The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/02/11 at 03:09 PM ET
Updated 1:16 PM: As the Detroit Red Wings prepare to face off against the Anaheim Ducks tonight (10 PM EST, FSD/FS West/WXYT), MLive’s Ansar Khan notes that the Wings have a bit of a conundrum on their hands as they now have 13 and will soon—knock on wood—have 14 forwards, necessitating that the team scratch players who’ve served as valuable contributors during the Wings’ spate of injuries. Wings coach Mike Babcock acknowledges that the situation isn’t ideal for the players who end up sitting out...
“Everybody wants to play and we want everyone to play. We got an appreciation for what they do,” Babcock said. “What can you do? You can’t play everyone.”
And he very specifically addressed the status of Drew Miller, who Babcock chose to scratch last Saturday against Buffalo, despite the fact that Miller’s family was attending the Drew-vs-Ryan showdown:
Said Babcock: “It wasn’t our priority to scratch him, it just happened. There’s going to be guys scratched down the stretch if we’re healthy, and that’s what we want. Guys just got to be professional. They’re allowed to be upset and disappointed. When you go out and play, you play hard.”
Miller responded to his benching with two goals against Los Angeles, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James and the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan also noted, and he had this to say about the fact that he, Patrick Eaves, Kris Draper and Justin Abdelkader will probably take turns as the two Wings’ forwards who are scratched down the stretch:
“Everyone in here can play and contribute every single night,” Miller said. “(Sitting out) is going to be tough, but when you play for the Red Wings — usually we have a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup — you’re going to have that depth and people pushing from the bottom up.”
The other big Wings storyline heading into tonight’s game against the very physical Ducks involves the maturation of Jakub Kindl. Kindl’s finally starting to look like a poised, polished NHL defenseman who could become the top-four, puck-moving pivot the Wings believed they’d drafted in 2005, and Babcock believes that Kindl’s slowly but surely rounding into form thanks to Brad McCrimmon and Ruslan Salei mentoring the young defenseman along as he’s gotten into NHL shape:
“What you try to do is take baby steps. Then you end up moving in and taking somebody’s job, and that’s what he’s trying to do,” Babcock said. “So good for him and good for us.”
Asked about Kindl’s upside, Babcock said, “Does he have a chance to be a top-four D-man? I don’t know the answer to that. That will be determined by how hard he works and how much time he spends in the gym.”
• I’m not going to go into this in too much detail, but Yahoo Sports’ Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski believes that Keith Yandle has edged Nicklas Lidstrom out as the new favorite to win the Norris Trophy. A peanut is neither a pea nor a nut. Discuss;
• ESPN’s Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun weighed in on tonight’s Wings-Ducks match-up, with LeBrun discussing the Ducks’ plight in specific terms:
LeBrun: The Ducks are three points out and will face the mighty Red Wings at home Wednesday night, and you have to feel bad for them considering the out-of-nowhere injury to Hiller. Just when he was having a Vezina-type season and fueling the Ducks’ surprising run, a case of vertigo has shelved Hiller and perhaps his team’s season. The Ducks have lost five of six games just when most of their Western rivals have been rolling along. Maybe a big win over Detroit can get things turned around.
I certainly hope not…
• Shifting gears to discuss a pair of Red Wings prospects, I still believe that current Toledo Walleye goaltender Thomas McCollum can and will eventually develop into an NHL goaltender, but I’m admittedly biased in this regard. RedWingsCentral’s Sarah Lindenau discusses McCollu’s steps back in terms of development this season in her Left Wing Lock blog:
McCollum had a shaky rookie campaign [in Grand Rapids] posting 3.48 goals against and a .881 save percentage in just 32 starts. The Sanborn, New York native had even worse numbers in his four games with Toledo of the AHL. The 6-foot-2, 210 pound goaltender had hopes of regaining his confidence and posting stronger numbers entering this season while getting a chance to learn from veteran goalie Joey MacDonald. Unfortunately things haven’t quite worked out that way with McDonald backing up Jimmy Howard in Detroit and McCollum continuing to struggle in the AHL.
Things were so bad in Grand Rapids that fellow prospect Jordan Pearce has been getting the bulk of the starts for the Griffins and has emerged as a legitimate prospect. With the AHL playoffs approaching and Pearce playing well, McCollum’s starts were becoming rare. So it wasn’t surprising when the Griffins finally demoted the young goalie to Toledo of the ECHL last week signaling that Pearce had won a spot in Grand rapids.
