when speaking to the media, but I managed to get him to chat a little bit about his future…


Download file

• And Luke Glendening was kind enough to engage in a multiple-minute interview:


Download file

Also of Red Wings-related note:

• DetroitRedWings.com’s Andrea Nelson’s profile of Luke Glendening is superb;

• And the Wings’ prospects are enjoying a day at the beach—those that haven’t already left town, anyway.

I have been writing this since 11:40 AM, and I am going to try to enjoy some sleep if I can calm down, because I need to get some dinner and start packing the car for the drive back down to South Lyon tomorrow. I hope you’ve enjoyed my coverage of the prospect camp and if you want me to add any further reflections, please let me know. It was a privilege doing this for you.

And I’m exhausted from it.

Update: The Wings’ website posted a slate of highlights from the shootout that never ended:


Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink


eyesris's avatar

Thank you for all your hard work this week George.

Posted by eyesris from Asheville, NC on 07/13/12 at 05:47 PM ET

Paul's avatar

George, a great job from TC.

It is not easy to keep the hours you did this week and I now hope you get some much needed rest, you should leave TC with a smile on your face, knowing you provided Wings fans with everything they needed to know about the campers.

Posted by Paul from Motown Area on 07/13/12 at 06:07 PM ET

joedaiceman's avatar

Damn. There are good bloggers and there are bad bloggers. There are great bloggers. I do not know what is better than great, but that is the space you occupy George. This week has been tremendous fun and greatly insightful. Thanks

Posted by joedaiceman on 07/13/12 at 06:39 PM ET

Keyser S.'s avatar

Thanks george. The work you do is greatly appreciated.

Posted by Keyser S. on 07/13/12 at 07:02 PM ET

SYF's avatar

This pic is particularly poignant:

Posted by SYF from Twerkin' with Anastasia Ashley on 07/13/12 at 07:56 PM ET


Most appreciated, George.  Thanks a million for spoiling us with such prolific, unbelievably in-depth information that we would otherwise get practically zero of elsewhere.  Nobody else does it like this.

I really hope you dont ever doubt whether or not all your hard work is worth it - because you shouldnt.

Posted by ryan on 07/13/12 at 08:53 PM ET


“Willie Coetzee made sure that I left the rink not looking totally perplexed, shaking my head and thinking, “Is it really over?” After three very, very brief interviews, I exited the locker rooms for one final time and went up to the north end of the rink to gather my stuff, and as I kind of blankly stared at the ice…But when Willie saw me, he came over, shook my hand and asked if he’d see me in the fall. I said I would and now I have to keep my promise.

And I guess that’s the kind of closure I’d like to leave you with: regardless of whether any of these prospects make it to the NHL, the fact that so many of you footed the bill so that I could come up here and get to know players as both athletes and people is an incredibly humbling feeling, and as utterly exhausted as I am, when you get to spend your week going to a rink in July, with your entire job involving watching tomorrow’s Wings play hockey and getting to meet at least a couple guys who know that you aren’t necessarily “media,” and are always willing to talk with a passionate Wings fan after asking how he is…

I dunno, you learn that whatever these players do in life, the vast majority of them are going to do incredibly well because they’re growing into incredibly solid and strong people as well as hockey players, and character’s the most important “skill” that the Wings’ summer development camp reinforces.”

One, I find this part the most encouraging—all 3 paragraphs.
Two, I’m already trying to see if I can budget for September.

Posted by Bugsy on 07/13/12 at 08:58 PM ET


One other curiosity: who else up there in Traverse City was reading your blog entries? Did they make any comments to you?

Posted by Bugsy on 07/13/12 at 09:00 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Someone who worked at the rink during Bryan Rufenach day asked me a question that I ended up asking Brian Lashoff, although she did it via Twitter. Does that count?

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 07/13/12 at 09:03 PM ET

gowings's avatar

Fantastic read! So much information. Thank you George!

Posted by gowings from MTL on 07/13/12 at 09:04 PM ET


George, your reports were fantastic. Thanks so much. Well done, man.

Posted by Seaner from San Jose on 07/13/12 at 11:24 PM ET

Denver Wings's avatar

Excellent work, George.  Hope you can make it up to TC in September as your coverage of the Development Camp was simply fan-fricking-tastic.

Congrats and thanks.

Posted by Denver Wings on 07/14/12 at 12:45 AM ET


Back to the old George, nearly everyone is “elite,” a few are “elite, elite” and one is a “superstar.”  Despite the fact that we have five years of evidence that these words are hollow, you keep on using them.  Temper your enthusiasm please.

Posted by jkm2011 on 07/14/12 at 11:16 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

I appreciate the criticism, and I’m sure that it’s wise to return to talking to these prospects after a few days spent away from them to offer a more sober take on their pluses and minuses—though I had hoped that the disclaimer had indicated that, at the end of a full week playing against each other, everyone was familiar with their teammates and opponents, and familiar with the systems of play being employed, thus requiring even more salt than usual.

