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Mid-day observations from Day 7 of the Red Wings’ prospect camp: winding down?

On Tuesday, a slightly worn-out set of Red Wings prospects were pushed to their absolute limits during the on-ice sessions at Detroit’s summer development camp, and today the coaches seemed to recognize that the last full day of practices before Thursday’s scrimmage and commute back to Detroit, Friday’s fitness testing, exit intervhttp://www.kuklaskorner.com/korner/index.php?S=0&C=publish&M=entry_form&weblog_id=22iews, and an end-of-camp activity in taking in the Tigers-White Sox game from Mike Ilitch’s suite yielded an opportunity to reinforce fundamentals and encourage some “room to grow” in the self-improvement category, but not much more.

A full week into a grueling slate of on and off-ice workouts, the players are visibly physically and mentally fatigued. Mind you, that’s the entire point of this development camp—to push the prospects to the maximums of their performance envelopes, if you will, to both to teach the new prospects the “Red Wings way” of doing things, to remind the returning prospects that they’ve got a ways to go and to encourage the “veterans” to continue to self-improve on a daily basis as always striving to become a better player and a more physically fit athlete is what separates the Henrik Zetterbergs and Pavel Datsyuks from the rest of the crowd…

But a seven-day grind (or eight or nine if you count the fact that the prospects started filtering into the Motor City last Tuesday and Wednesday for baseline fitness testing) has taken its toll. Every player I’ve spoken to over the past two days has admitted that they’re tired, sore and are hanging in, all looking forward to tomorrow’s scrimmage between groups of players who’ve become fast friends (the teams get along absolutely fantastically well) before going back to Detroit to try to better fitness numbers, talk to management and to, put simply, finally get this done and over with.

Ryan Sproul was so tired that when he talked to me after practice this morning, he didn’t want to get up out of his stall. Brendan Smith was flubbing passes. Goaltenders were giving up easy goals and guys were stumbling a bit during drills. If the Red Wings’ management’s goal was to push the prospects that much further past their breaking points by adding an extra day of workouts, even accounting for the fact that Monday’s sessions did not include an on-ice component, well I’m sure that the Wings will consider making next year’s camp a nine-day affair, but right now I’d suggest that eight days are as much as these youngsters can take and then some.

Again, I don’t mean that as a negative—working both your new, returning and professional-hockey-playing prospects to and past their breaking points sets the kind of impossibly high standards that would-be Red Wings have to reach and eventually exceed to develop into NHL players. Without employing this kind of, “Instead of breaking them, we’ll bend them into pretzels” strategy, the team and players would be missing the point.

But they’re wonked, and the as the Wings’ skill development consultants and coaches illustrated today, the smartest teachers take fatigue into account when they’re wrapping up their curriculum.

Today really was about reinforcing positive habits—from slightly less insanely intricate sets of drills from stickhandling/skill development coach Tomas Storm and power skating coach Andy Weidenbach to more pace-oriented drills from Grand Rapids Griffins coach Curt Fraser, assistant coach Jim Paek, Wings director of player development Jiri Fischer, Wings video coordinator Keith McKittrick and player mentor Chris Chelios (whose first diagrammed on-ice drill of the week was, predictably, too complicated for the players and had to be re-explained; welcome to teaching, Cheli!). Just as importantly, the coaches have slowly but steadily extended the duration of on-ice sessions, and when the proceedings are over, the players have spent more and more time on the ice, with a full twenty-five minutes of defensemen engaging in shoot-and-tip drills and the skaters working on positioning in the slot as they hammed it up in front of a usually empty net.

