The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/12/11 at 11:47 PM ET
In theory, anyway, the Red Wings’ prospects who participated in the sixth day of an eight-day marathon that is the team’s summer development camp told me that they’d hit their rock bottom in the physical fatigue department either on Sunday or on Monday, when Centre Ice Arena’s Huntington Rink got a little soupy in 86-degree weather. As Brian Lashoff told me, Grand Rapids Griffins strength and conditioning coach Aaron Downey and Wings prospect mentor Chris Chelios kicked the players’ butts in the gym and the team finally blew off some steam via a team-organized barbecue and beach-front bonding affair on Monday night, so, in theory, the prospects went back to work for their final days of “split sessions” refreshed and recharged.
In terms of the level of execution the players and goaltenders displayed in both the morning’s and afternoon’s drills with skill development coach Tomas Storm, power skating coach Andy Weidenbach and the Grand Rapids Griffins’ coaches (Curt Fraser and Jim Paek) as well director of player development Jiri Fischer and Wings video coach Keith McKittrick, well…
Mentally tired is as mentally tired does, and when you’re getting back on the ice after a day off and that day just happens to be the sixth of an eight-day marathon, let’s suggest that it’s possible to have two Wednesdays in one’s work week. Storm, Weidenbach and the coaches’ drills were particularly complicated and nuanced today, and with the end not quite in sight yet (for both the prospects and myself), the nuances were particularly hard for both first-timers and the camp “veterans” to do properly.
For reference purposes, here are the rosters of the “teams” taking part in the development camp…
38 Thomas McCollum
66 Tyson Teichmann*
2 Brendan Smith
32 Adam Almquist
64 Danny Dekeyser*
42 Max Nicastro
15 Richard Nedomlel
62 Ryan Sproul
3 Brad Walch*
47 Brent Raedeke
14 Gustav Nyquist
60 Trevor Parkes
70 Willie Coetzee
58 Landon Ferraro
58 Nick Oslund
68 Adam Estoclet*
24 Dean Chelios*
63 Julien Cayer
45 Casey Fraser*
Injured: Gleason Fournier
34 Petr Mrazek
31 Evan Mosher*
25 Brian Lashoff
54 Sebastien Piche
27 Travis Ehrhardt
56 Bryan Rufenach
61 Xavier Ouellet
75 Artem Sergeev*
77 Jake Chelios*
41 Nick Jensen
28 Tomas Jurco
53 Louis-Marc Aubry
65 Mitchell Callahan
71 Travis Novak*
50 Brooks Macek
74 Alan Quine
29 Marek Tvrdon
73 Phillipe Hudon
72 Zachery Franko*
49 Jesse Fraser*
Note: Players with an * next to their names are try-outs.
And here are the details regarding attending today and tomorrow’s two-a-day sessions, as well as the scrimmage on Thursday:
The Red Wings’ 2011 Prospect Development Camp will continue next week with on/off-ice sessions taking place in Traverse City [T]uesday and Wednesday (8:30 – 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 – 4:30 p.m.). 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.
The tickets cost $5, which is a pretty darn good deal (and yes, I’ve said that before).
“Team Zetterberg” practiced this afternoon, and the red and white-jersey-wearing players included the following:
White team: Marek Tvrdon, Alan Quine, Mitchell Callahan, Sebastien Piche, Jesse Fraser, Artem Sergeev, Nick Jensen, Travis Novak and Evan Mosher.
Red team: Brooks Macek, Brian Lashoff, Travis Ehrhardt, Zachery Franko, Tomas Jurco, Xavier Ouellet, Louis-Marc Aubry, Bryan Rufenach and Petr Mrazek
I also need to get this out of the way: Yes, Marek Tvrdon did go off limping as both I and Nick Barnowski (who wrote a great morning write-up and makes me fear for my job security) mentioned on Twitter, but after hopping to the locker room with assistant athletic trainer Russ Baumann at the end of the skill drills, he returned for the systems play stuff and looked just fine and dandy.
