Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Impressions from the morning skate on Day 3 of the Red Wings’ prospect tournament

There's a fine line between "familiar" and "predictable," and the Red Wings prospects' coaches chose to ride that line ahead of tonight's possibly championship-berth-clinching game against St. Louis (7 PM; if the Wings win, they're in; if they lose and the Dallas Stars beat Minnesota today, the Wings would have to score at least 2 goals to win the Howe Division; Jake Paterson will start tonight, and it appears that Phillipe Hudon will take Jordan Maleta's spot on the fourth line).

At  the summer development camp, the emphasis is on jamming as much knowledge into the players' brains as possible, but when you're preparing players to skate in their 3rd game in 4 nights and then--regardless of what happens tonight--a fourth game in 5 evenings, you've got to choose your "teachable moments" wisely.

Instead, the Wings have very specifically focused on drills to ensure that their skaters know the "Red Wings' ways" of covering opposing lanes and taking away passes in penalty-killing situations, knowing how to rotate in defensive coverage as 4 and 5-man units so that everyone is in the proper place to block passes and shots...

They've worked on power play drills to emphasize recovering cleared pucks and roaring back up ice, working the perimeter and then getting shots on net with a player's butt parked in front of a goaltender's sight lines...

The team's spent a significant amount of time working on puck retrieval and board battling...

And the vast majority of the goaltending drills have involved facing shooters from coming-behind-the net or coming-off-the-boards situations, accentuated by second or third shots designed to ensure that goaltenders don't get "lost" in their nets or thrown off their angles.

This morning's session began with good news in itself as the "red" and "white" teams iced the following rosters...

White team: Nicastro, Mantha Hudon, Plutnar, Frk, Janrkrok, Bodin, Bertuzzi, Nedomlel, Coreau, Paterson, Natasiuk.

Red team: Sheahan, Goodrow, Athanasiou, Sproul,Marchenko, Tvrdon, Jurco, Maleta, Ouellet, McNulty, Pulkkinen.

And when you count those names up, that's 24 players, so for the present moment, knock on wood, everybody's able to skate.

The very first drill involved coach Jeff Blashill dumping a puck into the corner on the left or right wing, against a four-man "box," and having what would have been the "center" forward retrieving the puck and firing it up to the "winger" (who stayed back near the top of the faceoff circle) while the defensemen skated back to the half boards and hash marks, respectively.

On occasion, the players would have to skate to the other side of the rink, where Jim Paek, Chris Chelios and Spiros Anastas would try to "seal" the puck, and it was the job of that first forward back to either muck the puck up to a defenseman on the side boards or to chip it to the waiting "winger" so that the team could clear the puck to the blueline.

Then the four-man box engaged in what is a now-familiar, "Okay, we've got two forwards above the faceoff circle and two defensemen in the middle thereof; everybody skates up to the point that the forwards touch the blueline, and then they retreat, with the RD shifting toward the hash marks, the LD shifting toward the bottom of the circle, and the forwards taking away the half boards and the top of the faceoff circle, respectively" (at least from the perspective of skating up what is their "left side" or the goaltender's glove side wing) square-to-diamond coverage drill--but there was a little twist this time, with the left winger skating all the way to the blueline, and his partner would trail him by about five feet before the pair skated back to their defensive positions.

At the other end of the ice, instead of working on a coming-across-the-goal line drill, Jim Bedard had the skaters involved skating all the way back to a glove placed upon the previous location of the just-inside-the-zone faceoff dot--while skating backwards--and then taking a pass from the goal line and shooting from the hash marks. The drill was repeated on both the goalies' glove and blocker sides.

Then an end-to-end drill got shaken up a bit: players gathered in "repositories" along either the junction of the goal line and the side boards on the right or left sides of the ice, and one player would skate (with a puck) up to the blueline furthest from him, he'd pass the puck to the player coming off of the opposite "repository," that player would pass the puck back to player 1, player 1 would skate back to the center of the blueline nearest to where he started, he'd give and receive the puck from player 2, and they would skate in on a 2-on-0.