I also appreciate the fact that you’re always quick on the draw to offer less-than-constructive criticism regarding anything and everything I write. I find it interesting that you’ve taken such a specific interest in accentuating the negative, generally, given your commenting history, regarding my blog entries. I certainly hope I may earn the opportunity to further antagonize you in the future.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 07/14/12 at 12:15 PM ET


Temper your enthusiasm please.

Why?  It’s a development camp.  It’s a showcase of what could be the future of the team we love so much.  What would you rather he say, “He’s pretty good, I don’t know, but this is a development camp so I probably should keep my opinions to myself until a time at which it would be fair to judge him, like maybe the end of his career”?

Posted by Garth on 07/14/12 at 05:45 PM ET

Forlorn in VA's avatar

George, thank you for the excellent coverage.

Posted by Forlorn in VA on 07/14/12 at 06:37 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

No worries about my frequent commenter. I went back and looked at his email address and history (we can do that here) and the vast majority of his comments are directed at my entries and involve critiques with similar tones.

What annoys me isn’t the message, it’s the concept that someone continues to read my stuff despite really, really disliking me. There are tons of fine Red Wings blogs and other contributors to Kukla’s Korner, and it’s very easy to just make my blog not show up if you’re a registered member. If I’m so dreadfully annoying, don’t read what I have to say.

Just as importantly, I attempt to be professional and offer something else than overly-emotional, uber-partisan commentary, but there’s no way in hell that I am or ever will be objective. I am a blogger and not a journalist because I am subjective.

I wouldn’t be able to put in the time, energy and effort that I do to maintain this blog if I stepped back and wrote from a completely dispassionate manner. I am a Red Wings fan, I am proud to be a Red Wings fan, and while I am able to separate myself from my fandom to the point that I can interact with players, management and other team personnel like a journalist, in the end, I am a fan.

And regarding this prospect camp, while I already know that maybe five to ten of these players will graduate to the Red Wings’ roster, even on a temporary basis, and maybe two or three of them will truly become star players, I cannot and will not deny that I am rooting for each and every one of them.

I tried to make sure that I added disclaimers explaining that I was discussing a summer development camp in which players generally from a relatively similar age group were working on skill development drills and systems play, and I actually went to some lengths on Twitter and in comments to explain that this environment is very different from that of a prospect tournament or professional level play. Hell, I made sure to talk to Brian Lashoff about just that on Thursday, and you can go ahead and listen to one of the brightest prospects taking part in the development camp explain that he’s got a long road to go before he can even think about earning anything more than a couple-game call-up this season—which is exactly what he’s aiming for.

Otherwise, given the vast majority of readers’ opinions via comments, emails, Twitter, all sorts of feedback, people seem to prefer that I do things my way instead of trying to impose journalistic standards upon my observations—again,  worked in a real-world example when I asked readers to weigh in on the 10-minute interview with Thomas McCollum, where I threw some softballs at him regarding the struggles he has between his ears, and the Free Press’s George Sipple plain old antagonized him—and a few said they preferred I stuck to being me.

So with the vast majority of the feedback suggesting that I continue to learn and grow while remaining subjective, and me not really being able to do this job without remaining subjective, well…

I yam what I yam, and if you don’t like it, feel free to voice your opinions. Just know that outside of this post and the last one, I’m just not going to give a rat’s butt if you try to get a “dig” in to piss me off or make me feel sad or bad about myself.

Once I put this stuff out, it’s the audience’s, and you can interpret it or criticize it to your heart’s desire. But in terms of form and content, especially given the feedback assessed by the people who paid for the coverage—as well as those who had a genuine interest in what I was talking about—I’m doing all right, and if I’m doing well enough for the people that asked me to go and gave me substantive feedback, regardless of whether they helped underwrite my stay, theirs are the only opinions I need to worry about.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 07/14/12 at 08:50 PM ET


The point is, the Wings haven’t developed any elite players in more than a decade.  And one might argue they didn’t even develop those two, they came from Europe ready-made to be stars.  Maybe Smith will become an elite NHL player.  Maybe Teemu will be a superstar.  There’s just no way to know right now.  Judging by past history, the Wings are worse at developing talent than many (most?) other teams, despite 5 years of articles that tell me how awesome these guys are and how great they will be.

Perhaps, with some perspective, you’d see that they weren’t really that talented in the first place.  I don’t hate you, I just think if you went to another team’s prospect camp, you’d see that the Wings’ players aren’t so different from any other team’s players.  Your enthusiasm for this team clouds your judgment and that’s fair to criticize—disclaimer or not, payment or not.

Posted by jkm2011 on 07/15/12 at 01:56 PM ET


nice post

Posted by Sataporn from thai on 07/19/12 at 12:11 PM ET

Add a Comment

Please limit embedded image or media size to 575 pixels wide.

Add your own avatar by joining Kukla's Korner, or logging in and uploading one in your member control panel.

Captchas bug you? Join KK or log in and you won't have to bother.


Notify me of follow-up comments?


Most Recent Blog Posts

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.