Just as importantly from the gearhead’s perspective, Petr Mrazek’s new set of Vaughn Vision 7900 leg pads were delivered to the locker room in the morning, and he wore them in the afternoon. Despite suggesting that he couldn’t move across very well because the pads weren’t broken in—and the pads were his first leg pads since September—he looked just fine and dandy, too.
For the sake of me not sounding too clunky, Storm and Weidenbach’s drills were essentially the same as the morning’s drills, emphasizing what became a theme—working on making the inherently uncomfortable play a natural one.
It’s not easy or fun to learn how to skate sideways while carrying the puck behind and beside you, to attempt to slither around cones while stickhandling and attempting to turn with your knees bent and your toes pointing 180 degrees away from each other, or to try to keep your upper body from bobbing up and down or left and right, or your arms from swaying in front of or behind you when you’re skating in long strides, or especially snapping your hips in a twisting motion or pulling your skate under your body to accelerate, never mind being asked to skate backwards as hard and fast as you possibly can in an 80-foot-diameter circle, leaning over so far that you’re convinced that you’re going to fall on your butt.
Weidenbach very literally had to assure both players who’ve been Red Wings for a little over two weeks and professional hockey players who’ve been attending these camps for four or five years that they would not fall over, and that at the speed they were going, they could also keep the shoulder that corresponded to the bottom hand on their stick lower than the shoulder that corresponded to their top hand on their stick and that they still wouldn’t fall over (and not one player managed to do that successfully!).
Even whoever the “reality show star” who engaged in goaltending drills with Jim Bedard had to engage in the usual sets of drop-and-recover or drop-and-shimmy-sideways or drop-and-shimmy-diagonally forward drills that occasionally caught every goalie looking like he was breaking in new pads. What the gent missed out in was a drill where Bedard had Mrazek and Evan Mosher either face away from the faceoff dot or toward it and quite literally complete a full circle around said dot, skating on that big circle, while slithering from side to side on their knees.
The only person who looked elegant at what he was doing was Tomas Storm when he flawlessly executed the Teemu Selanne goal-scoring celebration—pretend you’re shooting at something and then holster your “gun”—both in the morning and afternoon sessions, much to the delight of his charges.
Methinks that the gentleman with no body fat whatsoever (again, the man makes Gerard Butler, circa 300, look tubby) who shows up at the rink in the morning wearing a professional cyclist’s outfit and watches the Tour de France on the concourse at lunchtime may practice more than one technique.
Anyway, in terms of my own clunky observations, the morning sessions toward the end of camp—and that’s where we are now—tend to be so damn intricate and multi-layered that I spend half my time getting 80% of the drills right, half the time watching the players and trying to make nuanced assessments and my entire time assured of my incompetence.
The level of attention to detail as the camp reaches its final days is usually somewhere between an NHL level and complete and total insanity. There’s a reason that the players who’ve been attending these camps for three, four or five years say that they’re learning new things all the time, both on and off the ice, and while the “systems play” drills that Fraser and the coaches put the players through become familiar, there are always new twists and turns, or as I like to call them, iterations, that blow their mind, and sometimes mine.
So it is from a fried brain that I tell you this: today, the players were repeatedly taught the most important check they will ever learn to execute.
Amongst the usual break-out plays, counterattack offensive rushes and set plays in which players would have to work on learning how to “rotate”—you know how when we see the Wings’ players cycle the puck and move around like the arms of a starfish, spinning on its center, with four outlets almost always open to the player possessing the puck, and that the Wings only do this when they’re really on? Yeah, that’s what they worked on today—Fraser, Fischer and Paek would repeatedly go back to drills in which the players would battle each other for pucks in the corner, with the player closest to the boards trying to wiggle his way away from his pursuer, and that pursuer was told to keep his damn stick down unless he wanted to get a cross-checking penalty.
But it wasn’t that simple. When the players would inevitably lift their sticks up horizontal to the ice and try to pop their opponents in the middle of their backs, the drill would be stopped and one of the coaches would gather the players together in a pretty tight semicircle and very deliberately show them to instead engage their opponent from behind by essentially cross-checking the tops of their hockey pants (or butt, if you prefer) with their stick carried as one usually does, with its blade pretty close to the ice, and then the players were told that they should actually use that “check” to push their opponent off and either subtly spin them or spin off to guide the opponent to their forehand or backhand, essentially steering their check to the angle that best suited the defending player.
