The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/07/14 at 02:08 AM ET
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock wasn't able to enjoy certain sports radio talk show hosts' quests to engineer a divorce between coach and team; instead, the Jack Adams Award finalist was in Val-d'Or, Quebec, watching Anthonty Mantha score 2 goals and add an assist as his Val-d'Or Foreurs took a 2-1 lead in the QMJHL's championship series and conducting an English-language interview with RDS after the game.
Babcock expressed concern about Mantha's ability to transition from the pace of "kids' hockey" to the professional game, and he readily stated that he believes Mantha will start next season with the Grand Rapids Griffins...
But he also stated the obvious regarding Mantha's 6'5" frame, saying: "You know, we've never had anybody with that kind of size that scores like that, does that make his track quicker? I don't know the answer to that question. It's just a matter of time, so we'll see what happens."
In light of the fact that the Grand Rapids Griffins will kick off their second-round playoff series against the Texas Stars on Thursday, the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan spoke with Griffins coach Jeff Blashill about shepherding the next wave of Wings prospects and dealing with the parent club's call-ups:
"We've had three different teams," Blashill said. "At the start of the season, we were a dangerous (offensive) team with Nyquist here, and Patrick Eaves was sent down (on waivers from the Red Wings). Then we went through a period of time where we lost all of our forwards, and we were more of a hard-working forward group. Now, we're sort of in between, and obviously we have more skill back."
That's because Jurco and Sheahan were returned to Grand Rapids after the Red Wings were eliminated by the Boston Bruins.
The Red Wings organization and other NHL scouts unanimously agree Mattias Backman, Nick Jensen, Alexey Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul could all be NHL regulars in the future. Add AHL veterans Brennan Evans and Nathan Paetsch, and the Griffins have a defense that could be the best in the league.
"Our defensive group was pretty much the same all season; there wasn't much fluctuation," Blashill said. "Our D core has been a big reason we've had success. The defense has been extremely deep all season and we've been able to absorb whatever injuries and call-ups (there have been). To me, it's been the strength of our team. We've been able to put six defensemen on the ice who are very talented."
Goaltender Petr Mrazek, who led the Griffins to the Calder Cup last spring, was one of the Griffins' best players in the first-round series victory.
"He's taken a step forward," Blashill said. "He knows how to win games in the crucial moments."
Kulfan also posited capsule profiles of the Wings' best AHL prospects, including somebody who hasn't been in conversations about players who might make the big club next season:
Teemu Pulkkinen, RW: Had team-leading five points in first-round series victory. Has a cannon for a shot.
Pulkkinen, like Mantha, doesn't serve any purpose playing on the third or fourth line, and Pulkkinen's still got to get up to NHL strength given that he's all of 5'10," but he and Mantha are the Wings' best forward prospects, at least in terms of goal-scoring ability.
For the record, Hockey's Future gave Mantha an honorable mention as their Prospect of the Year (they gave that nod to Hawks prospect Teuvo Teravainen):
Anthony Mantha, W, Val-d'Or Foreurs (QMJHL): Heading into the 2013-14 season, there was no questioning Anthony Mantha's potential. Standing at 6'5" and around 200 pounds, Mantha possesses a rare blend of size, skill, and speed. He was also the only player in the QMJHL to manage 50 goals during the 2012-13 regular season. Still, many pundits felt he was capable of more, that with his size and strength, he should be dominating other junior age players.
Mantha did just that and more over the 2013-14 season, as he led the QMJHL with 57 goals and 120 points, and was recognized as the league MVP. He was remarkably consistent as well, held pointless on only six occasions and never more than two games in a row. He was selected to the QMJHL's First All-Star Team and recognized as the QMJHL First star of the Month in September and October. Mantha has been strong during the Foreurs' post-season run, as well, and currently has 20 goals and 10 assists through 20 games.
The 19-year-old was also a standout for the Canadian WJC team, where he managed five goals and six assists through seven games.
Mantha has little left to prove at the junior level. He is expected to join the Detroit Red Wings AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for the 2014-15 season.
In terms of the Red Wings' only NHL players who are still active, those taking part in the World Championships are heading to Minsk, Belarus ahead of the tournament's sstart on Thursday morning (as MLive's Brendan Savage noted, American participants Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser took part in a "warm-up" game against Germany on Tuesday).
