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Red Wings overnight report: there ain’t no easy way to predict prospects’ futures

Between reading USA Today’s Kevin Allen talk up Phoenix Coyotes prospect Andy Miele, an undrafted free agent who tried out at the Wings’ summer development camp in 2010, and recalling a gander at the Wings’ hot-key-labeled laptop containing the keys to the XOS video capture software mentioned in the Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa’s notebook on Sunday (I chose not to take notes as to what the stickers on the keys said) at last year’s training camp, I’d started thinking about the “ones who got away,” but RedWingsCentral’s Sarah Lindenau was a step ahead of me.

On her Left Wing Lock blog, she notes that while the Red Wings have tended to reap the benefits of signing undrafted free agents who perform well at the team’s summer camps and annual prospect tournament—which is only three weeks away—the Wings passed on at least two players whose services have benefited the Wings’ rivals, including one who the team may have wanted to sign to bring a little size and grit to their forward lines:

Most notable among this group are Chad LaRose and Joel Ward. The duo was able to rebound from being cut by Detroit twice and eventually land with other NHL teams. Each player has proven to be NHL talent despite never being drafted and also being passed over by the Wings.

Chad LaRose nearly earned a contract in 2001, but the Red wings had concerns about his size and odd skating style. After a successful second season with Plymouth of the OHL, the Wings invited the Fraser, MI product back for one more try. Detroit eventually cut LaRose, but wanted to send him to Finland to work on his skating. He turned the offer down and opted to play his overage year in the OHL in the hopes that he would earn an NHL contract. Larose would eventually ink that entry level deal, but it was with the Carolina Hurricanes instead of the Red Wings. The Stanley Cup winning forward still plays for the Canes and signed a lucrative off season deal that should keep him in Raleigh for the rest of his career.

Joel Ward took a longer road to the NHL playing four season with the University of Prince Edward Island of the CIS. He tried out for the Red Wings twice but never earned a contract. In 2003 he tried out for the Minnesota Wild and returned to Traverse City to participate in the prospect tournament for a third time. The Wild eventually signed him, but he would only play 11NHL games before becoming a free agent. Ward signed with Nashville and he seemed to find a home for his strong defensive game. The 6-foot-1, 218 pound forward became an integral part of the Predator’s “defense first” style of play. The hard working Ward became a free agent this off season and signed a lucrative deal with the Washington Capitals after fielding offers from several teams.

As Lindeau points out, the Wings also chose not to sign enforcers Raitis Ivanans or Brian McGrattan, who’ve plied their trade quite successfully at the NHL level, and at the other end of the spectrum, while the Wings are quite high on one of their latest signings in gritty forward Trevor Parkes, the player they chose to let go in Parkes’ stead, Darren Archibald, latched on with the Canucks, where he’s earned “hidden gem” status (according to the Hockey Writers’ Jeff Angus).

Long story short, if the Wings choose to sign none of their summer development camp or prospect tournament try-outs, both the other seven teams in attendance and scouts sent to Traverse City from the rest of the NHL, AHL and ECHL teams and even European ones won’t hesitate to help the unsigned try-outs to further their careers…

And we’re not even mentioning other players who’ve carved out very successful European careers (Mikael Johanssen’s done fantastically well in the Swedish Eliteserien, as have Anton Axelsson and of course Stefan Liv, and even lesser lights like Eric Himelfarb and Evan McGrath are at least getting paid to ply their trades elsewhere) or solid minor pro showings (like Lindenau’s mention in Brandon Seagal), nor the players that the Wings either simply chose to ship out when they tuned out (Ville Leino), became too much trouble to put up with (Sean Avery), simply lost a training camp battle for a spot (Kyle Quincey) or ended up trading away (the Wings’ main compensation for Robert Lang, Tomas Fleischmann earned quite the payday from the Florida Panthers in July, and the first-round pick the Capitals received in the deal was used to pick Mike Green) to acquire another player.

In the case of the Robert Lang trade, Ken Holland’s suggested that despite losing Tomas Fleischmann and the pick that became Mike Green in the process, the Wings wouldn’t have beaten the San Jose Sharks in 2007 to advance to the Western Conference Finals and/or come of age against the Ducks, but that trade, the Leino dump (we’ll see whether Mattias Backman salvages his and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen’s status as compensation for Leino over the next 5-7 years) and the loss of Kyle Quincey (who turned out to have a herniated disc in his back which made him impossible to trade after the Dallas Stars backed out of a deal when they’d seen an MRI of his back in the fall of 2008) in particular seem to send Wings fans away from their keyboards, seething at the fact that even the Red Wings’ star-studded front office occasionally has to make decisions for the present that don’t look brilliant down the line.