Then, of course, all bets were off, and save hooking, holding or adding back in an out-and-out cross-check, they could continue to hack and whack and pin and push and shove. But the point being made, and made very quietly, was that in what we tend to call the “post-lockout era,” if you place your stick parallel to the ice and engage your opponent, you’re probably going to the penalty box because even the most lax referees have been told to fill their horizontal stick foul quota for each and every game.
If you shove your opponent with your stick blade near the ice and use that shove to actually separate yourself from said opponent in such a way as to force him to go to one side or the other, however, you’re committing the equivalent of a goaltender out-waiting a shooter and making him make the first move, and, and perhaps moreover, you’re pretty bloody likely to get away with a pretty nasty hack or three if you’re hacking your opponent’s lower back or hockey pants with your stick near the ice, because in the NHL, they call blatant fouls like that “battling.”
Ask Tomas Holmstrom or Brendan Shanahan about what Chris Pronger got away with during the 2006 playoffs because he was allowed to “battle” for position.
It’s a hockey check version of a “pick and roll,” where you basically irritate your opponent by engaging him, back off a bit, and make sure that you know which way your body position and legal cross-check is going to force the opponent to try to spin away from you.
It’s legal, it’s incredibly smart, ridiculously subtle and it’s the kind of “detail work” play that can save a junior-aged player who’s still learning how to defend against opponents from several periods’ worth of time spent in the penalty box.
And that’s only one of what I’d say are at least three or four dozen little “detail work” plays and/or techniques that these players have been exposed to over the past six days, on and off the ice. It just happened to be emphasized so very regularly and described so very deliberately that even my semi-trained eye could pick it up and realize that the reason the Wings have been pushing players to the, “I think I’m gonna fall over” edges of their comfort zones is because pushing players to the very edges of their performance envelopes is the methodology by which you give players and goaltenders alike the tools, techniques and tips that they have to take upon themselves to attempt to learn and practice on their own if they are to develop into the kinds of self-improving players that the Red Wings are famous for developing.
Sometimes it’s so bloody complicated that I couldn’t explain it to you if I tried, and sometimes it’s as simple as keeping your stick down, and even on a day when the goal-scorers were clanking pucks off goalposts, the skilled stickhandlers were flubbing passes and the goalies looked like the guy who’d gotten to live out his dream by practicing with the Wings from time to time, subtlety can still be taught and learned.
So as to not bore you to death with more minutae, here are the things that stuck out about the players who took part in this afternoon’s on-ice activities:
Petr Mrazek: Even on a day when he wasn’t getting a “bite” into the ice while moving laterally in his pads, Mrazek remains the reason why the Wings felt it was OK to invite Tyson Teichmann and Evan Mosher to their camp and not actually draft a goaltender.
Mrazek’s grown into his slight body and still needs to put on some weight, but his glove hand is fantastic, his blocker and stick have improved by orders of magnitude over the lazy dangling blocker he displayed a year ago, he’s quick on his feet, moves well laterally, has superb positioning, good rebound control and he’s simply an efficient, technically solid hybrid netminder who’s still improving.
Evan Mosher: There are pluses and minuses to Mosher’s game. The pluses involve his near-technically perfect mastery of the Quebec Butterfly techniques of goaltending, his superb puckhandling and his cool demeanor. His minuses involve the fact that he looks like he’s wearing J-S Giguere’s shoulder pads, that he holds his glove hand too tight into his body, and that, like any Quebec butterfly puck-blocking goalie, including one with Mosher’s superb rebound control, man, if you spin him around or catch him leaning, you’re staring at 6’x4,’ and he can’t get back to cover it half the time.