Given that Tomas Tatar (Slovakia), Jakub Kindl (Czech Republic), Gustav Nyquist (Sweden) and DeKeyser are still relatively "new" players, the Red Wings' website will be revisiting "firsts" for each player in short order.
The team recalled Danny DeKeyser's goal in the opener of their "Red Wings Firsts" series, and whoever wrote the uncredited article went way beyond the, "Here's his first goal, here's the highlight clip, article done!" call of duty:
DeKeyser scored his first NHL goal on Nov. 4 in Detroit’s 4-2 loss at Winnipeg. The rookie defenseman was the lucky recipient of a shorthanded faceoff, as Stephen Weiss swiftly won the draw and passed the puck back to Niklas Kronwall, who found DeKeyser for a slapshot midway through the second period.
It’s a memory the 24-year-old won’t forget anytime soon.
“It was right in the middle of the game, but a few guys on the bench said congrats on the first goal,” DeKeyser said. “It was good to get it, get it out of the way and keep playing.”
The defenseman did just that, as he proceeded to do all season for the Red Wings. But the road to play for his favorite childhood team was quite the unconventional one.
DeKeyser played for the BCHL’s Trail Smoke Eaters in 2008-09 and the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers in 2009-10, before becoming a Western Michigan Bronco for three years. The Detroit, Michigan, native was named a Second-Team All-American during his sophomore and junior years at WMU, and also earned the CCHA’s Best Defensive Defenseman award.
But despite the successful years and honors, DeKeyser went undrafted in 2013. The draft’s loss turned out to be the Wings’ gain, as Detroit signed the defenseman as an undrafted free agent on March 30, 2013.
“Coming in the way he did last year, it really is impressive,” Kronwall said. “I don’t think people realize what he did. To come in straight from college and basically come in and play top-four minutes, it’s very unusual. But he comes from a good background, he’s a really good guy, a really good young player, who wants to learn, asking questions and just wants to improve and get better all the time.”
The Wings' article continues, and here's his first goal:
All the stupid speculation about Babcock's future is really aggravating me (confession: I cannot stand most sports talk radio, so I listen to NPR instead), but I cannot deny that I felt an eyebrow raise in curiousity when I read ESPN's Craig Custance's Insider-only entry about players taking the "long route" to stardom.
Given that the Wings' options for improving their blueline are quite limited, if--and only if--this player were to become available, I'm sure that the Wings and another dozen teams would come knocking:
Adam Larsson, D, New Jersey Devils
Larsson was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 draft, the first defenseman taken in a first round that also included Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Brodin. After playing 65 games as a teenager in 2011-12, registering 18 points, he’s played a total of only 63 in the following two seasons. He put up just three points in 26 games this season, spending time in both the AHL and NHL. The AHL time isn't necessarily a bad thing, and in 33 games with the Albany Devils, he had 19 points. He’s a strong skater and has size at 6-foot-3, but with the high number of young defensemen on the Devils' roster, it's possible he could be pried away if scoring was sent back to Newark.
Larsson's 21, and the Devils are also really good at knowing when to give their prospects more time to mature, so I wouldn't suggest that Larsson's on the trade block for a moment, but if we're going to play the "It's possible he could be pried away" game...
The Sports Forecaster describes the 6'3," 205-pound and right-shooting defenseman as follows:
Assets: Can play the game with exceptional poise. Has a great point shot and a very projectable frame. Oozes all-round ability and can be a big minute-muncher, too.
Flaws: Needs to become more assertive physically, especially when it comes to the utilization of his 6-3 frame. Must also tighten up his defensive-zone coverage.
Career Potential: Talented defenseman with good upside.
Do I think that Larsson's available? No. I also would point out that he's kind of like Jakub Kindl physically--despite his massive size, he's the kind of player you have to try to convince to simply use his size to engage his opponents and to utilize his reach and bulk to his advantage...
But it's kind of my job to turn over every rock in terms of trying to figure out which realistic options might present themselves to the Wings.
