The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/12/12 at 10:00 PM ET
On what is day five of the Red Wings’ development camp, technically day six for the prospects thanks to a brief scrimmage on Saturday, and the fourth day over the past five that the players woke up at 6:50 and didn’t leave the rink until after 5 PM, engaging in grueling two-a-day sessions of on-ice skill development and drills alternated with off-ice training…
Either the morning group was a little too honest for its own good, or the afternoon group’s testosterone was talking, because a clearly tired group of young men insisted that they were not, more or less because this is their “last day of school.”
The more I watch this camp—and this is my third summer in Traverse City and my fifth straight year of watching the Red Wings’ summer development camps in a credentialed capacity—the more I want to compare it to going to school, and this is the one time I will suggest that I wish my teachers were as nice as the Wings’ coaches and trainers.
Today’s sessions, as previously noted, involved winding periods of learning with some positive reinforcement, a little dynamic application of the skill sets learned, and an accommodation for the fact that these young men have been pushed to the edge of their mental and physical performance envelopes and beyond.
In other words, today’s drills were about having fun and being competitive to both wrap things up and set the stage for the kind of puck possession hockey the coaches want to see the players engage in tomorrow morning, when they’ll wrap up their on-ice activities at Centre Ice Arena via a scrimmage from 8:30 AM till 10 AM. The fun doesn’t stop there per se as each and every one of the Wings’ campers will engage in exit interviews with the team’s brass, and maybe that had something to do with the fact that the learning process isn’t necessarily over…
But I can only put it the way I see it, and I went to Catholic school from fifth grade on, and then to the University of Michigan, where there was no such thing as a fond farewell: my teachers never went this easy on me. Even during Curt Fraser’s camps, the last day was a little less intense, and while nothing that the prospects did was easy, they were skills the vast majority of players have a solid command of. I was genuinely surprised that the only tires Tomas Storm used were placed in the top corners of the net on the north end of the rink, I was surprised that Andy Weidenbach’s skating drills both involved game situations and were, generally speaking, ergonomically possible for professional athletes, and while the personnel folding in and out of Jim Paek’s drills would confuse you or me, the players had it down.
Maybe that’s a good thing. I will admit that some of Fraser’s “last days” were indeed, “Hell, it’s June 9th, why can’t we finish Moby Dick?” I didn’t see any of that with Jim Paek, Jiri Fischer, Keith McKittrick or the skill development coaches, and from what I hear, Peter Renzetti and Aaron Downey left the log with nothing but bowling ball-style finger grips and the 30-foot-long elastic cords in the equipment truck. There’s something to be said for not trying to pound new wrinkles into the equation on the last day, and especially given the grind these gents have endured, I don’t recommend it…
But it kinda confused this seven-year Catholic School veteran.
That being said, I’m pretty damn tired myself. Two to five hours of sleep a night, spending the rest of the time with either a computer perched on or near my lap or a sound recorder in my hand and trying to hone what pass for perceptive powers upon determining the differences between forty athletes taking part in elaborate drills—and finding a way to restrain myself from yelling, “Get a defenseman, dammit!” at Ken Holland, never mind facing down the Babcockan death stare and overcoming what I must admit is a silly amount of a desire to not interview athletes who don’t intimidate me because my unfailing politeness insists that I am being a terrible bother to players who are more or less used to rude people sticking sound recorders in their faces when they’d rather peel off their gear, take a shower, talk [expletive] to each other, kick around a soccer ball or plain old goof around.
I don’t know what they think about well-meaning fans pretending to be objective, but they seem to tolerate me when I can get over the Catholic School Guilt.
Anyway, the long long story short is that I don’t believe for a second that the afternoon group was “fine” given their collective performance sans a mid-day nap and/or chunk of time to recharge.
That, and I certainly learned my share of lessons on the last day, because several readers have asked me to watch Robert Rooba, and I was very surprised with the player-specific result.
In that sense, I keep learning every day as you have shaped my content, and as much as I have loved doing this, and as much as I am also exhausted and want to go home, I am grateful as can be for your comments, support, and especially your constructive criticism, because you continue to push me to be a better writer and a better observer of a game I believe no one stops learning how to play or watch throughout their careers as hockey players or hockey fans.