Brian Lashoff: Aside from the fact that I really think that he’s a cool dude, Lashoff is a really cool dude. As I said a few days ago, he’s kind of like a Brad Stuart or Bob Rouse—the Swiss Army Knife defenseman who’s just edgy enough, just skilled enough with the puck, has just enough in the playmaking and passing and shooting departments, skates just well enough and sees the ice just well enough that he’s a rock-solid #3/4 defenseman who can do anything except extend himself beyond his skill set. He, Brendan Smith, Mitchell Callahan and Thomas McCollum might as well have letters on their jerseys because they’re the leaders, and of all of them, Lashoff’s the quiet guy who doesn’t say much but goes out and does everything right.
Sebastien Piche: On a day when everybody was down, Piche remained perpetually enthusiastic, energetic and mobile, making plays, checking opponents and breezing through skating drills with a flourish. The problem is that on days where everybody’s up, he does the same thing and doesn’t stick out.
Travis Ehrhardt: Kind of like Lashoff, he gets in trouble when he extends himself past his skill set, but unlike Lashoff, he’s a more physical stay-at-home defenseman who still has to learn to make safer plays and to do them a little quicker, because he’ll occasionally get burned pretty badly. That being said, if Lashoff’s granite, Ehrhardt’s super glue. He’ll find a way to stick.
Xavier Ouellet: What wows me about the kid is the way he does what Piche does, except that he’s four inches taller, ten pounds heavier with lots of room to grow, his shot’s harder, his passes are better and he’s innately a puck-moving defenseman who very naturally makes Red Wings-like plays. He’s still underpowered and a little streaky, but man, especially today, that shot of his, it finds holes, and if it doesn’t find holes, it makes them. He needs to go back to—pardon me, not the Montreal Juniors, but now the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada with Trevor Parkes and Louis-Marc Aubry and play tons of minutes and continue to mature.
Nick Jensen: Off the player list for a few days but not off my radar. Big kid, still growing, superb superb superb-skating physical defenseman of the Mini Ryan Sproul variety. He has to work harder to play physical but like Sproul and Max Nicastro, he’s a great playmaker with excellent vision and he skates with his head up 100% of the time. His shot’s pretty solid and he’s one of those players that’s really popped out of the woodwork from last year to this one because he’s filled out physically. I really, really like what I’m seeing from someone who just finished their freshman year of college.
Artem Sergeev: I was asked who of the try-outs I thought might make the biggest push for a contract, and if I were to make that guess I’d say that Sergeev’s flashes of talent combined with an at least solidifying-basalt-rock solid skill set might raise the Wings’ eyebrows enough to, assuming he plays well in the fall, give him a spot and see what he does when he’s more comfortable in North America, more fluent in English and French (Val-d’Or is not New Jersey) and takes that already naturally-muscular frame and makes its consistency go from medium rare to well done.
That being said, there’s a lot of time between now and September, and I didn’t think that Trevor Parkes was going to earn a contract, but he did, and now he looks like a steal.
Jake Chelios: On days when other people don’t stick out, the smooth-skating, smooth-playmaking defenseman shows a little snarl and makes you think that there’s a poor man’s Niklas Kronwall in there. He does, however, need to continue to fill out a very lanky frame and make safer, simpler plays faster.
Tomas Jurco: Jurco typified the 18-year-olds in that he had a bad day. He looked tired and a bit frazzled, and like everybody not named Piche on Team Zetterberg, his technique waned during the skating and skill drills. He really is still just a very young 18-year-old…But the cool thing about Jurco is that, in addition to the fact that his stickhandling, scoring touch and even playmaking are from the Slovakian Power Forward’s factory, he works hard. He works hard, he listens, he does his best and while he’s as streaky as anybody his age you can tell that he’s doing his damnedest. So yes, he dazzled, deked, dangled and displayed the best puckhandling this side of Gustav Nyquist, if not a little better, and sniped away. But he also made lots of mistakes, and I’m pretty sure that he learned from him.
