The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/08/12 at 02:56 PM ET
On a suspiciously quiet day in Traverse City—it may be Sunday, but during the Cherry Festival, I’d expect both rinks at Centre Ice Arena to be hopping with activity, not with one rink darkened, the rink the Red Wings’ prospects use “blocked off” from concourse view via what are essentially tarps, and certainly not with the concession stand closed—the Detroit Red Wings’ prospects got down to the business of learning how to train and play like professional hockey players today.
From what I heard, yesterday’s scrimmage was more of a “getting to know you” event to shake the rust off than anything else—and there’s lots of “getting to know” for the 15 new draft picks or try-outs—so the start of split morning and afternoon sessions marked the return of the same old, same old for players like Brendan Smith, Brian Lashoff, Mitchell Callahan and Thomas McCollum, but there’s always something to be said for the looks of utter shock on draft pick and first-timers’ faces when they see Tomas Storm’s stick drills or Andy Weidenbach’s power skating drills in action.
Minus Louis-Marc Aubry, who was nursing a minor ankle injury, “Team Zetterberg” took to the ice in front of Wings coach Mike Babcock and GM Ken Holland, who were looking on from the rink’s one suite, assistant GM Jim Nill, capologist Ryan Martin (who spent half his time watching the morning session’s worth of off-ice workouts) and I’d say about thirty fans.
Here’s how Team Zetterberg’s roster shakes down:
Tomas Jurco #28
Louis-Marc Aubry (injured)
Teemu Pulkkinen #62
Mitchell Callahan #42
Alan Quine #59
Marek Tvrdon #60
Martin Frk #48
Luke Glendening #72**
Rasmus Bodin #75
Michael Babcock #70*
Phillipe Hudon #61
Robert Rooba #64*
Brian Lashoff #23
Nick Jensen #71
Xavier Ouellet #54
Ryan Sproul #22
Gleb Koryagin #77*
Petr Mrazek #34
Jake Paterson #68
Players with asterisks are try-outs and Glendening has an AHL-only deal.
The drills were led by director of player development Jiri Fischer, goalie coach Jim Bedard, skill development coach Tomas Storm and power skating coach Andy Weidenbach and a gentleman I hate to admit I cannot yet name working with the goalies, with presumptive Grand Rapids Griffins assistant coach Jim Paek, Wings video coach Keith McKittrick and wings player mentor Chris Chelios taking the lead during team-oriented drills.
Storm worked half the players through stickhandling drills from about 8:30-9 AM as Bedard had the players warm up Mrazek and Paterson; from 9 until 9:30 AM, Andy Weidenbach worked on power skating with the players while the goalies worked on fundamentals with Bedard; the players took a fifteen-minute break as the Zamboni resurfaced the ice from 9:30 till 9:45 AM, and then the players worked with Paek, McKittrick and Chelios from 9:45 until 10:30 AM.
That’s a little tighter schedule than Curt Fraser ran—his practices tended to last until 11 or 11:15 at times, and I do get the feeling that between the starter scrimmage, scheduling two two-a-day off-ice/on-ice sessions, holding Bryan Rufenach day, giving the players two more days of two-a-days and then a scrimmage over the course of only 7 days, the Wings are trying to get maximum bang for their buck while trying to keep things somewhat fresh.
This was just the first “real day” of on-ice drills, so I’m anticipating that the drills might linger a little longer and that the coaches’ volume levels will increase as the days go on, but there’s a definite sense of trying to streamline the affair and focus a little more on execution, and after watching this for five years, it’s good to see new ideas being implemented.
In terms of the drills…Well, before that, let’s get this out of the way: when a certain Mike Babcock saw me typing away on my laptop, he was very curious as to what I was doing, and I explained to him that I was writing observations for a blog. When he said, “Oh, you’re a blogger?” a wee bit confrontationally, thankfully Ken Holland came by to shake hands, and when I gave Ken my card, he handed it to Babcock. Babcock asked if I was one of those bloggers who stirs things up, and I said not for him, because I’m afraid of him (with a half smile). He said that’s the way he likes it, and given that I try to put out many more fires than I start, I thought that was a perfect way to start the day.
