The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/21/14 at 11:59 PM ET
In Red Wings prospect news...
In playoff hockey, in the OHL, Tyler Bertuzzi scored a goal and finished at +2 as his Guelph Storm defeated the Erie Otters 7-1, taking a 3 games to none lead in the OHL's Western Conference Final.
In alumni-of-a-sort news--consider this "extended family" news, Jonathan Ericsson's brother Jimme helped Skelleftea AIK--the team he captains--win their second straight SHL title, receiving the gold body paint treatment from Aftonbladet as a result of Skelleftea's 3-0 win over Farjestads BK today.
The 34-year-old forward has no intentions of trying to jump to the NHL--he'd have to accept a 2-way, NHL-AHL contract (he turned an offer from the Canucks down last spring at this time) for less money than he's making in Sweden right now--and after posting 12 points (2 goals and 10 assists) in 14 playoff games, Ericsson told Mats Wennerholm that he simply wants to get better;
And Red Wings prospect Mitchell Wheaton spent the vast majority of this past season not playing for the WHL's Kelowna Rockets due to a shoulder injury, but he's playing well as Kelowna battles the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL's Western Conference Final (that series is tied 1-1), having registered 4 assists and a +5 in 11 playoff games played.
The 6'5," 215-pound defenseman spoke with the Kelowna Capital News's Warren Henderson about his decision to join one of the WHL's elite franchises...
"I had a couple of offers from schools to think over that summer, so it was a tough decision," said Wheaton, 18, a 10th-round pick of the Rockets in the 2010 bantam draft."What it came down to was [Kelowna assistant coach] Dan Lambert really convinced me to come here, he really sold the program to me. I think what also sold me was the history of d-men they've had in Kelowna, and how they've been able to develop bigger d-men like myself and move them on to pro. That really caught my eye at the end of the day."
Playing big minutes and in all situations, Wheaton had compiled four goals, 20 points and a +18 rating in 30 games with the Rockets this season.
Lambert said Wheaton's vision and understanding for the game is a cut above most big men who play his position.
"There's no doubt when you watch Mitch play, you see how much game sense he has," said Lambert. "Typically guys of his size are more physical that play a big, more brutal game. Mitch does have some of that but certainly his biggest asset is his vision of the game and his ability to break pucks out of our end. That fits really well into how we try to play here, so he's certainly an asset and a guy that plays a lot of key minutes for us."
And his future potential is...Big:
There are a couple of areas that both the Red Wings and Rockets would like Wheaton to work on, including increasing his foot speed and perhaps adding a little more edge and meanness to his game.
With hard work, and both physical and mental maturity, Lambert expects Wheaton to simply get better and better.
"There are a lot of skills that he already has, but he's still developing, so at the end of the day, if he keeps growing and keeps putting in the work, then the sky's the limit," Lambert said.
The Wings drafted three VERY big defensemen over the past three or four drafts in the big, mean now-turned-forward Mike McKee, who's 6'5" and over 250 pounds, gigantic stay-at-home defenseman Richard Nedomlel, who's 6'4," and 6'6," 191-pound Marc McNulty, who plays for the WHL's Prince George Cougars is in the mix as well.
The strange thing is that both Wheaton and McNulty, despite their size, are very classic "Red Wings" defensemen--they're smooth-skating puck-mover. McNulty's very fleet of foot and from what I've heard, Wheaton's got solid speed as well (he didn't take part in last summer's development camp due to his shoulder surgery--while McNulty spent some of his time at forward on the power play during the fall prospect tournament).
It's really interesting to see that the Wings have been able to shift to not only finding the Bertuzzi-like diamonds in the rough who aren't highly-heralded because they're undersized, but that they've also found players who are big as they are skilled (like Anthony Mantha and the aforementioned players).
The immediate "next wave" of Red Wings prospects, with perhaps the exception of Ryan Sproul, aren't overly big or overly physical, but the players who will be Wings 2-5 years from now are more like Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan than Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist--very big, sometimes very nasty, and still very fast and very skilled.
Update: As Fox 17's Steve Amorose notes, there's an elephant in the Grand Rapids Griffins' goaltending situation, too:
McCollum had struggled in his time with Grand Rapids, and the Red Wings weren’t expected to offer McCollum a new contract. But at the last second, the Red Wings did offer McCollum a deal [last summer]. It was an AHL-only deal, though.
It appeared that McCollum, 24, was being given one last shot to prove himself to the organization that drafted him in the first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
McCollum took advantage of his last chance by putting up a team-best 24 wins this season. He’s also posted the best goals-against average (2.30) and save percentage (.922) of his Griffins career, and it may have just saved his professional hockey career.
“I really just wanted to prove that I could play in this league,” McCollum said. “I think I’ve done that so far. Had a really good summer. Just spent a lot of time working out on the ice and trying to really refine my game and get better.”
“Well he certainly did a real good job moving his career forward,” said Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill. “It takes everybody different timelines to get to where they are excelling at a level for numerous reasons and now he is at a level where he is excelling.”
Blashill doesn’t plan on announcing his starting goaltender for Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series against Abbotsford until Friday.
McCollum might have a bright future with another NHL organization at this point...But I don't think the Wings plan on giving up on him, either. Jared Coreau will have another year in the ECHL most likely, and Mrazek may or may not return to Grand Rapids. If Mrazek does, he'll be splitting time with McCollum.
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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.