The Malik Report
by George Malik on 09/15/13 at 09:49 PM ET
I hate starting an entry ass-end first, but I'm going to do it: You know that point where you're on a business trip, and you call a family member to chat, and they say that you sound like you need a nap, you tell them you've had one, and they very politely try to suggest that you sound like hell?
Twelve days in, I'm starting to go from "fried" to "burnt ends" to, "Hey there, charcoal!"
The Red vs. White game was fun and entertaining, but it wasn't necessarily a preseason game, and it wasn't necessarily a scrimmage, either. Despite Wings coach Mike Babcock's harsh estimation of the Franzen-Weiss-Alfredsson line's performance, and despite the oodles of post-game interviews and good news about Tomas Tatar, I can best summarize what was literally a standing-room-only affair, to the point that my usual along-the-boards perch was in fact among a crowd of folks who'd paid to stand on the glass, as follows:
This game was "official" enough that the Red Wings' participants wore game jerseys instead of practice jerseys, and game socks instead of solid ones.
This game was "unofficial" enough that there was no "C" on Henrik Zetterberg's chest, nor "A's" on Pavel Datsyuk or Niklas Kronwall's chests. Never mind the...Uh, four-round shootout, or two 30-minute periods.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the game was a blast. From a fan standpoint, all seemed to go very, very well. The 3-3 tie's narrative (you can read the box score and game sheet via Pointstreak) reads as follows...
See: Jim Schoensee's pictoral highlight clip in the previous entry...
And the post-game-cut/squad story went like this...
From a structural standpoint, I saw more detail-oriented hockey in the hour-plus-long practice that Jeff Blashill had the non-game-day players engaging in at David's Rink. That practice was so long that I had to leave to watch the start of the Red vs. White game, and players who took to the ice at 9:55 AM weren't shuffling behind the standing-room folks down below until about 11:10.
Between Jim Bedard's goaltender movement drills and Blashill's spirited practice, which involved diagonal outlet passes, zone exits in which defensemen would laterally pass to a forward within the faceoff circle, and the pass recipient would zig-zag the puck back and forth before breaking out, lateral and diagonal through-the-neutral zone outlets, an absolutely wacky drill in which the nets were placed on the half walls, and four "playmakers" set in a "diamond" shape would feed the puck to whichever pair of 2 vs. 2 teammates they felt like--which was really neat to see--a three-pass-and-then skate out of the zone drill, exercises with pucks that were flipped in and literally thrown by Blashill to the side boards at the center ice red line, and then charged down ice...
The non-game day guys may have gotten in a better workout, and given that Blashill hustled on over to help coach the white team (with Spiros Anastas; Tom Renney and Keith McKittrick coached the red team), I think the very loud and very emphatic Blashill got a better workout than the Red vs. White guys, too.
Put bluntly, sometimes the players played beautiful, regular-season Red Wings hockey, and at other times, they looked both rusty and covered in zebra mussels.
The reality of the situation is that the new guys in particular had all of three days' worth of learning of the Wings' systems of play, and the Wings' returnees have been--as several of them pointed out--doing more than skating in a "captain's practice" for three days.
It was better than an intra-squad scrimmage because the NHL lines generally opposed the NHL lines and the AHL lines and prospects generally faced AHL lines and prospects.
It was better than an intra-squad scrimmage because the players did very honestly try to put on a show for those watching them.
It was not exhibition hockey, never mind regular season hockey.
On a line-by-line basis...
You've seen these guys play together, right?
You saw the goal, yes?
The captain, the most talented player on the team and the piano-puller. Pulling the piano, as he suggested.
It would take a thesaurus to find more superlatives to describe how incredibly well Datsyuk and Zetterberg play together, or how ridiculously appropriate it is that the human log found success while impersonating Tomas Holmstrom--and I sure as hell hope that Homer's absence from training camp doesn't mean that he's soured on the concept of coming to Wings practices or Griffins practices to teach net-front battling and shot-tipping, because that was amazing stuff, and he misses hockey.
But it's frickin' Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Abdelkader.
Gustav Nyquist: He is getting WAY better defensively. When he's not scoring goals or setting up goals, or grinding it out in the corners, he's trying as hard as he possibly can to listen to his cautious pal "Andy" and to get his butt back as the 3rd high forward helping out his defensemen, or to get in shooting and passing lanes and break up passes with his stick, as Andersson does.
Joakim Andersson: First, I think that a player who wore the same pair of gloves for two seasons going completely from Reebok stuff to Bauer stuff must be acknowledged as a possible slow-starting issue. Because he's looked a bit slow, and when you're changing gear companies, it can take a while to get comfortable if you're not picky about your equipment.