The drills took a split formation throughout the morning, with Jim Bedard and his assistant warming up Petr Mrazek (who swapped out a new mask for the one he wore for the Czech World Junior team as he wasn’t comfortable with breaking in both a new mask and red-and-white Vaughn pads) and Jake Paterson (whose careworn Vaughn pads and blocker and Reebok trapper are in desperate need of replacing), first with simple shots from a stick placed horizontally ten feet in front of the hash marks, and then adding new wrinkles to keep the shooters interested, like having the shooter fire the puck at the goalie, retrieve it if it doesn’t go in or take a pass from Bedard or his assistant, and then send it back to the next player in line, working in drills where the “shooter” begins skating from the glove or blocker side half boards, with a “defenseman” trying to take time and space away from said shooter by shadowing him, then having two “shooters” turn into screens as the third “shooter” fires pucks on net, having “shooters” start in very tight to the goal, skating from one hockey glove placed about five feet diagonally from the top of one of the horseshoe sides of the crease to another glove to test goalies’ lateral motion, taking passes from behind the net on the glove or blocker side of the goalie, and finally taking one-timers from Bedard as the goalies have to recover from the butterfly position to recover and stop shots to their glove and then blocker sides.
That’s “simple” stuff by Bedard standards, and I from a goaltender’s standpoint, well…
Mrazek’s a little less flexible than he used to be, but he’s added bulk for a reason, and it’s clear that he’s not only just as big a shot-blocker as he used to be, but that his lateral and forward mobility are better, so he really doesn’t need to scramble around nearly as much as he used to, nor does he need to turn himself around if he gets caught cheating to one side or the other. His glove hand remains Dominik Hasek-style high, and his blocker hand can be a work in progress, but I saw two main flaws with Mrazek’s play today:
1. He’s breaking in brand new pads, so they’re firing off rebounds left and right;
2. And he was trying to break in a new mask, which clearly affected his sightlines. Once he swapped out the new mask for the one he wore for the Czechs during the World Championship, all those holes on the far goalposts disappeared, he was controlling his rebounds better and he went from a goalie who was working a little too hard for someone of his caliber to a goaltender who was, aside from the clunky rebounds, starting to look like an AHL-ready netminder.
In terms of Paterson’s play, judging from more than just the Bedard drills, I can see why Chris Osgood compared him to Corey Schneider. Paterson’s not overly big, but his torso is remains upright almost all the time, he’s got exceptionally quick toes, his stick side is pretty good and he’s just…calm. Very calm. The not so super news is that his careworn pads and tendency to not cough up big rebounds means that pucks lie at his feet, near his blocker, or especially coming off a glove that’s held far too deeply into his body, almost to the point that the glove is parallel to his chest protector at times, and there were more than a few pop-outs from that glove (he comes off the left post in the butterfly holding the glove above his head, palm toward the shooter, to ensure that he doesn’t get beaten high). There were times that he got picked apart on successive shots because he simply is, for lack of a better term, a very young goalie who tends to worry about the pucks that are getting behind him instead of focusing on stopping the next shot.
Shifting focus back to the skaters, I’ve seen quite a few of Tomas Storm’s drills, so I can’t necessarily say that his stickhandling exploits surprise me, but there’s no way in hell that I could do any of them.
Today he didn’t have any lawnmower tires out—instead, he focused on what are “basics” by Storm’s standards, having players mostly stickhandle between pucks placed about 10 feet apart during individual drills and having them skate along the blueline and back during “team” drills.
Pull the puck almost back to your left or right toe while skating forward, and then skate forward? No big deal. Stickhandle while skating backwards, kicking one leg out and then the other to shuffle and change your center of mass? Easy. Stickhandle backwards while shuffling your skates so that they never leave the ice, shimmying along? First-day stuff. Extending the puck to the very furthest point your stick can reach, on both the forehand and backhand, while literally “taking a knee” to extend that reach? Every day the players will do this for at least some period of time. Flick the puck from forehand to backhand and back with a very serious “flicking” motion, to the point that even players who can deke and dangle with the best of ‘em were losing pucks? First day stuff. Add some s-turns? Sure. Stickhandle around those pucks 10 feet apart, on one leg? Can be done. While pivoting your whole body to face those pucks the whole time you’re stickhandling around them, always facing the puck in a 360 going one way, and then another 360 going the other? Going back to “taking a knee” while cutting “c”-shaped turns, or making that “c” shuffle that defensemen do when they’re skating backwards, except going forwards Done, see you tomorrow.