Marek Tvrdon: Jurco’s compatriot, when he’s in his comfort zone, shows these ever-so-slight glimpses of being made at the same Slovakian Power Forward’s factory, except where Jurco’s the sizzle, Tvrdon’s the steak, displaying a more north-south game and a little more willingness to engage in physical play. His hands are slick and his skating’s pretty darn good, too, and he just looks like somebody who’s going to fill out and find a mean streak, but again, given that he missed almost the entire 2010-2011 season, it’ll take at least until the prospect tournament in the fall to find out what he’s really made of, or even get any real consistent glimpses thereof.
Louis-Marc Aubry: I just love the way he’s starting to put himself together, literally and physically. The ever-studious and ever-hard-working Aubry had a rough day and actually fell down during the skating drills, but he worked his tail off like Jurco, and unlike Jurco’s status as a sniping winger in waiting, Aubry is what I can best describe as at least a superb defensive forward, if not a “power center.” At 6’5” and maybe 190 pounds he’s as fast as big man as I’ve seen in a long, long time, he’s a superb playmaker, he’s got an accurate shot and despite the fact that his arms and legs are going in four directions sometimes, he can really overpower his opponents while grinding it out down low, if not simply win because he’s already got an advanced technical grasp of the game.
Travis Novak: Hands and feet and puck-ragging. He’s not particularly strong and not particularly well-rounded, but he can fly and he can drag and pass and shoot. Lots of raw potential despite the fact that he’s a little older than most of the other prospects.
Brooks Macek: The smallish playmaking and sniping center can roar up the ice, too, and he had a very, very strong day. When he stands out, you think that here comes another prototypical puck-carrying Red Wings center in the making of the somewhere between Kris Draper and Valtteri Filppula variety, and yes, that’s the best way I can describe him. When he doesn’t stand out, he’s another undersized forward who has some really superb playmaking and shooting abilities but isn’t going to be able to translate those to a higher pro level because he’s too small, and will instead have to carve out life as a grinder and hope that he eventually reestablishes himself as something more.
Alan Quine: Kind of like Novak except with more upper-body strength, a better skating stride, the same ability to actually skate faster with the puck than without it and, at only 18, room to grow and fill out. Works hard, is endlessly enthusiastic without being bombastic and is the kind of kid that takes a hit and bounces back up because that’s all he knows how to do.
Phillipe Hudon: Right now, the best description I can give for Hudon is that he’s not as big in person as the big slab of beef he looks like and plays like on the ice. A very raw and very inconsistent power forward who isn’t sure whether he’s a crusher or a rusher or maybe both, but has time to figure it out. Fast, strong, always shoots from his “wrong” foot and is a little too used to roughing up high school kids. If he can display equal grit and grime over the next four years at Cornell, then we’re talking big and mean and happy about it.
Zachery Franko: There are times that I can see that he was Mitchell Callahan’s center with Kelowna and had a fantastic rookie season and there are times I don’t. He’s from the Novak/Quine school of all hands and feet, with perhaps a more direct and deliberate game. When he’s good you say, “Dang, that Franko kid,” and when he’s bad you say, “Dang, that Franko kid.” Potential and skill and a really slick center on an admittedly 160-lb frame.
Jesse Fraser: As the camp has progressed, the Fraser boys have shown more of an edge, more scowls and the ability to not only keep up, but kinda tick people off on occasion by upstaging the skilled players and scoring some slick goals. That’s a good thing.
Mitchell Callahan: Chipper and goofy off the ice and studious, hard-working and endlessly energetic on it, Callahan has dipped a bit as the camp’s gone on but he’s still the kind of spit-and-vinegar forward with the skating, hands and down-low hustle to make things happen and drive his opponents wild while doing it that is, presuming that he keeps going on the same track that he’s on, result in a fan favorite if you’re on his team and a despised instigator, shift disturber and occasional net-front pest if you’re anyone other than a Red Wings or Grand Rapids Griffins fan.
As he’s not particularly tall despite his now Kris Draper-muscled frame—and he’s still got some strength to add and some pro urgency to contribute to his game, so expect some big ups, some big downs, some serious inconsistency and occasionally getting the snot beat out of him in the literal or figurative senses of the term as he adapts to the pro game over an 80-game season—he’s expected to back up the goofy gap-tooth grin until he does.