But big Andy is still a faster-than-expected, hard-charging, strong third line center who is rock solid defensively and can in fact both make plays and shoot pretty decently, though his passing and vision are his better attributes. His snarl continues to mature as well.
Mikael Samuelsson: It's the same old story for Sammy. He's actually very big. He's actually a really good skater. He's actually quite good in his own end when he commits to playing defense. And he mans the right point superbly. But he needs to be engaged physically, he needs to be engaged in terms of taking instead of passing up opportunities to shoot, and he needs to be making an impact on the scoresheet for the Wings to not bench $3 million worth of dead weight.
And even in games when he scores, he still makes you say, "Dammit, Sammy..." repeatedly.
Tomas Tatar: Did not have his best game offensively. Was working his tail off, churning loose pucks over, trying to make passes and shooting well, he played very, very hard and skated very, very fast--with some added maneuverability and control--and he made things happen. Like he always does.
Luke Glendening: Short summer? Glendening's been blazing up and down the ice, but he's looked like a player who hasn't found his second wind after an I-proved-everybody-wrong-and-won-a-pro-hockey-championship-too rookie season. His tan has been more impressive than his grit. I hope that changes soon.
Landon Ferraro: Ferraro looked a bit tired as well, but he's got that sneakly-placed, hard shot, he's a fine playmaker, he skates very well with that bowlegged, powerful stance and his physical strength has improved from top to bottom. He will be called up this year. When he is in Grand Rapids, he needs to establish himself as a scorer.
Martin Frk: I get the feeling that Frk is going to have a Tomas Jurco year. When I spoke to him in the locker room, the usually gregarious Frk was mouse-quiet, and aside from flashing those puck-stealing feet and that cannon of a shot more regularly, he's had an incredibly quiet training camp. Pro hockey is a big step up for him, and he is going to take time to find his form. He works hard enough and has so much damn talent as a power forward in the making that he will hit his stride. But it may not be until January.
Calle Jarnkrok: I am surprised to have to say that he will need some time to find his stride as well. When he was playing in Sweden he went from 3rd-line grinder to first line superstar, and his skating, his defensive awareness, his playmaking sense, his faceoff abilities, his "compete level," they're all there, and he's the biggest and strongest I think that little body is ever going to get, but he is commanding play at some occasions and struggling to keep up with the small rink and big bodies on other occasions. He remains the most important prospect in the organization. He just needs more time to adjust.
Jordin Tootoo: Added because I forgot (I'm that tired): Tootoo played his heart out, and he will always play his heart out, each and every night. He showed offensive flair, he was competitive as hell, he ground, he mucked, he did as much as he could in a scrimmage setting to prove that he belongs on the team. I have no doubt that he is a superbly-talented scrapper. I think the issue for me as to why Tootoo "loses" a spot is that his skating and skill levels just don't quite keep up with the Wings' levels necessary for puck possession, and in that sense, Tootoo can become either a defensive liablity or a non-factor in terms of moving the puck up ice. He's a superb player and person, but whether Detroit is his home is up in the air.
Danny DeKeyser: Patient. Poised. Smooth-skating and remarkably mobile for a man of his size. Filled out physically. Stronger in the corners. Awesome pass. Good shot. But still learning the game, and we must not expect a "sophomore slump," but instead, a continued "How to play as an NHL defenseman" learning curve for the astute student of the game.
Jakub Kindl: A ditto, at least sometimes. Bigger and stronger and older and wiser than DeKeyser (that rhymes), Kindl is still someone who's a year removed from his first full NHL season, so he will have some hiccups. But in addition to possessing many DeKeyser-like qualities, he's added some snarl to his game, and there is a bit of a sense that while he is never going to be particularly physical, he IS going to be physically engaged on every shift, and occasionally ornery.
Kyle Quincey: Saints preserve us, because Babcock mentioned how much he likes Kyle Quincey after the game. For better or worse, Quincey remains a gambler and sometimes a bit of a floater, and that's frustrating because he can be such a hunk of tough meat when he wants to let his stick do the work for him and let his hips issue Brad Stuart-style smear hits. He's just not quite talented enough to get away with all of the crazy pinches he makes.
Brendan Smith: He was the one Babcock sat down with after the game, maybe because Smith was putting on a show. Still massively talented and still possessing an ego that may out-strip his talent, he's got to have an absolutely outstanding year in terms of his growth and development for the Wings to not desperately need to find a way to upgrade Quincey and then consider divesting themselves of the highest-stakes and most frequent offensive gambler on the team.