Since I covered the drills, here’s what I thought of the players who took part in the afternoon on-ice session in Team Lidstrom:
Tomas Jurco #28: I’m of two minds here. First, I hope that what looked like what was happening late in camp did indeed occur: I sent out some Tweets about a Tomas Jurco-Teemu Pulkkinen exchange, and it appeared that the Red Wings’ photographer was trying to capture a picture of it because I was too flabbergasted to do so myself (and Jurco had taken off the GoPro camera affixed to his helmet after taking part in skill drills):
During the post-Zamboni scrape skatearound, Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen started picking pucks up off the ice and laying them on the blades of their stick, flat and parallel to the ice, which is a trick most hockey players that aren’t me can pull off. Then the two started having a, “Oh yeah, well what else can you do?” exchange, and, “Well, I can bounce it up and down,” and, “Well, I can, too,” and, “Well, I can flick it up in the air and catch it in a different spot!” begat…
Jurco saying, “Well have you seen this?” He then proceeded to flick the puck about fifteen feet over his head, and then he threw his stick up in the air, too, allowing it to somersault. The first time he caught the stick, he didn’t get the puck, but the second time, puck goes up 20 feet, stick goes up five, he grabs the stick, lays the blade parallel to the ice at waist level and by Gord, he caught the puck on his blade and it lay flat there.
The problem with this is that that’s exactly what Jurco doesn’t want to be remembered for, and over the course of this camp, he’s clearly established that his main skill involves scoring goals and sniping like a Slovakian Power Forward with goal-scoring ability to spare. He adores putting the puck in the back of the net, and while he’s going to take a much longer time than maybe you or I hope to develop because he readily admitted that he hasn’t even started to work out yet thanks to his season nearly going till June because the Saint John Sea Dogs played in the Memorial Cup, and he needs to both fill out in a big way and he needs to learn how to deke, dangle and jam pucks into the net while charging up ice into 230-pound players that have played in the NHL.
Jurco may be all about frills on YouTube, but he’s at his best when he just flies up the ice and uses his playmaking, vision and especially his tremendously sneaky wrist shot to fire pucks past and often through goalies who can’t quite stop the mustard he places on the puck. And gaining the strength, conditioning and professional experience to become an NHL-caliber Slovakian Power Forward is going to take some time.
Teemu Pulkkinen #62: I feel similarly about Teemu Pulkkinen’s YouTube fame. He is everything he’s been advised to be and more, his wrist shot, slap shot, one-timer, passing, vision, and even his reach despite his short stick are remarkable, and he’s a goal-scoring machine who does indeed remind me of Brett Hull, except that he doesn’t get bored.
That being said, he’s built like a classic European in that he’s bulked up in the shoulders and hips, but his core remains that of a teenager, and for all his professional experience in Finland, he hasn’t absolutely dominated in the SM-Liiga on a consistent basis. On the smaller rink, he’ll have fewer opportunities to razzle dazzle and he’s going to need to learn how to play against the biggest and strongest players with less time and space.
Mitchell Callahan #42: Mitch had a rough day, and as I’ve talked him to death, I can only say that he was fatigued and clearly sore, but he kept grinding along and kept working to ensure that he executed every portion of the assigned drills as best he possibly could. Passes went awry and shots fluttered off his stick, but he ground it out and he remains a sound defensive forward in the making who might also manage to piss off everyone that doesn’t play with him to near the breaking point on a nightly basis. He just needs to keep getting stronger and keep working to ensure that he can deliver rock-solid defensive hockey when he’s not annoying his opponents.
Alan Quine #59: Quine remains full of high-end potential as he can skate like the wind and make wonderful passes and plays at high speed, his skating fundamentals are great and he is ever enthusiastic and full of energy, but he’s got to keep dominating in the OHL and he’s got to keep working on his conditioning as he is skinny-wiry.