Before I get into discussing the drills which the players engaged in this morning, here are the rosters of the two “teams” taking part in the development camp…

Team Lidstrom:

Goal:

38 Thomas McCollum
66 Tyson Teichmann*

Defense:

2 Brendan Smith
32 Adam Almquist
64 Danny Dekeyser*
42 Max Nicastro
15 Richard Nedomlel
62 Ryan Sproul
3 Brad Walch*

Forwards:

47 Brent Raedeke
14 Gustav Nyquist
60 Trevor Parkes
70 Willie Coetzee
58 Landon Ferraro
58 Nick Oslund
68 Adam Estoclet*
24 Dean Chelios*
63 Julien Cayer
45 Casey Fraser*

Injured: Gleason Fournier

Team Zetterberg:

Goal:

34 Petr Mrazek
31 Evan Mosher*

Defense:

25 Brian Lashoff
54 Sebastien Piche
27 Travis Ehrhardt
56 Bryan Rufenach
61 Xavier Ouellet
75 Artem Sergeev*
77 Jake Chelios*
41 Nick Jensen

Forwards:

28 Tomas Jurco
53 Louis-Marc Aubry
65 Mitchell Callahan
71 Travis Novak*
50 Brooks Macek
74 Alan Quine
29 Marek Tvrdon
73 Phillipe Hudon
72 Zachery Franko*
49 Jesse Fraser*

Note: Players with an * next to their names are try-outs.

And here are the details regarding tomorrow’s scrimmage, which costs $5 to attend:

This year’s camp wraps up on Thursday, July 14 with another intrasquad scrimmage as well as a skills competition (8:30 – 10:00 a.m.). More information on Traverse City ’s Centre Ice Arena can be obtained by visiting www.centreice.org.

“Team Lidstrom” must have drawn a short straw as they participated in an early-morning workout for the second day in a row, and their rosters remained the same:

Red team: Brent Raedeke, Trevor Parkes, Gustav Nyquist, Adam Estcolet, Ryan Sproul, Adam Almqvist, Brendan Smith, Danny Dekeyser and Thomas McCollum.

White team: Dean Chelios, Willie Coetzee, Landon Ferraro, Julien Cayer, Nick Oslund, Casey Fraser, Brad Walch, Max Nicastro, Richard Nedomlel and Tyson Teichman.


Tomas Storm kicked off the proceedings for the red team, while the white team worked with Jim Bedard and the goaltenders.

Storm’s first drill was pretty “simple” by his standards—the players slithered the puck band and forth via a toe drag and tuck in as they skated through four small cones in a double \ \ pattern—after dekeing around a large construction cone, with the players hopefully kicking a leg out and then dekeing around 3 cones set up to simulate a goaltender before firing a backhand shot into the net. The second, third and fourth drills involved iterations of the following:

The skaters would skate from the side boards to the center of the blueline, deke around a first cone, then a second one, usually tucking their top hand into their body and/or backhanding the puck forward, then skating past and/or dekeing through two very tightly-spaced cones placed at the faceoff dots just inside the blueline, and then they headed for the side boards, where they’d deke through two more cones placed near the half boards, twist backto the slot, slither the puck underneath a cone with a stick attached to its top, retrieve said puck, kick their leg out and backhand the puck into the net.

Simple, right? Especially given that they came off first the right side of the blueline and then the left. And then they had to twist and turn with their stick on their backhand, skating backwards, to avoid Storm or Jiri Fischer’s sticks, twisting their bodies into incredibly uncomfortable positions to protect the puck with their bodies, sometimes with only one hand on their stick, before executing a spin toward their forehand in the slot and shooting, all after slithering that puck under the “pretend defender” cone.

Shift the backhand stickhandling and skating for three “hopping” strides to the left or right, a torso twist to the opposite direction, gliding for a bit, taking two more “hops” and then going to the left or right and shooting, again, attempting to navigate through cones from the blueline in, and you’ve got an “easy” day for Tomas Storm’s charges.


The red and white teams switched sides at 8:45, and after some easy stop-it-from-the-butterfly shots, Bedard had his goaltenders charge to the edge of the “horseshoe” at the top left or top right side of the crease, stop, drop to the butterfly, push off and skate to the other side, and as the goalie did so, stop three or four or five shots fired at the wall formed by their butterfly-splayed leg pads, all before popping back up onto their skates and pushing to the top of the other edge of the crease.

