The Malik Report
Red Wings overnight report: disagreement about Smith, disparate news and an out-of-the-office notice
by George Malik on 08/18/11 at 07:10 AM ET
Updated at 6:26 AM: As the Free Press’s Helene St. James continues penning what is now an epic ten-player slate of pre-season assessments regarding Red Wings players (we talked about the first, um, nine [wow] on Wednesday), we’ve had our share of disagreements as to certain players’ roles and futures with the team, but today…We come to a prospect whose role with the team in both the immediate and relatively distant (by Wings fans’ standards) future invokes debate as a matter of course.
Especially given the progress he’s made over the past four years as a Red Wings prospect at three seasons’ worth of NCAA and one season’s worth of AHL levels of hockey, it’s not an overstatement to suggest that Brendan Smith is indeed Detroit’s top prospect in terms of natural talent and “upside,” and at 6’2” and a very liberally-listed 190 pounds (he was at or around a still lanky 180 at the summer development camp), with some filling out to do, he may not be the team’s next Nicklas Lidstrom, but at least my viewings of him lead me to suggest with a high level of certainty that he’s going to be the team’s next Niklas Kronwall.
Smith could very well post 40-50 points at the NHL level while displaying a Kronwall-like level of physical play, and after an injury-shortened rookie season in the AHL still produced 32 points over the course of 62 games while Smith plied his trade for the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Wings have talked Smith up as being NHL-ready right now, and despite the fact that the team’s signings of Ian White and Mike Commodore and Jakub Kindl’s value as a non-waiver-exempt prospect, the Wings are still suggesting that Smith will be given every opportunity to make the team during training camp…
And St. James believes that Smith could very well be best-served by making the team:
Management considers Smith to be knocking at the door, and will give him plenty of looks during the exhibition season. The Wings have, essentially, 14 forwards slated for Detroit (Cory Emmerton can’t be sent down without being exposed on waivers) and, including Smith, eight defensemen, which along with two goaltenders adds up to one over the 23-man roster limit. It’s rare that at least one player doesn’t suffer an injury during camp, however, so that situation may resolve itself.
If not, Smith may be sent down because he’d be the easiest one to ship out, but he won’t spend the entire season in the minors. He made way too favorable of an impression on management last season.
Smith, a 2010 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, is a future top-four defenseman in the mold of Niklas Kronwall: He can skate, handle the puck, run the power play and has a physical edge. Smith isn’t imposing—he’s 6-foot-1, 170 pounds—but like Kronwall, and like Chris Chelios, Smith has a knack for knowing when to run guys.
The Wings want Smith to learn from watching Nicklas Lidstrom. Like many young players, Smith’s enthusiasm sometimes gets the better of him. He needs to figure out when to pick his spots and when to play it safe.
If he has a great camp, Smith could emerge from the exhibition season too high on the depth chart to be sent to the minors. He’s got more skill than Jakub Kindl and Mike Commodore. The Wings could opt to send down Commodore; he cleared waivers in January when Columbus exposed him. While his salary now is a lot less, he’s not irreplaceable should another team grab him.
The fact that Smith seems ready for the NHL is a great problem for the Wings to have. Smith will have to compete to be on the squad, but he also should raise the competitiveness of Kindl, Commodore and even Jonathan Ericsson.
I dig the theory that Smith should soak up as much of Lidstrom (and Kronwall and Stuart and White and even Kindl and Ericsson and Commodore’s) example(s) over training camp, the exhibition season, and hell, given that we’re talking about Nicklas Lidstrom, the Wings could either send Lidstrom over to Grand Rapids to practice with the Griffins for the sake of making the Wings’ defensive prospects’ jaws drop both on the ice and in the weight room or they could send the prospects on field trips or…
I’m getting carried away, aren’t I?
Anyway, I do not dig the theory of the Wings bringing Smith onto the team unless he earns a top-six role outright and is going to be playing every night. He may be nearly NHL-ready, but I just don’t see how playing 25+ minutes as the Grand Rapids Griffins’ top defenseman isn’t as beneficial as playing ten minutes for the Wings every second or third or fifth game as the team’s #7 or #8 defenseman.