This is Smith's year to figure out whether he's a forward or a defenseman. The Wings won't keep him if he keeps wanting to play forward.
Brennan Evans is a meat-and-potatoes, grit-and-jam defenseman who can happen to move the puck and skate well. Mostly he's an AHL veteran who is rock solid at that level.
Adam Almquist: As I keep saying, bigger and bulkier than expected, Almquist's toned down his offensive flourishes--and he can flourish a wicked pass and a zippy little shot off of that short stick--for showing a more solid defensive game and a better ability to at least not lose physical battles. In progress, still very high potential.
In goal: Howard (1st half), Mrazek (2nd half)
Jimmy Howard: Didn't get beat anything but high and over any area that a goalie who was screened would stop pucks, moved the puck well, and while--as Jonas Gustavsson told me--Howard also has a "break" on his pads, which are a little softer up top, the smidge smaller and way less stiff leg pads he's wearing aren't proving to be a weakness in any way, shape or form.
Petr Mrazek: The individualist, with a style of playing goal that remains all acute or obtuse angles and some rather risky, Ken Holland-stand-up style poke checks and aggressive saves, he's still sound as hell, athletic as can be, and a little more tamed. This year he needs to have another All-Star season and he needs to prove that he can push the Monster when called up.
Johan Franzen: Was a bit slow, was a bit labored, is wearing a HUGE square piece of foam on his back to protect it and remains a big heavy lunk who needs to possess the puck less and get into positions to accept passes from teammates more. But he's the Mule, and there is a sense that he knows his career in Detroit depends on getting his shit together.
Stephen Weiss: I can't complain about his game at all. He was speedy, strong on the puck, gritty without being mean, excellent offensively and defensively, he's an astute passer, his vision and playmaking skills are superb and he works his tail off. Chemistry doesn't happen all at once.
Daniel Alfredsson: Ditto. Even though he's struggling with the system more than he'd like to admit and he's struggling to adapt to a whole new team more than he'd like to admit, he's still an elite scorer and passer at 40 and he skates like he's 35. He's going to be fine. It may take a while, but he's going to be fine, to the tune of plus or minus 20 goals and plus or minus 40 points.
Daniel Cleary: When you come to camp shot out of a cannon, you tend to fade, and Cleary faded a bit as camp went on. He had a solid enough game, and whether he's telling the truth about his knees or not, he's skating the fastest I've seen him skate in years. He's a gritty sonofagun and he can score.
Riley Sheahan: At times he looked out of his element and at times he looked like someone who should be centering a pair of scrappy gents, because Sheahan is a scrappy gent himself. He is still finding his form as a primary as opposed to complimentary second line and/or third line, two-way center, but he's getting there, and he managed to rebound well after looking exhausted during the first couple days of camp. He seems to be champing at the bit to hit people.
Todd Bertuzzi: Came into camp seeming to understand that he had to out-FOCUS contenders for his spot and to out-EXECUTE their play offensively. Done and done. He's been hard, he's been heavy, he's been mean, he's been engaged on every shift and he is working his ass off to generate more in terms of passing, shooting and grinding it out in the offensive zone. He's been great. He has to keep it up.
Drew Miller: The only man with job security on this line does not play like he has job security.
Which is why he has it.
Muck grind hit jab poke prod pull push shove hack whack jab jam grit grind, etc. etc. You know Drew Miller's game. It's gonna be fine and he's going to enjoy killing penalties and hitting people.
Cory Emmerton: The equation comes down to strength for Emmerton. He can win draws, he is a good skater, he has 3rd-line skills offensively and he has had trouble defensively because he is neither very big nor very strong. I cannot determine whether he has filled that gap in based upon training camp.
Patrick Eaves: If he goes out, he's going out swinging. He scored a goal by going to the front of the net, he charged up and down the ice with strong speedy strides, he competed hard, he was gritty, defensively sound and sharp, and he has Drew Miller's work ethic this year. He just didn't get re-signed first and he hasn't been as consistent as Miller on the PK. It's up to him.
Tomas Jurco: Again, focusing on his playmaking and defensive abilities, Jurco got shoved around a bit and seemed to enjoy the challenge. He got overpowered at times, but not nearly as much as last season, and he is of course an elite sniper "in training." And a good egg.
Andreas Athanasiou: Was able to show that those massive churning legs can in fact go through NHL talent. And he made some plays to his teammates as well as net rushes. Bright prospect as a potential 2nd or 3rd line center with loads of athletic ability and possibly some strong offense. His final season in junior will probably be preceded by some exhibition games.