The stand-up drills mostly involved skaters taking passes from one faceoff dot to the other and skating across Bedard’s gloves or a stick placed in the slot before shooting, hoping to beat the goalie to the far post or force him to over-commit while on his feet, opening up holes between the goalie’s legs or back over at the post from which they started the drill.

Add in a recovery drill where the goalies began in the butterfly at the top center of their creases and had to pop back up to face a forward shooting form one of the faceoff dots, forcing the goalie to stop shots while recovering from the butterfly and pushing back across the crease laterally to face a shooter changing the angle of the puck toward the far post while moving diagonally from the faceoff dot to one of the “lips” of the circles, stopping a shot from a forward at one post who would then wrap around the net, then skate past a stick placed at the top of the crease and attempt to beat the goalie back to the post from which he started, and toss in a “simple” play where the skaters would take a pass from Bedard at one corner of the ice, skating around a well-placed cone at the bottom of the faceoff circle to change the angle of the shooter’s shot to again catch goalies cheating positionally or nor managing to change their own incidence to the shooter’s stick and you have an easy morning.

Did I mention that the skaters working with Tomas Storm wrapped up their final session with the stickhandling maestro by skating past one and only one cone in the slot, the “pretend defenseman,” and then pulling a full 360-degree turn to their forehand side before shooting the puck? Yeah, they did that, too.


When Andy Weidenbach took over at 9 AM, he more or less reinforced his week’s worth of lessons. The players “warmed up” by taking very long strides and snapping the skate they weren’t supposed to allow to drag into the ice into their bodies, first carrying their sticks beside them and then placing two hands on their stick and holding it in front of them, and then attempting to extend their sticks to the extent of their reach on the right and left side, all while taking super-long strides.

His second set of drills involved carrying pucks forward of their bodies, then to the sides of their bodies, then one-handing them up the ice on the backhand while making forward-skating “c cuts.” And attempting to keep their upper bodies loose but moving in one direction and their lower bodies doing the skating motions, with little to no weight-shifting compensation up top.

The third drill involved what I can best describes a “great circle,” where players attempt to very tightly carry the puck up ice while making either clockwise or counterclockwise circles which take up the entire defensive zone and the entire length and width of the space between the bluelines at center ice.

After a “simpler” set of three strides to the left-three strides to the right, skate-up-the-ice-diagonally drills, things got a “little harder,” asking players to make a figure-eight through both faceoff circles while keeping the puck on their strong sides to prohibit defensive players (Fischer and Weidenbach) from swiping the puck away after the figure-eight as the players c-cut their way forward to the center ice zone.

At the other end of the ice, the goalies were engaging in more “horseshoe” drills, skating across from the left post to the right post in the butterfly (or vice versa), popping up to charge to the top right or top left of their creases, then butterfly sliding across the top of the crease to stop a shot—or, instead, they’d get to the right or left side of the top of the “horseshoe” and push back across against the grain using the leg opposite to their direction of travel to push off with.

Eventually they migrated to the faceoff circles, where they’d drop, recover and push off in shapes that I can best describe as the letters “M” and “W,” with the tip of the middle of the “M” and “W” representing where they started out from.

Weidenbach had his skaters switch things up by first skating to the blueline, pushing back to the half boards, skating up to the red line, skating then back to the blueline and charging forward to the far blueline, all with pucks on sticks, before incorporating a spin either, first clockwise or counterclockwise and swapping them out.

Toss out the spinning and toss in some crossovers in “S” shapes, first going forward and then facing backward, and you’ve got the “easy” stuff.

After engaging in a little “mirroring” with crossovers to the left and right, with one player chasing another, the first player would take a pass from the far blueline, have the second player chase him and offer some passive “resistance” and/or back pressure, and after the player with the puck shot and got back in line, the player without the puck would charge the other way, receive a pass, and go in on the other goalie with another skater folding in to provide back pressure on him. It became an utter mess as guys were eventually allowed to hack and whack at each other and try to steal pucks, but that crazy drill marked the end of Weidenbach’s time with the players.