I’d also suggest that for maturity’s sake, attempting to earn an “A” on his jersey on a Griffins team stacked with leadership (see: Brian Lashoff, Garnet Exelby, Greg Amadio, Chris Minard, Chris Conner, Travis Ehrhardt, Tomas Tatar, Doug Janik, Joey MacDonald) might be better for him in the long run as well. Smith’s come a long way from the cocky hot dog that couldn’t do a drill without attempting to show off or snicker three or four summers ago to reining in his enthusiastic personality while increasing his attention span, but another year’s worth of seasoning in the AHL…
Unless he plays the kind of hockey that convinces Mike Babcock that Smith’s ready to join a rotation of three defensive pairings that plays nearly 20 minutes a night (which Babcock digs doing early in the season) as of October, I just don’t see the point of bringing Smith to the NHL simply to plant his butt on the bench.
The rest of this morning’s Red Wings-related news fits the term “scattershot” pretty well, or in plain English, it’s all over the place.
• Let’s start with charitable hockey news, per the Orangeville Citizen, which reports that Grand Rapids Griffins strength and conditioning coach Aaron Downey’s House9 charity will hold its annual hockey game in Shellburne, ON this Friday. Smith, Cory Emmerton, Jakub Kindl, Tomas Tatar, former Griffin Jamie Tardif, former Wings Kyle Quincey and Brad May and even Daniel Carcillo(!) will take part in the game;
• According to Carbonnear, Newfoundland’s VOCM, Danny Cleary also took some time out of his schedule to take part in the “Bridges to Hope marathon,” which benefits low-income family child care;
Shifting focus slightly to alumni news, and this is in the “extended family” category, the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema notes that former Griffin Michael Nylander, who actually spent last season rehabbing from a serious neck injury incurred on an accidental hit from Derek Meech while Nylander was playing for the Rochester Americans, will get a try-out with the Philadelphia Flyers;
• In the, Alumni We Didn’t Know About department, the Victoria Times-Columnist’s Mario Annicchiarico and Cleve Dheensaw report that one of Mike Babcock’s former assistant coaches when he both coached the University of Lethbridge and the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs, one Parry Shockey, will coach the WHL’s Victoria Royals (and you get a bonus cookie if you said, “Huh, Victoria, that’s where the Red Wings came from back in 1926 when Bruce Norris brought the Victoria Cougars);
• If you’re interested in reading a little Russian, Sergei Fedorov’s still going strong with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL, and he told Sovetsky Sport’s Sergei Ivanov that he’s considering unretiring from international hockey to help Team Russia, and that aside from a minor back injury that’s bothering him at present, he’s healthy and expects to have an excellent season while wearing the captain’s “K”. He also reveals that he knew that Ruslan Salei would sign with a KHL team (he signed with Brad McCrimmon’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl) if the Red Wings didn’t re-sign him;
• And sticking with both alumni and overseas news, kinda-sorta Wings prospect Daniel Larsson and HV71 Jonkoping of the Swedish Eliteserien will play an outdoor game against Mattias Backman and Linkopings HC in Jonkoping on December 10th. The rink they’ll play at will have a capacity of 20,000 fans;
Heading back over to this side of the pond and talking about a member of the House9 game (potentially, anyway), the Toledo Blade’s Mark Monroe noted that the Red Wings’ decision to re-up their affiliation with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye means that coach Nick Vitucci can expect to receive either McCollum or Jordan Pearce on assignment from the Grand Rapids Griffins:
“It’s a first class organization,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “They take great pride in building from within through the draft and developing through their [minor league] system. It’s a great opportunity for us to be a part of a Stanley Cup contender.”
The current agreement likely means that Detroit, which has five goalies in its system, will assign one of its netminders to Toledo.
“If you do the simple math it looks like we would get one,” Vitucci said. “They haven’t said at all who we would get. There will be a great battle throughout the Grand Rapid camp. It’s certainly in their hands. Whoever we are going to get is going to be a good, quality netminder.”
Either Jordan Pearce or Thomas McCollum will likely filter down and end up being the No. 1 goalie for the Walleye. Both have spent time in Toledo the past two seasons.
McCollum, a first round draft choice of the Wings in 2008, has spent parts of the first two seasons of his pro career with the Walleye.
Pearce, who started his career in Toledo in 2009, spent most of last season in Grand Rapids. Pearce had a 2.89 goals against average for the Griffins.