Teemu Pulkkinen: His offense may not come immediately at the AHL level, but when the Holy Slapper finds North American geometry, it will be accompanied by an utterly fearless player who seeks traffic and comes out of hits he bounces off of or through with loose pucks that he either superbly passes to more-able-to-score teammates or fires on net himself. He's got oodles of work ethic, and now the strength to back it up in North America.
Niklas Kronwall: Was much more solid today than yesterday, looked in command, made remarkable passes, took hard shots, and rather desperately needs to start hitting people.
Jonathan Ericsson: Much more consistent and focused, Ericsson still makes doofy pinches from time to time, and he is never going to be the vicious hitter he was envisioned to be, but he is very effectively physical and he is indeed the Wings' #2 defenseman.
Brian Lashoff: Is playing like there's a fire lit under his ass, and that's good, because he needs to fulfill his statements about making a hard, hard push to be a top-six instead of a number seven defenseman. It's going to come down to execution, to minimizing mistakes and to proving that he's got at least a quarter of DeKeyser's skating step.
Nathan Paetsch: When the 50-man glut's alleviated, he'll be signed to a 2-way deal. Can completely handle being a defenseman in a pinch. Got walked around a couple of times, but he's savvy enough and strong enough to be the #7 guy that Lashoff was deemed to be.
Xavier Ouellet: Showed up with a new pair of gloves and showed off when and where it counted, dazzling the crowd at times and standing up more and more confidently to NHL players trying to knock his block off. He is a work in progress but a superb one, and he's the Wings' best defensive prospect...
Ryan Sproul: With this guy hot on his heels. Sproul's big body, puck-lugging tendencies, booming shot and hard pass contrast superbly with Ouellet's subtleties and smoothness, and Sproul's rounding out his rough edges. These two should be fun to watch playing together in Grand Rapids.
In goal: Gustavsson (first half), Coreau (2nd half)
Jonas Gustavsson: I wish that he'd been forced to shrink his chest protector as well as his leg pads, because that damn thing gets in his way. He has gotten way more mobile, is way more comfortable in his stance and positioning off the goal line, and he should give out some rebounds that terrify all of us and should snag most of them. I think he's in for a bigger year than most anticipate...
Jared Coreau: Which is good given that Coreau, in 2-5 years, could turn out to be the gigantic puck-eating "monster" that Gustavsson was supposed to be. Coreau got lit up in the shootout and is going to have some rough moments, but coming off shoulder surgery and just turning pro, he's a remarkably mature and polished netminder and person who will find his way.
Triston Grant: A big hunk'a meat man who grinds, instigates and annoys while playing as a solid 3rd line AHL forward. That's who he is and what he does, and he does it well.
Louis-Marc Aubry: Like Callahan, a reminder that players take multiple years to mature in the AHL before they are really and truly NHL-ready. He's finally filling out and has Joakim Andersson-like potential, but he has to establish himself as said kind of player in the AHL this year.
Mitchell Callahan: I had a vision at practice. And it was Mitchell Callahan playing the role of Doug Frickin' Brown. Mitchell does not have Joe Kocur's hands and he doesn't have Sean Avery's, either, so he needs to establish himself as the kind of buzzbomb of a defensive forward with snarl that will get him called up because he'll out-work his opponents. He has the talent, work ethic and character to make it happen.
Tyler Bertuzzi: Was sent down because he didn't focus enough on his offense, and because he can be so, so much more than a pair of fists and a pain in the ass. He's really talented offensively and he skates very well, but he doesn't seem to care about that right now.
Andrej Nestrasil: Another fine example of the fact that it takes multiple years for players to mature, the slick goal scorer is trying to recast himself as an Andersson-style center with way better hands. I believe he can pull it off.
Zach Nastasiuk: The early cut was no slight to a player who really could be the second coming of a gritty, smart, tough and this time faceoff-winning Kirk Maltby. He skates like Maltby, battles like Maltby and passes like Draper.
Anthony Mantha: Earned an exhibition game or two because the gigantic, crane-body-built goal-scorer with a rifle of a slap, snap or wrist shot and go-to-the-net hustle that you'd wish the Mule had has proved that he can also show the compete level you wish the Mule had.
Barclay Goodrow: Will probably get an AHL contract because he is a power center who grinds, grinds, skates very well, and grinds, grinds, grinds, and wins faceoffs, and grinds, grinds and grinds, and goes to the net.
Trevor Parkes: Back from injury (where was Rasmus Bodin, by the way?) Parkes is Goodrow on the wing, and he has goal-scoring ability, at least at the ECHL level. Like Nestrasil and Parkes, a "second tier" prospect on the long journey to proving he can grind it out in the NHL.