Marek Tvrdon #60: Tvrdon has already earned the contract Quine will earn next year, but he’s a true puzzle to me. You can very easily see that he’s more of a Tomas Kopecky-style Slovakian Power Checking Forward, except that he’s built like a tree, straight up and down, but he also seems to be in his own world. Part of that is the language problem, and part of that seems to be that his interest slips and wanes depending on the situation. And for someone as bulked up as he is, he gets winded fast and frustrated, too. He can score, he can pass, he can skate very well and he enjoys the bump-and-grind, but sometimes he’s engaged and sometimes he’s not.
Martin Frk #48: Before the drills began, Frk took to the ice in his hockey undergarments to stickhandle around with Louis-Marc Aubry, who’s sucked it up like a pro and stuck around for camp even though he can’t take part in the on-ice activities due to his sprained ankle, but Frk never came out on the ice again. I don’t know what hurt but I think the Wings are very smart by not forcing their prospects to play through anything that they’d deem dangerous to play through—and it should be noted that it’s not the Grand Rapids Griffins’ equipment staff or trainers that are up in Traverse City.
Instead, Piet Van Zant and Russ Bauman, the Wings’ main athletic trainers, are there, as is Paul Boyer and his equipment staff, so in addition to having all the on-ice and off-ice personnel you could want for help and guidance, you have the big club’s health guidance right there taking care of every prospect.
And Frk is very much so a project. He can indeed bulldoze his way to the net and snipe, but if Tvrdon has frustration issues, then Frk is a basket case (and he’s not). Frk gets very angry at Frk, and like Tvrdon, Frk missed almost an entire year with a concussion, so he’s behind the developmental curve, but there’s a bulldozing sniper in there.
Luke Glendening #72**: Glendening is at his best when you don’t notice him, and I have barely noticed him at all. He had a pro try-out with the Griffins and is signed to an AHL-only deal, and yes, I can see that he skates very well, that there are occasionally glimmers of goal-scoring aplomb and serviceable stickhandling and passing as well as tons of grit and leadership, but he’s been very quiet.
Rasmus Bodin #75: I think I’ve got Bodin figured out, and the song is the same here: unlike Mike McKee, he’s gotten very big in a hurry, and aside from knowing that he can run over everyone in the second division league he’s been playing in, and aside from knowing that he does possess solid skating skills and a heavy shot, he’s not sure what the hell to do with this gigantic body he’s moving around in. Sometimes he crashes, bangs and rattles the glass, and his enthusiasm is certainly there, but he’s a project’s project and a true Hakan Andersson pick slightly less than three weeks away from having been plucked from a near-backwoods league. He’s going to go to HV71 Jonkoping’s junior team and learn a lot about how to play hockey and how to use his body.
Michael Babcock #70*: He cannot be faulted for his work ethic, he cannot be faulted for his endless enthusiasm and he cannot be faulted for his sense of humor, because unlike his father, Michael has a death smile and a self-depreciating sense of humor. He’s playing at a higher level of hockey than he ever has previously, and sometimes he’ll flub shots or screw up drills, but he laughs it off, puts the cone or stick back where they should be, and he goes right back at it and makes sure he gets it done right. His feet are fleet, his passing is good but his shot is as weak as the 5’9,” 150-something-pound body he’s got. That’ll change and he’ll be smiling all the way.
Phillipe Hudon #61: Perhaps Michael’s personality foil, Hudon is very, very serious but no less sincere. He’s a small power forward, a 5’11’ or 6’0” guy with a small but very muscular frame, and he just goes and goes and goes. He skates well and hard, he’s got a good shot and he loves skating through people and skating over them when he’s able. He’s still growing and he’s got an uphill battle in terms of his build, but even on a day when the most professional people were exhausted, he had determination to spare and that drive made him look downright sharp.
Robert Rooba #64*: My learning experience, they name is Robert Rooba.
The Estonian-born Espoo Blues forward did indeed speak English, and as he can speak English, Estonian, Finnish and Russian, he told me he needs to learn at least one more language. My suggestion? Scoring!
Luke Glendening is 5’11” and 175 pounds of invisible. Rooba is 6’2” and 210 pounds of invisible because he can’t score to save his damn life. Defensive ability? Excellent. Passing? Superb. Skating? Excellent. Size and strength? Great. Work ethic? Awesome. Focus and attention to detail? Professional level. Demeanor and hockey IQ? Wonderful. Physicality? Incredibly understated, but if there’s a battle to be won, he wins it.