He brought them into a long scrum in which he reinforced his talking points about efficient skating reducing fatigue, that toe-dragging on long strides causes just that, and that snapping one’s leg back under oneself while striding is essential to conserving energy, and after a little more, “Let your lower body do the work and your shoulders stay straight” talk, the players tapped their sticks and headed off for a Zamboni scrape.


Curt Fraser’s drills began with something you usually see in soccer—a 3-on-0 in which every forward would both a) rotate into the other forward’s spot before retaking their original left winger, center or right winger’s positions, and b) every player touched the puck at least once, if not twice, before making a play and deciding which player would shoot.

Things became a little more complicated when one forward starting the drill would take and receive two passes before charging up ice, shooting and then staying at the net while a second forward and then a third would come in and give and go and give and go.

The players switched back to three men engaging in side-to-side passing, and then a forward would start a drill by passing the puck back to defensemen a blueline away from them who’d go d-to-d either horizontally (along the blueline), vertically (from one blueline to the other) or diagonally (from one corner of the near blueline to the opposite corner of the far blueline) before one and then two forwards—and eventually skaters—would roar up the other way.

Passes were missed left and right but at least nobody ran into each other as the forwards went up the middle, then up the right side, up the left side, then one forward would perform a soft dump-in along the side boards and his supporting winger would retrieve the dump and go to the front of the net, or they’d pass laterally going side to side, with the defensemen setting up the drills, for the record, both swapping out and eventually taking part as “forwards.” Eventually four forwards were going in opposite directions simultaneously, and after executing their shots, they’d provide a little “back pressure” on the forwards skating into their zone before hopping back into line, usually exhausted from going end-to-end-to-end.

They finally engaged in the classic—1-on-1-becomes-2-on-1-becomes-3-on-2, if you can understand what that means, with players joining the fray and bodychecks being laid. Smith smoked Nyquist at one point, and it’s usually Smith who dumps players once or twice a day.


Chris Chelios’s first diagrammed drill involved 3 defensemen passing a puck back from the half boards to a d-to-d lateral pass across the blueline and usually either a shot or a pass up to the “third defender,” who rotated in and out as necessary as a forward, and eventually this descended into a dump-and-retrieve drill where a 3-on-3 would result and the team that retrieved the puck—and the team that could steal the puck—would attack the net. Goalies like me tend to call these the, “Everyone’s your enemy” drill because the defensive team doesn’t even have to clear the zone before turning and firing on you.

The entire team finally wound down by engaging in some one-on-zero, from-center-ice breakaways, a good stretch, and split post-practice sessions in which defensemen took shots from the blueline that one or two daring forwards would try to tip, and at the other end of the ice, the forwards mostly goofed around while Jim Paek had them pass side-to-side or from the goal line to the slot and attempt to roof the puck either past Thoms McCollum or Paek’s stick.

And all of this “stuff” represents what was a settled-down and less complicated set of skill development and team-wide drills than what I witnessed on Tuesday.

What I didn’t mention until now is that while all of these drills worked in theory, in practice? Well guys were missing passes, fanning on shots, occasionally plain old falling over, you name it, the execution was bad with the exception of the fact that nobody really unintentionally ran into each other. The drills were sharp but the players weren’t and while they enjoyed blowing off steam at the end of practice, which went from 10:40 till nearly 12 instead of until 11:30, they were just gassed in the locker room.

The players want to get done with today, engage in their scrimmage tomorrow and be done with this, and I can’t blame them. It’s a grind-as it should be—and as much as they’ve enjoyed this (and as much as I’ve enjoyed this), they’ve had about as much as they can take in every aspect.

In terms of observations regarding individual players, keeping in mind that they were and are exhausted:

Thomas McCollum: I adore the guy, but it’s the song that never ends with Thomas. He’s a fantastically fundamentally sound goaltender who’s big, makes himself look bigger, has a great glove hand, good blocker, great butterfly, recovers well, can scramble with the best of ‘em and starts giving up goals like a leaky faucet when he gets frustrated. It’s so frustrating to watch him get down on himself because he’s clearly both a very naturally talented player and a very hardworking and smart, smart smart goaltender.

