The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/10/14 at 02:58 AM ET
Today's going to be a busy day for the Red Wings' players and prospects still playing hockey. The World Championships continue with Gustav Nyquist's Swedes battling Denmark at 9:45 AM EDT; Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser and Team USA will battle Switzerland at 1:45 PM EDT (on NBCSN); Tomas Tatar's Slovaks, who's ticked off about his team blowing a 2-1 lead and losing 3-2 to the Czechs on Friday, will battle a Canadian team coming off a stunning 3-2 loss to France at 1:45 PM, too...
And over on this side of the pond, the Grand Rapids Griffins will attempt to rebound from Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Texas Stars as the teams' second-round series resumes in Austin, Texas tonight at 8 PM EDT.
Amidst the news of potential coaching changes in Detroit not involving Mike Babcock (though the Canadian media remains insistent that Babcock's the Maple Leafs' choice after Randy Carlyle's not retained next spring [???]) and Jimmy Howard's charitable endeavors, the Wings have snuck a fast one on us, posting 2 videos and 25 minutes' worth of footage emphasizing the Wings' youth movement.
Two days ago, the Wings posted an 11-minute video discussing Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan's return to Grand Rapids after strong rookie campaigns...
And on Friday afternoon, the Wings profiled Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet in a 5-and-a-half-minute video:
On Friday night, I found some clarification as to why Mike Babcock stated that he and Daniel Alfredsson bumped into each other at the airport before Babcock watched Anthony Mantha's Val-d'Or Foreurs play a pair of home games on Tuesday and Wednesday, per the Ottawa Citizen's Ken Warren...
Thanks to twitter pictures, we know that Senators star defenceman Erik Karlsson is in Hawaii and that former Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson was killing time playing golf on hallowed Masters ground in Augusta, Ga., alongside Ottawa PGA member Brad Fritsch.
And while the Val-d'Or Foreurs' Twitter account kind of sucks, their Facebook page is fantastic (ditto for Tomas Tatar's Facebook page, frankly), and it pointed me toward a French-language article by La Presse's Gabriel Beland that filled in a ton of the blanks that Babcock's interview with RDS left to our imagination.
Again, Mantha had a strange day on Friday--he was named a finalist for two Canadian Hockey League awards, but his Foreurs dropped a 6-5 decision to Baie-Comeau, and they now trail their QMJHL championship 3 games to 2.
If Mantha's team loses on Sunday night, he might end up in Grand Rapids by the time that the team returns home for Games 3, 4 and 5 on Tuesday the 13th, Wednesday the 14th and Friday the 16th, and Babcock's let us all know via radio interviews and the RDS clip that he expects Mantha to start the 2014-2015 season in Grand Rapids (see: Landon Ferraro and Mitchell Callahan aren't waiver-exempt, and the Wings don't want to bring Mantha to the NHL unless he's playing a top-six role, which is true for Teemu Pulkkinen as well)...
But Mantha was under Babcock's watchful eye for a reason, and while my French is terrible, I'm going to try to translate Gabriel Beland's article to explain both why Babcock was in Quebec to begin with (as RedWingsCentral pointed out, Val-d'Or is a six-hour plane ride north of Montreal) and what might lie in store for Mantha. What follows is a very rough translation:
Anthony Mantha's Audition
Imagine you're a 19-year-old hockey player, playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. You're in the playoffs, where tension's peaking.
And then you learn that an NHL coach is about to take a plane ride to come see you play, a coach with a Stanley Cup ring on his finger, who just won Olympic gold with Team Canada, and has been nominated for the Jack Adams Award.
It might feel a little crazy, but that's exactly what happened this week to Quebec native Anthony Mantha. At the end of last week, Mantha was playing in Baie-Comeau, where the Val-d'Or Foreurs [literal translation: the Valley of Gold's Drillers] faced the Drakkar [literal translation: the Comeau Bay Dragons]. In the stands was a scout for the Detroit Red Wings, the team that drafted Mantha in the first round.
"You know what, Mike Babcock's coming to Val-d'Or to watch your next two games," said the scout to the young players.
Thusly, Mike Babcock was on a plane to Val-d'Or. The coach suggested that his time in Abitibi as a mere detour.
Val-d'Or and nearby Rouyn-Nordanda, Quebec are often referred to as "Abitibi" because they lay in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Quebec.
"A friend of mine received an honor from McGill University [in Montreal], so I decided to make a stop here," Babcock said.
Anybody who has any sense of geography knows that nobody finds himself north of the La Vérendrye wildlife reserve by chance, as if you were making a detour to a convenience store. No, if the coach of the Detroit Red Wings spent his precious time going to Abitibi, it's clear that he considers Mantha to be a serious prospect.