Now the goalies didn’t simply chit-chat with Bedard and his assistant when Andy Weidenbach took over and took three quarters of the rink to work on power skating with the players. There was a certain amount of chit-chat for Mrazek, who wears two knee straps and 2 more on his calves, and Peterson, who goes with two very loose knee straps and only one for his thigh, but the goalies spent most of their time utilizing a faceoff dot to skitter from side to side on both legs, then skitter back dropping into a half butterfly, chugging from side to side with push-offs while in a full butterfly, sliding to the center of the dot to drop down, get back up, skate to what would be the top of the crease on the left side, skating back to the dot to drop, getting up and skating to what would be the top of the crease on the right side, and then dropping back down into the butterfly, and both goalies even had to execute push-offs and drop-downs that took them to the top of the faceoff circle, the near board-facing top of the circle, the goal line-facing circle and back from whence they came. It was…Intense positional stuff.
And for the skaters, Andy Weidenbach always seems to add some new wrinkles to the mix. The man’s finally ditched his old Cooper Technicflex gloves, circa 1994, for some new CCM CL’s, but that’s the only flash to his substantive skill development drills. I described his first drill as follows:
“He wants guys to llean down to their knees as they skate forward, strutting one knee out on front of body, parallel to hip. Using exaggerated arm strides. This would be the, “Let the blower body do the work drill.”
“No coasting, on side, no coasting,” he said.
And that was the first drill. Nearly “taking a knee” while being expected to push off with that jutting back leg.
Weidenbach is big on teaching forwards as well as defensemen to make that “C”-cut stride going forward as well as backward, where your skate never leaves the ice and almost makes a “C” motion out to the side and then tucking itself back into your body, and he worked pretty hard to hammer home his point that the lower body should be doing the work and that the upper body should remain loose. Then he had skaters more or less “swish” themselves forward with both skates together, and after a water break, he introduced a concept that many players have a hard time getting used to: in making three circles, from the half boards to blueline, blueline to red line, and then red line to far blueline, players are asked to (whether it’s all turning left, all turning right or alternating the two motions) lean as far down as they can and push into their skate blades, using momentum and centripetal force to stay up. He made sure to tell players, as he will every day that these two-a-days take place, that, “You won’t fall, you’ll almost never fall doing this,” but it takes some getting used to.
He also worked very hard to get players to do stops and starts, having them sprint toward those magical half-boards, blueline, redline and far blueline marks, all while skating hard toward said mark, stopping, skating back toward the previous mark, pushing off hard, reaching the next “milestone marker,” stopping, skating back to the previous one, and pushing hard…More or less trying to teach players to conserve their energy and explosiveness and not burn off all their skating power in stopping, which is incredibly difficult to master.
Weidenbach wrapped things up by saying that tomorrow and on Wednesday and Thursday the players will get into game situations, which is true, and he also tried to emphasize one of his favorite points, that their shoulders should remain level at all times.
After a Zamboni resurfacing and a bit of a break for the players, Jim Paek, Chris Chelios and Keith McKittrick took over, with the players first going in on two-on-none and then two-on-one breaks (with one of those “two-on” players staying back to create “backside pressure”) before engaging in some stretching, knee bends and sprints through the middle of the ice. It should be noted for the gearheads that Chelios is not wearing Red Wings-themed gloves: his Warrior Luxes are red, white and blue.
Just throwing a wrinkle in there, it was also interesting to see Pulkkinen almost naturally lead some of the stretches. He may be a very young player and a very small one at that (he was at eye level with my six feet and no inches high with his skates on), but he’s played for Jokerit Helsinki, one of the SM-Liiga’s best teams, for two years now, and the Finnish league is very much so a professional one.
When drills got underway, as they would many times, Jim Paek had to blow his whistle and ask the players to show more urgency, or to stop so he could pull one aside and try to get the specifics down. Again, Curt Fraser was a little more confrontational and yell-y-at-everybody-y in this regard, whereas Paek and Fischer, who took a surprisingly active role, prefer to work one-on-one and bark only when necessary.
So the “backside pressure” drill began to involve a diagonal pass from attacker to attacker at both bluelines, and then more significant “pressure” from the would-be defending player, as well as more speed, and things got more intense from there.