Tyson Teichmann: After trying out some Brina’s gear, Teichmann went back to a new pair of Vaughn leg pads and his old glove and blocker, and while Brian’s stuff made him look a lot bigger, he looked more comfortable today. But comfort isn’t necessarily a good thing when you’re a very good goalie who’s very very small. He had holes again and when he got off his angles, he was beaten pretty easily.

Brendan Smith: So tired that he flubbed some passes, fanned on some shots and fell over, but he remains big, strong, nasty, a great skater, nearly flawless passer and a hard shooter with great vision and sound leadership skills with an easygoing personality to boot. He just needs to keep on keepin’ on and keep on keepin’ his head straight and he’ll make the NHL sooner or later as a sort of bigger Niklas Kronwall.

Adam Almquist: As his comfort level has gone up, so has his play. He remains chronically and completely underpowered but he’s also tremendously skilled in the stickhandling and skating departments, he looks like he belongs as Smith’s partner as he’s equally savvy in terms of his playmaking and when it comes to pushing and shoving, the very small Almqvist makes his opponents’ paths to the net very hard to reach.

Danny Dekeyser: He’s just a very mobile, stable, no-frills stay-at-home defenseman with better skating skills than your average stay-at-home guy. I’ve only seen him for a week and I’ve seen him deal with some ups and downs, but he’s been very impressive in his own right.

Max Nicastro: He’s had ups and downs as well. When he’s on, he and Ryan Sproul are very similar—big right-shooting defensemen with gigantic wingspans, great poke-checks, superb mobility for big men, hard shots, great passes and heads-up mentalities, and they ever-so-slightly seem to enjoy being mean and nasty from time to time.

Ryan Sproul: The difference is that Sproul does the same things that Nicastro does, and is bigger, and is only 18. He’s pretty remarkable in terms of his raw potential and he’s pretty clearly learning all he can handle.

Brad Walch: Looked a little more like Sebastien Piche today, a very mobile utility defenseman who can indeed muck it up a bit and has better hands than he gets credit for having. He’s been incredibly hard to read and I still don’t know what to make of him, in all honesty. It’s just so hard to say whether his flashes of #4/5 defenseman’s potential are more than flashes.

Richard Nedomlel: He’s still slower than molasses in January when it comes to the stickhandling and skating drills, but coming off antibiotics has turned him into a very capable giant of a defenseman whose positioning is fantastic and who seems to relish playing physically, even if it’s in an environment where the opportunities for contact are limited. He’s way more comfortable off the ice, too.

Brent Raedeke: He’s making the transition from a grinder’s grinder to something more, to a leader and to a player who can occasionally deke, dangle and make plays while unleashing a sneaky shot utilizing his wonderful skating to create time and space for his compatriots and get back to shut down his opponents.

Gustav Nyquist: Sniper, sniper, sniper. Still lurks in the back door for pretty plays that aren’t there, can still be plastered to the boards because he thinks he has an extra half-second and still too lanky for his build, but man, can he produce a highlight reel’s worth of goals, passes, breakaway rushes and sniping shots that suddenly find goaltenders who expose no holes beaten like Swiss cheese.

Trevor Parkes: He was a bit gassed today but he’s still endlessly enthusiastic about going to the front of the net and scoring goals, as well as grinding the hell out of his opponents, and his potential is sky-high assuming that he keeps filling out and working hard.

Willie Coetzee: The Whirling Dervish was also a bit tired but my goodness, when the hands and feet and brain all go in the same direction, what a ridiculously-skilled small player.

Landon Ferraro: He hasn’t had the greatest camp but I think that it bears mentioning that he’s still recovering to some extent from his hernia surgery, and he’s trying to find a comfort zone realizing that his professional hockey career is about to begin. Does he have potential as a 20-goal-scoring 50-to-60-point-producing second line center (or, if you really want to let him loose, winger)? Yes. Does he seriously need to lighten up and not put the weight of the world on his shoulders when he misses the net or makes mistakes? Yes.