David McIntyre: Was very solid and looks like a 2nd liner at the AHL level who can and probably will play as a strong center. At the AHL level.
Kevin Lynch: Got the, "Go find a place" demotion because he was recently signed. Looked like a speedy, competent winger/center to me.
Marek Tvrdon: Is very, very slowly showing that he may in fact be a Tomas Kopecky-like graduate of the Slovakian Power Forward factory. Is on a long trajectory as well.
Gleason Fournier: I still can't figure him out. Ouellet's hands. Ouellet's feet. In between, no ability to stop opposing pro players from skating past or through him.
Alexei Marchenko: When he adjusts to the North American rink's geometry and North American pro pace, the Wings will have a heady, smart, fast and sometimes pugnacious defenseman on their hands who can bail himself out of his mistakes.
Richard Nedomlel: May go up and down to Toledo, but he's proven that he is a boulder of a rock-solid defensive defenseman with snarl and grit and poise. And work ethic. He's going to love hitting people again. You're going to love this guy, Griffins fans, and he's going to love you.
Max Nicastro: Max has to channel some of the offensive talent he possessed when drafted to prove he's the kind of third-pair, defensive defenseman that the Wings initially viewed Kyle Quincey as becoming, but he has the skating ability, talent and pass and shot to establish himself as at least that kind of player at the AHL level this year.
Marc McNulty: Survived the first round of cuts because he's 6'6" and 186 pounds but skates as fast as Pulkkinen and is as fearless as Pulkkinen, with a sharp, sharp stick that knocks down pucks and oodles of potential as a gaunt but slick defenseman.
Richard Plutnar: Nice kid, worked hard, looked very capable as an all-round offensive defenseman, but he wasn't going to fit in here. I hope he finds a home.
Tom McCollum: Tom's running out of time. On occasion he can be this big, Brodeur-bulky-bodied, principled and sound puck-stopper, and at other times, he gives the puck up when he handles it and he gets turned around or pissed off when he can't stop pucks. He's got a year to prove he's a capable and competent goalie on this side of the Atlantic, and he has to do so while being in the Wings' system. I hope he can pull it off.
Jake Paterson: Was demoted because he got lit up when the NHL'ers showed up, even after a fine prospect tournament. His form is impeccable but he's still very young and will have a dominant season or two in Saginaw, and hopefully a World Junior appearance with Canada, before signing a pro deal.
Cam Lanigan: There are worse things to be than a big, principled and smart hybrid goalie who the Wings are keeping around as the #5 practice guy until they can find you a home.
In utter irony, via the Sun-Sentinel's Harvey Filakov, here's a story about the player who Todd Bertuzzi was traded for in 2007, and a player who idolized Stephen Weiss, trying to find his way on a slow NHL curve...
[F]resh off a career-high 14-goal season and a two-year contract extension worth $3.5 million, Matthias, 25, plans on inheriting Weiss' spot as the Panthers top-line center, while also supplying similar mentor-like qualities to young centers nipping at his skates.
"He taught me a lot and really helped me about life off the ice, too, being a professional,'' said Matthias, who scored 11 goals in a 16-game stretch in March. "I owe him a lot. Now it's my turn to do the same thing with the young guys. Last year was the first time that Weiss and some centers weren't around, so it let me play and gave me confidence that I can actually play those kind of roles. Now I have to build on it and like [GM Dale Tallon] said, I can't just play good one out of every three games.''
The 6-foot-4 Matthias was referring to young prospects/centers like Drew Shore, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Vincent Trocheck, all coveting first- or second-line duties. Veteran centers Marcel Goc and Scott Gomez are also in the mix.
"Just because you come to the Panthers doesn't mean you're on the first line,'' Panthers coach Kevin Dineen bristled. "He's enthusiastic and I think he's matured a lot in the two years we've been together and he's ready to help the team any way he can. There's some nice juicy spots to hop into, but nothing is going to be given.''
Matthias seeks the consistency of teammate Tomas Kopecky, the Panthers steadiest player last season.
"He's coming into his own in this league and is a very effective player,'' Kopecky said. "It's one thing to do it one or two games and another to maintain it over 82 games. With each year he's more mature and experienced and knows the game. He can easily be a 20-goal scorer. I told him he has some big shoes to fill.''
I'm burnt to a crisp, with two days to go. Dunno how I'm gonna make it through, but I will endeavor to do so.
Update: Oh, hey, SlapShotGoal from Winging it in Motown posted the shootout:
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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.