But he can’t score, and in a camp where I’ve been asked to eye the draft picks I barely know while monitoring the top prospects and the middling ones, Rooba was an invisible tryout until I watched him and understood why he was invisible—because in the kinds of camps the Wings hold, you can play remarkably well and be invisible if you don’t dent the back of the net. Trevor Parkes did it two years ago and earned a contract even though he had me going, “Huh?” and I think Rooba might be one of those players down the line…
But he understands he has to go back to Finland and keep improving for the Wings to simply be invited back, and that’s his goal.
Brian Lashoff #23: Lashoff was gassed, absolutely gassed, but determination and the plain old desire to set a good example as a leadership got a sore and exhausted defenseman through the drills and occasionally allowed his offensive instincts to shine through. I still think that he’s a Brad Stuart in the making, and I still think that he’s an absolutely wonderful man as well as a Swiss Army Knife defenseman in the making, but as he’ll tell you below, he knows he needs work, too.
Nick Jensen #71: So does Nick Jensen, as Nick Jensen told me. The gangly right-shooting, fleet-footed wild stallion makes his share of defensive gaffes while trying to be the elite offensive defenseman that he could be but isn’t quite skilled enough to play, at least with his body still growing, but he’s an awesome passer and a puck-mover with loads of potential. He’s smart enough to know that he can get much better, too.
Xavier Ouellet #54: Ups and downs. He came on in a big way during and after the scrimmage and he’s started to display the no-frills, no-fuss, no-muss, equally almost invisible to Rooba/Glendening in the puck-lugging defenseman’s style that garnered him a contract, but when Ouellet is not engaged or interested, and he’s not using his slick but not speedy skating and superb vision to make plays, fire off hard shots and shut down his opponents with positioning instead of physicality that he simply does not possess…
He becomes a defenseman who is an inch of height and ten pounds from being “small,” and sometimes he’s been very disinterested. He’s got to get more consistent, because the glimmers of Quebec League dominance he’s shown were indeed worth handing an entry-level contract to. He could be something special.
Ryan Sproul #22: Sproul has been very streaky as he is still very much so growing into his body and very much so growing into his game. The Wings have already seen that double-barreled cannon of a shot and his remarkably fleet-footed skating stride with those big gangly legs gliding over the ice, and they’ve seen his thunderous body checks, too, but there’s growth to be had on and off the ice, though not between the ears. He’ll fill out yet and he’ll fill out his game so that he doesn’t need to rely on his big body as much as he should his skating, and his potential remains off the charts.
Ben Marshall #50: Marshall’s a bit of a puzzle to me, but a good puzzle, because he’s still got three years of college eligibility left and he will use them. He’s grown a good two inches and twenty pounds from the high school junior I saw break his hand on the third day of the Wings’ last prospect camp held at Joe Louis Arena, and he is indeed a fine puck-moving defenseman whose somewhat short legs skitter efficiently up and down the ice, and for a “small” player, he sure likes twisting his hips and grinding down his opponents, too…But his job on a deep University of Minnesota team involved not screwing up as opposed to keying the power play and playing as a top-pair defenseman, and he needs to get to that top-pair status a year or two down the line to start fulfilling his pro potential. That being said, he’s determined to do it, and that’s awesome.
Richard Nedomlel #3: And Nedomlel makes three inattentive players. Much more easygoing than Tvrdon or Frk, Nedomlel still uses his language and still uses his almost Mike McKee-like loosey-goosey-happy-smiling nature to fade in and out of focus, and like McKee, he was so big so early that he’s still a little too accustomed to being able to run people over. If he’s to turn pro, he’s going to learn in a hurry that being six three and two hundred and five pounds ain’t going to do you much if you can’t back that up with will and skill, and while his skating has come miles and miles from the stumbly-wumbly play he was a year ago, and his stickhandling and passing went from very “meh” to very good, he’s just too casual and sometimes too goofy for his own good.