• And my French is nonexistent, but Wings prospect Xavier Ouellet spoke to Sports Juniors Magazine’s Pierre-Luc Chenel about the fact that he’s been named the captain of the former Montreal Juniors, who’ve moved to the Montreal suburb of Blainville-Boisbriand, and will be called the Armada. Here’s a rough translation of the part of Chenel’s article where Ouellet addresses his captaincy…
Despite two seasons’ worth of [QMJHL] experience, Ouellet hasn’t worn a letter on his jersey. “It’s a great honor and I was surprised. I’d done so when I was younger, with Team Quebec when I was 17. I want to bring leadership and continue to work hard,” said the 18-year-old player who plans to keep playing the same way.
Over the last two seasons, when the team was in Montreal, Xavier Ouellet had veteran Nicolas Chouinard as his captain. The defender from Terrebonne isn’t ashamed to admit that he’s learned a lot from Chouinard. “He was always there for the players on the team. He had a great work ethic,” [Ouellet] said. “I want to bring the team together.”
And here’s what he said about being drafted by the Wings and attending their summer development camp:
A second-round pick of Detroit in June, Xavier Ouellet attended the team’s development camp a few days later. “It was good. I was overwhelmed at first, but ultimately, it’s still hockey. It was a dream come true and it’s another step toward [making] the NHL.”
With the other Red Wings’ prospects, Ouellet will be in Traverse City in early September to take part in its prospect tournament, which includes several other NHL teams.
He was disappointed that he was ignored by Hockey Canada’s World Junior Evaluation Camp, but the 6’1” defenseman was able to find a positive spin on the situation. “It allowed me to work harder and prepare better [for the season]. I want to prove that I belong there,” said Ouellet, philisophically, who participated in the Ivan Hlinka tournament (under-18’s) a year ago.
If you missed it, the Wings announced that they’ll be selling tickets on an individual-game basis on September 1st, and Kukla’s Korner’s Doug Miller confirmed that Steve Yzerman will be featured as a “Legend” in EA Sports’ NHL 12 game…
In news related to popularity and celebrities (erm), Todd Bertuzzi’s now the leader in Bobblehead voting on the Wings’ Facebook page…
• And you can thank my well-paid search engine monkeys for this one: the ATP tennis world tour’s website’s Matt Fitzgerald says that Tomas Berdych, a Czech tennis player who’s currently ranked 9th in the world, is a Wings fan:
Question: The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup this year. You’re a huge Red Wings fan… what are their chances of reclaiming the title after last winning it in 2008?
Berdych: I’m a fan of the Red Wings but I was rooting for the Bruins as well because they also have Czech guys playing there. They did a great job, especially David Krejci as he had the most points in the playoffs which is a big achievement for him. I’m not a guy who should be judging whether or not the Red Wings can do better. I know some of the guys there, particularly the Czech ones, like Jiri Hudler. They know what they need to do and I think they’ll have a strong team again next season.
In terms of the NHL’s Research, Development and Orientation Camp, I’m excited about the concept of removing the trapezoid from behind the net to allow goalies to roam again, but it’s the concept of testing 4 minutes of 4-on-4 and then 3 minutes of 3-on-3 play to extend overtime (click the link for NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman’s write-up, and the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby says that the NHL’s tinkering with ideas to better determine whether pucks have crossed the goal line) and avoid shootouts which produced a comment from the Wings’ executive in attendance, assistant GM Jim Nill, who said this to the Sporting News’s Craig Custance:
During the morning session, overtime consisted of four minutes of four-on-four followed by three minutes of three-on-three. It’s a better opportunity to end games before a shootout. The idea of three-on-three in overtime piqued the interest of many observers, including the Coyotes’ Dave Tippett as he coached one of the demonstration teams.
“Imagine you have a three-on-three scenario where Detroit has [Henrik] Zetterberg, [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Nicklas] Lidstrom out and Pittsburgh has [Sidney] Crosby, [Evgeni] Malkin and [Kris] Letang,” Tippett told Sporting News. “Imagine that. That would be awesome.”
But there are concerns about fatigue with so few players on the ice. That’s one reason the idea of two-on-two, tested last year, was scrapped.
“That’s the things we’re watching,” Detroit Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill said.