After a short stretch led by Tomas Jurco, things got a little funky: five players would take the puck from the Chelios-Paek-Anastas "grinders" in the northwest corner of the rink, the defensemen would give the puck to the forwards, who would execute a total of three passes (so that every forward touched the puck), and they'd shoot on the south end goaltender...Then all five players would regroup at the southern blueline, get a pass from a coach, and break in on the goaltender at the north end of the ice, again, with the forwards making three passes (and Xavier Ouellet changed from the "red" to the "white" team for some reason).

Then the defensemen were sent to the south end of the ice to take shots from the blueline, while, at the north end of the rink, coaches Blashill and Anastas stood inside the trapezoid behind the net, and two forwards would skate to the hash marks. Depending on the side of the ice they were on, the forwards were expected to take way both the passing lane to a presumptive defenseman along the side boards and to take away a pass to a presumptive defenseman at the center of the blueline--so this was a PK drill involving getting sticks in lanes to prevent down-low players from opening up the points, because the Stars' blueliners victimized the Wings PK in a big way on Friday night.

A "triangle" drill ensued where defensemen were placed at the centers of each blueline, and one forward skating up from the near blueline would pass a puck to the defensemen facing him at the far blueline, that defenseman would pass the puck to another forward coming from his side of the ice, the two forwards would pass the puck to each other, and then they'd skate up against the defenseman who started the play;

When the players were separated again, Blashill had skaters working on a power play drill where three forwards and two defensemen were set up on either the left or right half boards and the side boards-and-hash-marks forwards would trade passes, and either the side boards player would shoot the puck, or he'd pass the puck back to a defenseman who would shoot on the goaltender with the third forward parked out front.

It was telling that, regardless of whether what end they were assigned to, Jared Coreau and Jake Paterson would share one net, and Cam Lanigan had the other one all to himself, indicating that Coreau or Paterson (it turned out to be the latter) would start.

At the south end of the ice, first, skaters would start from one end of the goal line and skate behind the net, take a pass from Jim Bedard, and skate out front, where they'd have to take a shot on the goalie in between a pair of hockey sticks placed at the top of one of the edges of the "horseshoe," on the glove or blocker side; that drill was quickly tweaked to make the forward also skate up to said shooting area, down to the goal line and then back before shooting to try to shake the goaltender off his angles.

Eventually, a second "shooter" was added--and that player would take a pass from a coach standing on the corner opposite where the first shooter had shot the puck, and if the first player was shooting glove side, then the second one would take a puck on the goalie's blocker side and race that goaltender back to the glove side post. This drill involves both staying on one's "angle" and recovering laterally.

The power play drills at the north end were tweaked to involve defensemen walking laterally along the blueline before shooting from the center thereof, hopefully with a forward in front.

Some 35 minutes in, Blashill excused himself, and the more offensively-minded players starting taking one-timers at an empty north net; at the south end of the rink, all three goalies migrated to the south end, where the lateral drills continued, this time with the "second pass" being received from Chris Chelios, who was stationed at the blueline on either the goalie's "glove" or "blocker" side.

The skate ended early--around 12:10--but Rasmus Bodin, Barclay Goodrow and Michal Plutnar kept goofing around at the south end until about 12:30. I'm guessing that none of the above-listed players will play tonight.



In terms of individual players, albeit a little more briefly as the game takes place half an hour earlier this evening:


#15 Riley Sheahan: Sheahan is very evidently trying to evolve from what he was last season in a complimentary and defensively reliable player to an all-round contributor. He's working on the power play as the net-front man, he's working with Tomas Jurco on the penalty-kill, he's grinding it out in the corners, he's vocal as can be and he's very intense. He seems to be a man on a mission to prove that he's more than a fourth or third-line center in the making.

#26 Tomas Jurco: Jurco is wearing an alternate captain's "A" just as Sheahan is, and it's gone to his head, too. It's very evident that Jurco's less concerned with scoring goals and more concerned with showing his coaches that he can be counted upon in all situations, and that he and Sheahan can play as a cohesive unit on the Griffins' top line now that Joakim Andersson, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar have graduated to the Red Wings. Both players are sending messages, and for the speedy Jurco, its, "I want to be seen as more than an offensive weapon."