For whatever reason, Griffins coach Curt Fraser simply chose to ride Pearce for every game, and he’s played sensational hockey. posting, according to the Griffins’ website, an, “8-3-0-4 [record] with a 2.52 GAA and a 0.919 save percentage.”
In 5 games with the Walleye, McCollum is finally starting to post respectable numbers again - 2.55 goals against and .913 save percentage. Hopefully he’ll use the additional playing time to regain his form and prove he can play in the AHL. He’ll have a heavy dose of competition from Pearce and eventually the talented Petr Mrazek, but the Red Wings still believe McCollum can be their next goalie of the future and will allow him to take his time developing.
McCollum has a history of over-thinking his game and losing his confidence like he did allowing 4 goals on 18 shots against Slovakia during the 2009 World Junior Championship. He has the size and natural ability to play in the NHL, but if that happens it will be because he has finally able to overcome the mental pressures of the game.
• Also on RedWingsCentral proper, Matthew Wuest’s latest prospect report discusses the status of Griffins forward Tomas Tatar, who has continued to roll along in the point-producing department after enduring an up-and-down rookie season with the Griffins a year ago:
The 20-year-old winger, in his second American Hockey League campaign, continues to be one of the top performers with the Grand Rapids Griffins, with five goals and four assists in his past seven games. Not only that, he has 33 points in his past 31 games and is 32nd in the league scoring race.
Last season, the Slovakian’s first in North America, a 19-year-old Tatar had a hot start (21 points in 27 games) but slowed after going to the IIHF world junior championship (just 11 points in his final 31 games). His improved second-half play is a big step forward in Tatar’s development, along with his solid showing in a nine-game stint with the Detroit Red Wings in January. The 5-foot-10 179-pounder could be ready for NHL duty this fall, depending on how many roster openings the Red Wings have.
I don’t necessarily agree with Wuest’s suggestion that Tatar may become an NHL regular next season if Mike Modano and Kris Draper retire, especially as the Wings need to bring up Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton so that the pair aren’t lost on waivers, but Wuest’s suggestion that Tatar’s going to be the Wings’ first forward call-up next season is a very accurate assessment:
Either way, Tatar is easily the Red Wings’ best forward prospect and is giving Brendan Smith a run for his money as top prospect overall. With his combination of skill and spunk — the Red Wings liken him to a more dynamic Jir Hudler — he projects as a quality top-six winger down the road.
Wuest also points out that Griffins defenseman Logan Pyett, who registered a hat trick recently, isn’t waiver exempt net season, either, and he notes that University of Maine Black Bears forward Gustav Nyquist, who the Wings will probably sign this spring, has bounced back from a difficult start to play a particularly strong post Hobey Baker Award-nominated season.
Update 1:16 PM: The Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema spoke to Griffins coach Curt Fraser about Joey MacDonald’s possible return when Chris Osgood returns to the Wings’ crease next week…
Pearce has snatched the No. 1 goaltending duties with his strong play over the past month and a half, going 8-3-0-4 with a 2.52 GAA and .919 save percentage since Jan. 16. He has helped the Griffins earn points in 12 of this past 15 decisions. MacDonald is 10-9-1 with a 2.78 GAA and .894 save percentage in 20 games for the Griffins this season.
“You know what, I don’t know. Nothing has been talked about at all,” Fraser said. “I wouldn’t count on it, but fortunately for us Jordan Pearce has done an exceptional job. He’s logging a ton of minutes and he’s producing. He gets us points every time he plays and that’s the important thing right now.”
As well as McCollum’s developmental ups and downs…
And while McCollum no doubt would prefer to be in Grand Rapids, at least he’s getting steady playing time in Toledo. In four games since being assigned to the Walleye on Feb. 22, he is 1-3-0 and his GAA has risen from 2.55 to 3.15. Still, it’s better than sitting on the bench in Grand Rapids—which is what Jimmy Spratt has been doing since he was signed to a professional tryout the same day McCollum went to Toledo.
“Through the season, we adjusted to give everybody the opportunity to play, get some quality minutes and gain some experience, let them develop and grow,” Fraser said. “But right now, we need to win and we need points, so Pearce is going to continue to go. If we get Joey back, that would be great. I’m not going to count on that. If Tommy comes back, that would be great, but the guy who’s manufacturing wins is going to play.”
And the Griffins’ plight as a team that’s seven place out of first place in the North Division…and in last place in said division presently:
“We’ve just got to find a way to crawl and scratch back into it,” Fraser said. “If we can do that, if we can continue to play strong right until the end, we’ll make it. But it’s going to take a lot of hard work.”
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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.