You don’t want a gigantic physical #5/6 defenseman who loves to crash and bang but can keep up with a Red Wings-like level of skill and skating to go around with a scowl on his face, and in a skill development camp, it’s almost impossible to make someone like Nedomlel scowl, but both he and McKee would be helped by a little less, “Aw, shucks”-ness.
Gleb Koryagin #77*: Great hands, great skill level, still a raw skater and still immature. He needs to go back to the Oakland Junior Grizzlies, graduate high school (he’s not quite 18) and keep working on his game and his skating.
Petr Mrazek #34: Sometimes it’s hard to read Petr because he’s so very easygoing and so very level-headed that it can be easily mistaken for cockiness, especially if you don’t know that he’s actually kind of shy. But Petr is Petr and he had a great day despite some serious fatigue and nearly pulling his groin doing the splits. Mrazek’s already learning to temper that over-athletic style by positioning himself better and not flailing around the net nearly as much. He doesn’t get turned around, his glove remains Hasek high but it’s not a liability, his blocker hand is great, his stick positioning is sound and he has an excellent poke check, he butterflies well, gets back up, doesn’t flop, keeps his torso upright whenever possible…He just needs to get started on what should be a successful professional career, and he needs to continue to bulk up so that he doesn’t tire as easily.
Jake Paterson #68: At the other end of the experience spectrum, Jake is only starting to swim up the Wings’ stream, and he’s only starting to look like someone who can do more than stop pucks with pads as careworn to gray and soft as Mrazek’s are spotlessly white and stiff. His fundamentals are sound, his toes are remarkably deft, his glove placement is good and his blocker is solid and he’s not a big boy weight-wise (and despite losing nine pounds recently, this overweight blogger knows “big”...I’m starting to feel like a big white walrus around these relentlessly fit players and front office personnel), he’s a wide body naturally, like Thomas McCollum, and that’s going to benefit him when he starts to fill out as he’s simply a natural puck-blocker. That being said, he does get frustrated and let pucks by him, and there are holes along the perimeter, through his elbows and sometimes in his five hole. He’s much less combative than Mrazek, much more composed and Corey Schneider-ish, but there is potential galore…and a lot of work to do.
But he’s got time and the work ethic to get ‘er done.
Repeating the audio parts:
From the morning, here are my interviews with…
• Robert Rooba (nice guy):
• Ted Pletsch:
• Andreas Athanasiou:
• Kellan Lain:
• And Brendan Smith, talking about the bus shenanigans and the tough turnaround time today for creatures of hockey habit:
And here are my afternoon interviews with…
Wings prospect and Saint Cloud State University defenseman Nick Jensen was particularly thoughtful…
• Swift Current Broncos defenseman Richard Nedomlel was a little more…casual…
• And Vancouver Giants forward Marek Tvrdon did his best to keep up while speaking in English and over Michael Jackson…
• Incoming Grand Rapids Griffin Tomas Jurco was very accommodating…
• As was University of Minnesota defenseman Ben Marshall…
• And I asked Brian Lashoff a very hard question: what would a player say to fans who read about the exploits of the prospects taking part in this year’s camp and believe that the players are going to immediately contribute to the Wings’ cause?
I’ve been told that I won’t have many opportunities to interview players after the scrimmage, but I will do my best to snag a couple of interviews. Next year I’ll try to find the funds to bring more than my point-and-shoot camera with me, or maybe I’ll at least find the confidence to share my shots.
For now, I’m saving up any leftover funds for the prospect tournament and main camp (the tip jar will return) and a Kindle as I can’t afford an iPad, but will need a mobile typing surface as there aren’t many plugs and fewer flat surfaces to type upon, and sometimes even I can’t read my written scribble.
In terms of tomorrow’s level of coverage, I’ll just have to let you know how I feel in the morning. Right now I think I might go light and take a damn nap because I have yet to sleep soundly here in Traverse City, and then maybe do a write-up in the evening as I’m going to try to actually rest before I pack up and leave for home on Saturday.
And again, please keep commenting and letting me know what you liked, what you think can improve and which players you want me to keep a close eye upon tomorrow. This is a business of constant learning, and I’m only halfway up my developmental curve.
Add a Comment
Please limit embedded image or media size to 575 pixels wide.
Most Recent Blog Posts
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.