I'm not in the rumor business and I'm not Captain Let's Speculate, but when we're talking about the Wings considering a very limited pool of unrestricted free agents (Matt Niskanen, Dan Boyle, etc.) who will be hotly-pursued by other teams, assuming that they make the market at all, and some trade options that may or may not be realistic options (Alex Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, etc.; there's a reason I self-referenced that dang Sunday post where I tried to list everybody I thought the Wings might be interested in; MLive's Ansar Khan happened to do something very similar on Monday morning), Larsson's name is one that should be in the mix, even if it's only as a borderline candidate.
The problem is that when you're trading a top prospect, teams expect a top prospect in return, and the Manthas and Pulkkinens are probably the kinds of players the Devils would require in return.
To me, that's a non-starter, as are moving Tatar, Sheahan, Jurco or Nyquist, but that might not be the way you're thinking.
All I can tell you is that it's my hope that the Wings either utilize the free agent marketplace, that they see what Edler would cost after having a disastrous season in which he finished at -39, or that they simply see whether Sproul, Marchenko, Ouellet, Almquist or Jensen are ready to take Lashoff and Kindl's jobs.
Otherwise, the Free Press's staff listed the Wings' Jack Adams Award winners in Bobby Kromm, Jacques Demers and Scotty Bowman, but if I'm going to play Mr. Rain On Your Speculatory Parade, I must also reluctantly point out that the Hockey News's Ronnie Shuker did a better job explaining what the NHL's Broadcasters' Association's representatives thought in making their pick than I could, or would be willing to admit:
Patrick Roy is the obvious, slam-dunk, no-brainer award winner of the Jack Adams Trophy. Mike Babcock and Jon Cooper take a bow, since you’re both worthy of being finalists, but take a step back behind Roy as you do, because he’s the rightful winner in 2014.
For some reason, unbeknownst to the reasonable, Paul MacLean makes it cool to coach through injuries last season, and suddenly substantial parts of the hockey world decide that’s now the new criteria for taking home the Jack Adams. Hence the growing social media sentiment that Babcock, especially, and Cooper are more deserving because they went without their star players for sizable portions of the season.
It would have been impressive if Babcock had coached the Detroit Red Wings into first in the Atlantic this season. But he didn’t. Detroit finished fourth in the Atlantic, eighth in the East and 15th overall. In 2012-13, the Wings finished third in the Central, seventh in the West and 13th overall. So, without Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg for half the season, Babcock led the Wings to the playoffs with poorer place finishes in a much weaker conference.
Cooper, meanwhile, did a similar though more successful trick with the Tampa Bay Lightning, taking them from third-worst overall in 2012-13 to second in the Atlantic, third in the East and eighth overall, while going without Steven Stamkos for all but 37 games. (If anything, Cooper’s work with the Lightning tops Babcock’s with the Wings.) Still, it’s not quite near the magical turnaround Roy pulled off with the Colorado Avalanche this season.
Let’s not forget, Roy inherited an outstandingly bad Colorado Avalanche club that most media outlets, including The Hockey News, picked to finish last in the Central Division. Heck, we were tempted to pick them eighth.
Shuker continues, and again, I disagree with what he's saying, but I have a bad gut feeling that this is the "party line":
Babcock is the sexy pick for getting the Wings into the playoffs while missing both Datsyuk and Zetterberg for 37 games each. And Jon Cooper could get consideration for resurrecting the Bolts without Stamkos for the majority of the season. That Babcock hasn’t won the Jack Adams yet is an embarrassing error, but just because he should have won it years ago (perhaps multiple times) is no reason to give it to him now. And recall that Cooper was hired midway through last season, whereas Roy was a first-year coach.
Sometimes the simplest answer is the right answer. This is one of those times. So keep it simple, smart guys, and go with Roy. You may be Captain Obvious for doing so, but it’s better than being Captain Oblivious for not.
Ugh. Ugh, but that's how I expect it to go.
Just as I don't expect the Wings to have a chance in hell of landing Larsson without mortgaging that burgeoning farm's worth of prospects, all of whom won't pan out (which is why you need a whole team of 'em).
Sometimes trying to be realistic and honest is much less fun than spending a week stirring up "Babcock is gone!" bullshit and then interviewing the one guy who agrees with you, but I'm neither a sports talk radio type, nor do I type to read mysyelf speak. When I put in the effort to write one of these damn entries I do so because I want to share information and start discussions, not because I want to stir the shit or raise a ruckus.
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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.