Regarding my talk about the sticky wicket that is acknowledging that hockey players (or anybody else) should receive greater support if they’re suffering from mental illnesses, ESPN’s Scott Burnside says that the deaths of Rick Rypien and Derek Boogard have spurned the NHL and NHLPA to reexamine their behavioral health programs, as well as, according to the Globe and Mail’s Alan Maki and David Shoalts, the role of enforcers as even Steve Yzerman’s at least willing to suggest that his former bodyguard’s job took its toll…
“It’s a brutal job,” said Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who was Mr. Probert’s teammate and friend during their playing days with the Detroit Red Wings. “No matter how good and how tough these guys are, you’re going to hurt your hand, get hurt by a punch. As a goal-scorer, if you have an off-night, you don’t get a goal. As a fighter, you’re out there with a 250-pounder and if it’s not your night, you get hurt.”
However, Mr. Yzerman stopped short of saying there could be a link between stress and injuries and depression and substance abuse. Several other GMs said they don’t know but think answers will come in the growing scientific research into concussions.
But in the realm of treating players for mental illnesses, only NHLPA special assistant to the commissioner Mathieu Schneider was willing to state the obvious while speaking to the Canadian Press:
“Maybe it would have been better had Rick been able to lean on some teammates and guys there for support,” said Schneider. “But those type of things have always been kind of taboo. You just don’t talk about it.”
I’m not about to suggest that players should be urged to publicly acknowledge any struggles they’re having, or that reporters should “out” them, but in an era where we’re supposed to, at least in private, be able to talk to each other about everything from broken bones to the eventual necessity of colonoscopies and prostate exams, there’s something to be said for encouraging players to suggest that their players can talk to them or talk to someone if they’re “down,” “gloomy” or seem to be “struggling.”
While we’re talking about that which shouldn’t be mentioned, I hate to admit it, but that dumbass who asks people to pay him money to read about bogus trade rumors bugged Bill Meltzer to weigh in on Fabian Brunnstrom trying out with the Wings, and Meltzer suggests that Brunnstrom had a rough go even during his rookie season in the Swedish Eliteserien (click at your own risk), so it wasn’t as surprising as one might imagine that the player we shall now call Fabio had trouble adjusting to playing in the NHL right off the bat…
And combining uncomfortability and medical stuff, I’m gonna be out of the office for at least part of today, and the NHL will be releasing its national TV schedule today at 2 PM EDT—which might mean that the Wings could release their TV schedule for the 2010-2011 season—and the AHL will release its regular-season schedule, which means that the Grand Rapids Griffins will post their schedule…
Because I’m heading to Saint Joe’s in Ann Arbor to hang out with the mom. I’m going to bring the laptop as keeping up with hockey news is therapeutic for me, especially when I’m in a place as uncomfortable as a hospital, but I’d say it’s 50-50 as to whether mom will be released or whether the tests she’s undergone over the past two days will mean that she’s going to stay in the hospital for another day, so she needs the company and I need to nag her about being too damn polite (where do you think I get it from?) and not asking for things that will make her more comfortable.
That and she wants me to smuggle her in some Diet Coke, so I’ll buy a 2-liter of decaffeinated stuff (when someone’s having EKG’s and ECG’s, it’s not a smart thing to give them caffeine) and bring it in. The mom is OK and right now we’re crossing our fingers that she just needs to work on her electrolytes to nip this fainting stuff in the bud, but she’s receiving the usual battery of heart and head tests to make sure that she’s OK there. My guess from the start is that this has been an endocrine issue (long story there and that’s stuff I don’t need to share publicly), so hopefully all this means is that she needs to start drinking Gatorade at work or something.
Update: Man, if you think it’s annoying that I don’t start writing this till 3:30 or 4:30 in the summer or that MLive doesn’t post Khan’s columns till 8 AM some days, try Sweden, where many newspapers’ websites don’t post stories till 10 or 11 AM local time. That’s the reason that even in the summer, I’m up till 5, 6 or sometimes 7 looking for news.
Anyway, according to Aftonbladet’s Emil Karlsson, the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation posted a story in which Henrik Zetterberg and the Sedins very publicly committed to playing in the 2012 World Championships in Stockholm and Finland if they are able. There was apparently a powwow between Swedish players and the Tre Kronor’s management and coach, Per Marts, today, and Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson attended as well…
And who’s the author? “Niclas Lidstrom.” As in Niclas with a “C,” not a “CK.” I hope he’s not a relative of the Red Wings’ captain, because that would be very confusing…
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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.