"He's knocking on the door, so I came to see what he can do," Babcock said.
Four goals in two nightsIn the first game, on Tuesday night, Mantha was nervous. One would expect as much. "I felt the pressure, but it was a good pressure," he said. "I thought he'd come all this way to see me play. I also thought that maybe one day I could find myself behind the bench listening to his instructions."
That evening, in a warm Air Creebec Centre, Mantha scored two goals and added an assist. The next day, always under the eyes of the head coach of the Red Wings, he scored two more goals for a total of five points in two games. Not bad.
"I'm happy with what I accomplished," said Mantha. "I scored goals. But I'm also happy with my defensive game. At the same time, I don't think Babcock came to Val-d'Or to see me play defense..."
His second goal on Wednesday night was probably his most impressive one. The score was tied 2-2 in the 3rd period. Suddenly, Mantha stole the puck. It seemed like he exploded up ice. He found himself alone against goaltender Phillipe Cadorette.
He tried to deke, but the goalie made a toe save. But the loose puck remained a fraction of a centimetre in front of the goal. The crowd held its breath, and Mantha used his long stick and a delicate, agile shot to put it across the goal line. The Drillers took a 3-2 lead.
Baie-Comeau tied the game and scored a goal in overtime to win. Nevertheless, the goal was scored under tremendous pressure, showing the player's character. "It was an important goal, but I have to score those kinds of goals there," said Mantha.
Became a manBabcock seemed to enjoy the show. He pointed out that the Wings have a habit of being patient with their prospects, and noted that Mantha's size (6'5" and 205 pounds) may help him leapfrog that process.
"It's true, we're patient. But we'll see with him. Every young player is different. We've never had a prospect who scores goals and has that kind of size," noted the coach. "But is that going to speed up his development? I can't answer that."
However, Babcock issued a recurring criticism of Mantha: he found that Mantha was sometimes invisible. "He's become a man, buthe has to learn to work every day. That's what a pro does. He has good tools, good size, good hockey sense, he's patient, he scores, he can skate. But sometimes he slips a bit. He has to learn to do it all the time."
Mantha will have to pass another audition at the Red Wings' training camp in the fall. But he passed his audition this week in Val-d'Or. When pressure was at its maximum, he was up to par.
Now he hopes to win the series against Baie-Comeau and earn the President's Cup. That would be the highlight of his dream season.
The odds seem a little long after Friday night's loss, but the Quebec league is an unpredictable one, and while the Wings want to get Mantha to Grand Rapids for all the obvious reasons,* they also want him to win the QMJHL championship and participate in the Memorial Cup, too.
*As for those obvious reasons, as I've stated previously, Mantha's going to be making a gigantic adjustment in transitioning from the kind of social supports one receives as a major junior hockey player to someone who's going to be living on his own (or with an adult roommate) for the first time in Grand Rapids...
And I'm gonna be a little more blunt here than I usually am regarding players' personal lives, which usually aren't my business.
As far as we know (and we don't know much), Mantha's graduated high school and probably isn't spending his free time drinking or fooling around (Val-d'Or's a very small city, so rumors would've spread; Quebec, like Manitoba, also has its stuff together in that one can vote, serve in the armed forces and buy a drink at 18, which I think is sound policy, and there's your social commentary of the day). That much is good.
But he's also living under the roof of a "billet" family, and while Mantha may be managing his bank account with the help of his agent and may have his own car (he earned $92,500 via a signing bonus this past season), billet moms and dads tend to do the laundry, keep their players fed and worry about things like keeping the lights on themselves.
When Mantha gets to Grand Rapids, a 766 miles southwest of his current location, yes, he's going to be able to practice with the team, probably as a Black Ace; he's going to get to know his teammates for the upcoming season, the team's leadership, the equipment managers, trainers, and a coach who preaches the Red Wings way and the Red Wings' style of play in Jeff Blashill. All of that is good.
He'll also hopefully be shown some apartments that he might want to rent (especially important if he has a significant other), he'll learn where the grocery stores, restaurants, bank, etc. are, hopefully he'll be paired with a roommate like Xavier Ouellet, who knows how to transition one's financial and personal details from Canada to the U.S., he'll get a head start on the immigration process, and hopefully he'll get a sense of what the players have to do in terms of plain old taking care of themselves.
I'm still kind of amazed that Tomas Jurco and Tomas Tatar have done so well for themselves as people who admit that they'd rather eat at restaurants than cook for themselves because they don't like "American food," and unlike college or European pro players, Mantha's going to have to learn how to take care of his laundry, eating properly, sleeping properly, paying the bills and doing normal grown-up stuff for the first time in his life.