Paek worked a dry-erase board before having players engage in some very spirited full-ice three-on-three drills, and then Fischer took the defensemen aside to work on “battle drills” where players would come out from the corner with a shadow, and then drills involving shooting the puck deliberately at the goalie so he could use his glove side or his stick side to play it to the “attacker” as he’d loop around the net and fire a pass toward the next “attacker” in line, or the defensemen would simply dump, chase and retrieve to reinforce fundamentals.
Finally, the defensemen started to really battle it out, with one defenseman trying to clear the puck and the other trying to take it away and shoot, and things got about as physical as you see on the 3rd day on a Sunday because of it.
At the north end of the rink, Paek had forwards come off the goal line diagonally, give and go with a coach and then eventually a player standing halfway between the boards and net along the goal line, and then skate in on either the blocker or glove side to shoot, and that drill turned from a 1-on-0 to a 1-on-1, 2-on-1 and eventually 3-on-2 drill with the “attackers” having a numerical edge on the “defenders,” rebounds being in play and all sorts of havoc taking place. It was fun to watch.
So that’s how the drills went down. In terms of what stood out from the skaters…
Tomas Jurco #28: Tomas did not have magic hands today. Maybe it was because he was wearing New York Rangers-style Warrior gloves with no backroll and one stiff piece of foam and plastic instead, and maybe he was just having an off day, but while his shot is slipperier than ice and he can finish with the best of them, he wasn’t a particularly dominant skater, he looked better but not great in terms of physical strength in board battles, his passes were solid but unspectacular and all of that YouTube stuff that seemed so endemic to his game was absent today. Maybe he’ll get back to being more creative when he’s a little more comfortable, but for today—although it’s not a bad thing to be businesslike and just go to the damn net—he just tried to score.
Louis-Marc Aubry: Aubry was up and about in the locker room and waved hello to me, so it sounds like he twisted his ankle during fitness testing on Saturday. The players get VERY, VERY SERIOUS about the numbers they register in fitness testing as they want to a) better them by the time the week is out and b) take the feedback and turn it into some serious improvement come the prospect tournament, so I’m not surprised that someone got hurt trying to hard. Also: the dude’s still a stringbean, but he’s got to be 6’5.”
Teemu Pulkkinen #62: Part of me loved what I saw from Pulkkinen and part of me checked off the, “And that’s why he’s a prospect” boxes in terms of his physical strength, urgency with the puck on North American ice, willingness to over-complicate offensively and sometimes a very soft touch, in terms of his passing, shooting and his physical play, despite the fact that while he’s short and stocky, he’s no lightweight. Pulkkinen has an amazing shot and he’s a superb stickhandler as well, he is one of those players who you can immediately say “sees the ice” a step ahead of his peers, and he’s just a smart, smart little player, but he’s a work in progress. NHL upside from a pure skill and hockey IQ perspective? Loads of it. Is he going to be playing on the Wings this year? No way in hell, even if Jokerit let him break his contract.
Mitchell Callahan #42: Aside from the fact that he’s shooting wide way too regularly, Mitchell’s rounding into pro form. This isn’t the best place for him to strut his stuff as Mitchell’s an instigator and someone who thrives on physical play and plain old pissing people off, but his skating has improved by leaps and bounds, he’s not trying to make extra passes or plays, he’s much more defensively responsible, he’s wearing his visor properly and he plain old looks like a strong AHL grinder. I’m very happy to see him have progressed so much in a year.
Alan Quine #59: Elegant skater, shifty as shifty can be, gorgeous playmaker at times, sneaky shot, thin as a damn rake. Quine will need more watching before I can say much else, but he’s the classic OHL star who the Wings rather desperately want to work on his strength because his build is so slight.
Marek Tvrdon #60: Maybe the Slovaks were just “off” today. Tvrdon didn’t stand out at all. He’s still a getting-better-to-good skater with good hands, nice vision and a nice combination of a power forward’s mentality with some solid defensive responsibility, but he just didn’t look engaged.
Martin Frk #48: Everything that’s been said about him is true. Goal-scorer and a half, big and physical when he wants to be despite not being overly “big,” sharp sense of positioning on occasion…And he can be a hot dog dilly dallying out there, and his skating needs work, and sometimes he looks frk’in skinny for a player who could and should fill out very nicely. He’s 18, at his first camp and admittedly taken aback a bit by the whirlwind, and he struck me as a nice, sharp young man who isn’t intimidated by the process at all, but he’s a work in progress. A potentially really excellent work in progress, but a work in progress nonetheless.