Nick Oslund: The clock is running out on the power grinder’s time with Detroit and sometimes he’s rock-steady and sometimes he’s streaky and tries too hard to be an offensive dynamo when he’s really the guy who should be the mucker and grinder on a scoring line.

Adam Estoclet: Hands and feet, hands and feet. Needs to grow into his body and needs to keep roaring up ice and doing his thing.

Dean Chelios: He had a rough day as well and speaking of growing into his body, he’s got at least another year or two until he fills out, but he does have almost Jruco-level hands when it comes to slithering through his opponents and making plays.

Julien Cayer: Unlike Oslund, everything is coming together at the right time for this grinder-in-waiting. He’s big, he skates well, he’s got underrated offensive touches and he’s energetic and enthusiastic all the dang time, and he’s got one more year of college eligibility to boot.

Casey Fraser: Keeps up. Has a bit of an attitude. Having fun. That’s all that matters right now.


Multimedia:

I checked in with Richard Nedomlel…


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As well as a very tired Ryan Sproul….


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And here’s an introduction of sorts to Danny Dekeyser:


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Also of Red Wings-related note this afternoon:

• So sayeth ESPN’s Scott Burnside about the realignment talk:

Despite Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold’s assertions to a local radio station earlier this week that the realignment question has been all squared away and the Winnipeg Jets would join the Minnesota Wild in a new Central Division, the relocation issue is far from being resolved.

An NHL source told ESPN.com on Wednesday it was premature to suggest any decisions have been made on how the NHL will look a year from now. Multiple sources have also told us the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg will give the NHL an opportunity to rethink its entire structure, so the realignment question will not be resolved until all parties have had their say.

Our colleague Pierre LeBrun previously reported the NHL will take advantage of the Thrashers’ relocation and consider paring down from six divisions to a four-division, two-conference set-up that would make it easier to install a balanced schedule.

Regardless of where teams land, the realignment decision promises to be an emotional one.

Detroit and Columbus are both itching to move to the Eastern Conference, while Nashville would also welcome a move from the West given its onerous travel schedule and the difficulty in garnering fans for late-night games on the West Coast.

It’s hard to imagine the Wings moving to the East given how strong a draw they are throughout the Western Conference; there is also the issue of competitive balance given that the Jets will almost certainly continue to be a marginal team for the foreseeable future.

Most Eastern Conference teams would be opposed to a Jets-for-Wings swap since the Wings are a perennial powerhouse and would make the road to a playoff spot even more difficult.

• So sayeth the Hockey News’s Lyle “Spector” Richardson about Ty Conklin:

Conklin still has value as a quality backup and has been linked in recent weeks to the Detroit Red Wings.

• The Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema spoke to Brian Lashoff about his development going forward…

“I think the big thing for me is strength. I’ve got a big frame and I think I can fill out even more,” Lashoff said. “I’m always trying to get stronger but, at the same time, I work on my skating every year and try to make it as good as possible.”

Griffins coach Curt Fraser said he has loved Lashoff since he first arrived in Grand Rapids for an amateur tryout near the end of the 2008-09 season, and arguably was the team’s best defenseman in a first-round playoff victory against Hamilton. However, when Lashoff was healthy last year, he frequently was left out of the mix on a deep blueline that included Derek Meech, Doug Janik and Brendan Smith.

“Lash ran into some injury problems last year, we had a lot of bodies around and he just couldn’t find his step,” Fraser said. “But he’s still a young man. That was his first year, now that’s out of the way and he’s come to this camp already bigger, stronger and looks way more confident. He’s going to do some very good things for us this year.”

Lashoff went undrafted, but was signed by the Red Wings as a free agent in 2008 after he impressed the organization with a strong performance in training camp. If Lashoff wants to continue the path to one day play in the NHL, this will be an important season, Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said.

“Development is such a big part of the game now for the NHL, so these guys are going to have to play lots of games,” Nill said. “Now, you need to earn that also, it’s not just given to you, so it is a big year for him.”

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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.