Then he doesn’t have to back it up anymore because the young man who acts like a horse’s ass sometimes, both on and off the ice, cleverly disguises the fact that he isn’t one.
One more long day and then the second scrimmage on Thursday and, hopefully, a very welcome afternoon nap for yours truly. I have adored this experience, but as I mark a week spent mostly either at the rink or alone in my hotel room working. I’ve been told that this is a beautiful city, and as I haven’t had an actual vacation here since I was a kid, one day I need to come up here when the Wings aren’t in town.
Speaking of which…
1. I am sorry to bring this up, but guess what? I’ve got to start to beg and plead for hotel room funds for the prospect tournament and training camp, which start in about eight weeks. Bleh.
2. I really hope that Ken Holland doesn’t reveal what he’s going to do with Chris Osgood on Friday because I am traveling home that day. Which means that that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
3. Speaking of which, I’ve been pulling the 12-to-16-hour days since the NHL Awards, and I must inform you that I am actually going on a real vacation with my family from the 24th of July until I believe the 2nd of August. I will theoretically have wireless internet service there and the hockey world will have theoretically slowed down by the end of July, so in theory, we’ll be talking about Swedish articles and the “dog days” by then.
4. I had a really rough day in terms of trying to get the following interviews to upload, to the point that I crashed my hotel’s internet trying to do so, so I hope you enjoy them.
I’m trying to make a full circuit of the room, and while I won’t be able to interview everybody, I’m trying. Here’s Nick Jensen…
Here’s try-out Zachery Franko…
Brian Lashoff is one of those players who will come over and talk to you for five minutes if you ask him if he has a minute to answer one question, so we had a very serious interview about the camp, his improvement, what he thinks of the group and how very important it is to him that the prospects win their first tournament this fall…
This is one of the interviews that crashed the hotel’s internet access, so it’s pretty darn long.
Ditto for this interview with Curt Fraser, who explains the secret to cross-checking without cross-checking, assesses the prospects’ progress and talks about his Grand Rapids Griffins:
Also of Red Wings-related note: The Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema wrote a superb article about Thomas McCollum this morning, and Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji follows it up with another about the goalie who only has to overcome himself:
“I don’t think I have too many technical problems,” he said. “It’s just a matter of sometimes you lose focus or just lose confidence in yourself. When you’re not playing confident, it’s tough to play well. I just really try to stay confident. That’s one thing I really focus on is just trying to keep believing in yourself all the time, just make sure that you’re working hard all the time, trying to get better. I know I can do it. It’s just a matter of catching a break here and there.”
It probably didn’t help McCollum’s confidence when he got thrown to the wolves for a period against the St. Louis Blues on March 30, a blowout the Blues won, 10-3. McCollum ended up giving up three goals on eight shots, yet he said his overall experience in the NHL was a good, albeit a brief, one.
“Just really watching the guys prepare day in and day out,” McCollum said. “I think that was a great experience. Just getting to be around the team was a great way for me to learn.”
Even though McCollum has participated in the Wings’ prospects camp more than once, he said he can still learn from it.
“I’ve been around the block a time or two when it comes to this camp, but it’s a lot of fun and it’s exciting to come back and just get on the ice again, take some shots,” McCollum said. “I’ve been working on my skating ever since I’ve been drafted, and that’s something I’m still really trying to work on. I’ve also been trying to stay a little bit more patient, letting the play come to me instead of trying to attack things.”
“Some guys just take a little bit longer than others in their development,” Fraser said. “I think Tommy has got all the tools. He works hard. He’s a great kid. He cares. He’s just got to find it himself out on the ice, find ways to produce wins. We’ll help him in that, but if he can start doing that more, it’s certainly going to create a brighter future for him with the Detroit Red Wings.”
• According to the Edmonton Journal’s Cam Tait, the Michigan entry in Edmonton’s famous Brick Invitational Super Novice Hockey Tournament did not win the tourney;
• And if you find yourself in Kenora, Ontario on Thursday, the Kenora Daily Miner and News reports that new Wings defenseman Ian White will take part in Mike Richards’ charity golf tournament.
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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.