That ain't easy, and while the Wings' development camp provides an educational process as to how to work out, how to eat and how to prepare yourself to play like a pro, training camp will serve as a boot camp, and the Red Wings do a wonderful job of mentoring their players via Jiri Fischer and company...
The hardest part of "turning pro" for Mantha might not be learning how to play like an "everyday'er"; it might be learning how to live like a grown-up and to not spend his free time like a certain #15 did without having to learn hard lessons.
I've met Mantha, and he's a smart, hard-working and humble young man, but I can't emphasize enough that the part of prospect development that becomes more art than science is hoping that players' brains, bodies and skill sets intersect at the right time. That process, especially the mental maturity and "taking care of yourself" parts, are harder roads to tread for Major Junior-graduating players than they are for college graduates or European pros, and Mantha's just one example of that process.
Anyway, while I was writing this, Mattias Ek posted a picture of the Swedes' morning skate...
And, via RedWingsFeed, Expressen's Jonatan Lindquist gave me something else to translate (honestly, I start these overnight reports at 1 or 2 and don't expect to be up till 4:30 a couple of weeks after the Wings have been eliminated, but the workload's been quite heavy, and consistently so, so I'm still grinding it out. When will the "rest" come? Probably after the Worlds, but right now I'm still battling that damn stomach bug and trying to work as hard as I can).
Lindquist penned a profile of Gustav Nyquist, and it's an intriguing one. Rough translation follows, but I'm more comfortable with Swedish than French (seven years of German will do that for ya)--and as Lindquist suggests, Nyquist really is Sweden's star player given their depleted roster:
Nyquist: "Kronwall has taken care of me"
Minsk. Gustav Nyquist, 24, began his season in the minor leagues. Since then he's helped Detroit make a playoff push, played in the Olympics, and arrived at the World Cup as Sweden's biggest star.
On his road to success, Swedish defenseman Niklas Kronwall's been supporting him.
"It's meant a lot," says Gustav Nyquist.
Gustav Nyquist's journey began in Malmo, Sweden, where he was playing ball sports of all kinds as a little kid. In the end, he chose to play hockey, competing against soccer, golf and tennis, and hockey was the sport he wagered on.
But he didn't dare dream of a future as an NHL player. Instead, he moved to Maine to combine hockey with college studies. That training's fancy title was "Business finance."
"I wasn't drafted in my first year of eligibility, and at that time, I didn't think that I'd end up in Detroit today. My parents have always been pressing me to go to school, and I thought it was important to have an education to fall back upon," says Nyquist.
Nyquist became a hit at university hockey, and as he registered points, Detroit noticed. After his third year at Maine, he decided to invest in his professional life. For the first two years he spent most of his time in the AHL, but he was often called up to Detroit for short periods of time.
Never lived in a hotel
Is there anyone who's meant an extra amount to you during this time?
"Yes, Niklas Kronwall really took care of me. I've lived with both "Frasse" and "Zata" (Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg), but the first years when I commuted a lot I never lived in a hotel. I was always with Kronwall. He helped me into this [life] and made me comfortable, and it meant a lot."
And you had to clean the counters in return?
"Yeah, right. It was actually my job, now that you say it, the only rule was that I had to put away the dishes," Nyquist says, laughing.
"He was just great"
Nyquist had to begin his season in Grand Rapids. His 21 points (7 goals and 14 assists) in 15 AHL games this past season showed that Nyquist had grown past the AHL level.
"He was just great back then; I couldn't understand why he was playing with us down there," says Calle Jarnkrok, who was playing with Grand Rapids at that time.
Nyquist was called up in autumn, but his real breakthrough only came after the new year, when he began scoring goals. He almost single-handedly shot Detroit into the playoffs by scoring 23 goals in his final 34 regular season games. With that momentum, he earned a spot on the Olympic team as well.
Have you reflected on your journey at any point?
"No, the season's not over yet, but it's obvious that I've been through a lot this year. I don't believe that I've got the time to do it, as you say, it's during the season. You just try to get up and do your job every day."
Ha ha, irony alert, Mr. Mantha!
Now his journey includes opponents who have an eye on him. Team Canada captain and defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who plays for the Vancouver Canucks, says that it's become difficult to defend against Nyquist.
"From what I've seen, he's had a really good season. He's got good speed, good hands and good confidence. ON the ice, it's going to be important to watch him; you have to try to keep him on the outside."
He puts pressure on himself
Nyquist is aware of the pressure on him as the biggest Swedish star--but pressure comes from himself, too.
"It''s obvious that you have to have expectations for yourself, to be able to bring your game from over there, but at the same time, we're going to do this as a team. It's going to be fun to take this journey together."
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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.