#39 Anthony Mantha: Mantha was quiet this morning, but his increased level of confidence is showing, and as time has gone on, he's become more competitive on an every-battle basis. On Thursday, he was shying away from physical play and looking toward offense; as time's gone on, he's shown more and more of a desire to take part in board battles and to not simply skate away when he's not in a position to score. That's good to see.

#42 Martin Frk: Frk's definitely trying to figure out how to make fewer passes and to take more first shots as he adapts from playing on a dominant QMJHL team where he admittedly didn't have to do much more than pucks in the net to a league where he's going to have to manufacture offense on his own. So far, so good in terms of his work ethic.

#56 Teemu Pulkkinen: I like his skating ability, I like his grit and jam, but I can tell you this: the Holy Slapper is going to take time to adjust to an 85-foot-wide rink. When Pulkkinen works on his one-timers and slap shots, 80% of the time you hear the "CLANG, CLANG, CLANG" of pucks hitting the glass or the boards. His shot's there, but his sights are off.

#59 Tyler Bertuzzi: Again, when he gets out of his way, he's very skilled, very very skilled. He's a smart enough player who has good wheels, a solid pass and a hard shot, but he does get too preoccupied with the physical nature of his game. He's earning lots of ice time and has gotten some PK and PP drill time, which is a good sign.

#60 Marek Tvrdon: Tvrdon improves with each day. His skating becomes more fluid, his passes are sharper, his shots are better-placed and he looks more interested and engaged in what's taking place on the ice. He's shaking off the rust.

#62 Zach Nastasiuk: Nastasiuk doesn't necessarily grab your attention during practices, but he's a gritty role player, and what has impressed me the most involves the fact that he's literally added half a step to his skating over all of two months. He's faster and more mobile now, and that means he can hit harder and chug pucks out of trouble.

#63 Phillipe Hudon: Hudon looked like a player who knew that a roster spot might be on the line--even though the Wings have two years to decide whether to sign him--depending on his play tonight, and the speedy grinder was engaged and ready to play "ultra-competitive" hockey. He was gearing up for the game very early.

#64 Jordan Maletta: "I can't figure him out," part 1 of 2. Maletta is big at 6'3," he can be physical, he can skate well for a man who's over 200 pounds and he can possess quite the snarl, but he can also fade into the woodwork. I am really, really trying to figure out what the Wings have here.

#67 Rasmus Bodin: Ditto for Rasmus, who is obviously well-liked and obviously works hard, but can't seem to put the sum of his gigantic power forward's game together for a long enough period of time to stand out. All the tools, no toolbox.

#70 Calle Jarnkrok: Jarnkrok did something that must have been incredibly uncomfortable for him today: he tried out a Reebok stick, knowing that at the AHL level, he's going to have to ditch his Bauer for a Reebok RibCor. He again plays smoothly and slickly in each and every aspect of his game, he's quietly intense and he's conscientious and diligent. He's exciting not because he does one thing spectacularly, but because he does absolutely everything very, very well.

#84 Barclay Goodrow: Goodrow was a bit quiet today. I don't know whether that had to do with his probable scratching or what, but the "power grinding center" was very, very casual.


#47 Alexei Marchenko: Marchenko may have two years of pro experience under his belt as a member of CSKA Moscow, but he is very visibly working his brain off to try and figure out how to tweak his game to play effectively on a smaller rink against bigger and more aggressive opponents. He's got the skill set to play finesse hockey and to generate offense, but it's very clear that Marchenko doesn't plan on flashing skill until he can prove that he can prevent scoring chances, and, like Pulkkinen, the angles are all wrong for him.

#48 Ryan Sproul: Sproul was quiet, Sproul was efficient, Sproul was good. There is an aspect to his game that isn't all power--he anticipates plays well and keeps his head up to create them as well as stifling them--and that's good to see.