Luke Glendening #72**: Thus far, Luke’s what he was with Michigan, minus the offense: a stellar defensive forward and center who has pro positioning, wins faceoffs easily and plays like an older, seasoned player. I didn’t see much else form him.
Rasmus Bodin #75: Holy flying crap balls this dude is big. 6’5” 6’6” somewhere in there and just gigantor, easily physical, heavy but not heavy on his feet, monstrous and actually pretty skilled, all things considered. Need to see more of him.
Michael Babcock #70*: If he wasn’t 5’9” he’d easily have an NCAA contract in hand. Smart, reliable, relatively fast, conscientious, hard worker, moderately talented and again, his hockey IQ is very, very high. But he’s not very big.
Phillipe Hudon #61: Hudon can indeed become a power forward sometime down the line, and he looks so much more comfortable in his skin this time around that it’s awesome to see. Big boy, nice hand,s goes to the net naturally and is naturally physical. His skating has gotten better, too.
Robert Rooba #64*: Sometimes he was good, sometimes he looked like he needed all the help Jiri Fischer could give him. Plays bigger than his size, which is nothing to sneeze at, smart, occasionally slick. Need to see more.
Brian Lashoff #23: Big, strong, skilled, well-rounded, good mobile skater, defensively responsible as all hell get out, nice vision and passing, hard shot, solid playmaking skills, physical as necessary, as I’ve been saying for a couple of years now, another Brad Stuart in the making.
Nick Jensen #71: Sporting a long mop of hair, Jensen no longer looks like a 160-something pound boy. He’s starting to grow into a man’s body and he is a superb playmaking defenseman who skates superbly and looks like a sophomore at Saint Cloud State who’s getting his feet under him.
Xavier Ouellet #54: Ouellet didn’t impress skill-wise today, despite his remarkable aplomb with the puck in terms of shooting, passing and dekeing and dangling, but man, was he physical. Great positioning and he crashed, banged and won the vast majority of the physical battles he engaged in.
Ryan Sproul #22: Sproul’s grown into his body, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. He’s a little over-bulky right now, and it shows in a lot of lost momentum and energy while he’s skating and a tendency to put himself out of position looking for the big shot, the big hit, etc. He’s gotta simplify and calm down a bit.
Gleb Koryagin #77*: Not big, not fast, but a short stick-using defenseman who’s very mobile and very, very, very, very skilled. Need to see more.
Interviews: I spoke to Mitchell Callahan…
Martin Frk—and it’s “FRICK”...
And Brendan Smith gave a frickin’ 15-minute lecture to MLive’s Brendan Savage, the Free Press’s George Sipple and myself:
Although the camp technically began Saturday afternoon with a brief on-ice workout, assistant general manager Jim Nill said that was basically held to allow the players to get their feet wet before diving into the full schedule today.
Nill said 41 players are on hand for the camp, which runs through Friday.
The players were broken in two groups for this morning’s first set of workouts. Twenty took part in a 60-minute on-ice session while another 21 did off-ice conditioning and strength training.
Running the on-ice workout were director of player development Jiri Fischer, goaltending coach Jim Bedard, skills instructor Tomas Storm and Cranbrook Kingswood High School coach Andy Weidenbach.
Among the players taking part in the first on-ice session were Finnish star Teemu Pulkkinen, 2012 draft choices Martin Frk and Jake Paterson, and Michael Babcock, son of Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.
Mike Babcock and general manager Ken Holland watched the workout from a perch high in the corner of Centre Ice Arena.
The players were put through on-ice drills that included stick-handling, agility, shooting and skating.
• The Left Wing Lock’s Sarah Lindenau has posted a morring practice gallery already;
• If we are to believe what we read, the Fourth Period claims that the Wings are talking to Alexander Semin, and Sportsline’s Brian Stubits noted that Sport-Express’s Slava Malamud Tweeted the following:
There are unconfirmed (!) reports that CSKA’s offer to Semin stand at 3 years, $30 million. Pretty ridiculous money, if you ask me. #Caps
• Don’t ask me how, but SB Nation Detroit’s Sean Yuille found the listing for Nicklas Lidstrom’s house in Novi, via RedWingsFeed;
And that’s it for me for now. My evening report will be a bit shorter as I’m running on about 3 hours of sleep.
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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.