#61 Xavier Ouellet: Mr. Smooth has to rebound from a middling performance on Friday, and he was invisible at times during the morning skate, which is good for him. Slick, solid and sound.

#58 Max Nicastro: Perhaps at the other end of the spectrum, Nicastro looks like he's starting to understand that the Marchenkos, Sprouls and Ouellets are going to push him into the ECHL if he simply remains a defensive defenseman, so he's slowly and subtly starting to prove that he can also move the puck and jump up into the rush, if only almost imperceptibly.

#74 Marc McNulty: McNulty was quiet this morning. Gigantic and fast as can be for 6'6," he's a puck-rusher of the first order, but he's still trying to get comfortable in that huge body.

#75 Michal Plutnar: Sometimes Plutnar looks like Alexei Marchenko, and sometimes Plutnar looks like Ildar Telyakov did during the summer camp--good enough to keep up, but given an incredibly deep blueline, not good enough to earn consideration for a pro contract.

#77 Richard Nedomlel: Richard's been up and down both in games and in practices. Today, he was efficient and smart and safe, and he really couldn't be physical with his own teammates, but he ground things out.


#31 Jared Coreau: Coreau needed the lateral mobility drills he was working upon, and he's still struggling to re-set when going post-to-post. When you've been out of the game for as long as he has, your sense of yourself in the net suffers, and he's getting it back slowly but surely. Again, he's huge, he's smooth, he's efficient and he's getting his glove hand back.

#36 Jake Paterson: He had a quietly inconspicuous morning skate, taking maybe a third of the shots to Coreau's 2/3rds of the work. It was hard to get a read on him at all.

#68 Cam Lanigan: If the Red Wings weren't so deep in the crease and stuck at a 50-man roster limit, they might take a look at Lanigan. At 6'3" and with a gangly frame, he's got excellent fundamentals and is a fine hybrid goaltender, working to make the simple save whenever possible. He's got a very good glove hand, he handles the puck well and he's very upright in his crease...But he won't start tonight, and that's a bit strange.



Update: NHL.com's Mike Morreale offers an interesting angle on tonight's game:

Prospects Zack Phillips of the Minnesota Wild, Tomas Jurco of the Detroit Red Wings and Ryan Tesink of the St. Louis Blues may play for different teams, but will always share a common bond. All three forwards were key members of the 2011 Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. It was a team that throttled opponents in the regular season and accomplished a feat that no other Saint John team had done when it became champions of the Canadian Hockey League.


The trio is participating in the Traverse City Prospects tournament this week with the hope of making a lasting impression. It would appear that of the three players, Phillips has the best odds of possibly earning a roster spot with the big club right out of training camp while Jurco is a close second.


Jurco, a 2011 second-round pick (No. 35), also enjoys frustrating opposing defenses with his great offensive instincts. He had 31 goals and 56 points in 60 regular-season games and hit for six goals and 18 points in 19 QMJHL playoff games with the Sea Dogs in 2010-11. He then scored a team-leading four goals in four games in the 2011 Memorial Cup.

After three seasons with the Sea Dogs, the 6-2, 193-pound Slovakian played 74 games with Detroit's AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids last season. As a first-year pro, he had 14 goals and 28 points. During the Griffins' Calder Cup run, he had eight goals and 14 points in 24 postseason matches. He will likely continue to mature and grow in Grand Rapids this season.

"I had to become adjusted to new systems; it's different than in junior when you lose the puck, because you're going to get it back on the same shift and get a chance out of it," Jurco said. "In the AHL, you have to protect the puck really well. Once you lose it, it's tough to get it back so that was main thing for me to learn. I had to keep that puck a little longer on my stick and make the right play."

Jurco expects to begin the year in Grand Rapids, but would relish an opportunity to get a taste of life in the NHL with the Red Wings as well.

"I'm hoping a call up to Detroit at some point," he said. "It would be good for me. That's what I'm trying to achieve this year; getting a couple of games in NHL would help a lot."

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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.