One could very well make the opposite argument regarding the Wings’ decision to give what is currently the last spot on their 50-man roster to Dick Axelsson, who hopes to finally mature into a player ready for the North American pro grind this season in Sweden, essentially forcing the Wings to trade a player like Chris Minard, who earns too much at the AHL level ($300,000) to ever be called up to the big club, or perhaps Jamie Johnson or Doug Janik to simply free up the roster spot to sign one of the players that impresses them at this fall’s prospect tournament.

The Wings are essentially gambling on Axelsson’s future at the potential expense of another player’s development because he is, in theory, 20 goals in the bank if he ever gets his head on straight, in no small part because Hakan Andersson’s watching him as closely as Modo Ornskoldsvik coach Ulf Samuelsson and GM’s Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund have promised the Wings that they will over the course of the next year.

Even in the age of the kinds of video software that can pick apart players’ and teams’ strengths and weaknesses by pressing a few “hot keys” and a scouting staff that combines video, digitally-shared notes and scouting reports they file after watching games anywhere from Novi to Novosibirsk and anywhere in between, player development is an art as much as a science at both the minor pro and professional levels of hockey, and when you throw contracts and constraints like salary caps and roster limits into the equation, never mind the fact that players are human beings who get hurt, become “problem child” players in the eyes of their coaches or simply lose out in battles for playing time on the here-and-now roster and you get the occasional brain cramp on the part of collectives of hockey expertise.

As a reminder, the Stanley Cup will visit Michigan for most of this week, with Boston Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa showing it off at the 24th Street Sports Tavern at 9 PM on Tuesday; Tim Thomas will briefly share the Cup with fans in Davison, MI from 1-3 PM on Wednesday before taking it to the University of Vermont, and Steve Kampfer will share the Cup with the public from 11 AM-1 PM on Thursday at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, and will then shift the scene to Daryls Downtown Jackson from 7:30-9:30 PM;

In news of perhaps an impressionistic vein, I’ve kept my eye on the blogosphere’s content providers as they offer summer filler (sorry, circumstances have of late have prevented me from such dalliances), and aside from noting that Yahoo Sports believes that everyone should “secretly admire” Gary Bettman for something that the NHL’s resident Dr. Evil does well, Puck Daddy’s pals aren’t Wings fans, and as we all know, certain members of their staff not only hate the Wings, but also dislike one of the NHL’s most-hated players in Tomas Holmstrom.

The Red Wings’ resident human screen received a “by the numbers” glance at his statistics from the 2010-2011 season from DetroitRedWings.com’s Dave Burke, and one of Burke’s stats reveals why Holmstrom’s measurable contributions took a dip:

9: Games missed due to a broken hand that he suffered in a 3-2 loss to division rival Columbus January 14.  Holmstrom would return against Nashville Feb. 9.
62: Holmstrom’s 62 penalty minutes tied (2002-03) for third highest in his 14 year career and third highest on the team behind Todd Bertuzzi and Jonathan Ericsson.
-6: The net front presence was a minus 6, only the fifth time in his 14 year career that he was a minus in the category.
6: Holmstrom had six multi-point games during the regular season. One of those multi-point games game in a 5-4 Anaheim win in the middle of a season-high four game point streak at the end of October.

I don’t need to mention that the power play essentially cratered when Holmstrom was gone or playing with an incredibly sore hand to suggest that Holmstrom remains nearly irreplaceable to fellow Wings fans (nor that we should beg and plead Dr. Rahamani to select Holmstrom as his next spokesperson, “For sure”), nor do I cease to enjoy the fact that other teams’ fans hate the man so very much for doing what he does so well.

As an FYI, one of Holmstrom’s better seasons occurred in the 2007-2008 season, and the U.S. version of the NHL Network will replay the Wings’ Stanley Cup win over the Pittsburgh Penguins today at 12 PM EDT;

Speaking of hated at a Gary Bettman-like level, IIHF.com’s Adam Steiss reveals that the organization’s commissioner, Rene Fasel, is not only a lawyer, dentist and man with a Napoleon complex, but also a former referee;

If you want to talk about it all over again, the Free Press’s sports staff point us back toward NHL.com’s John Kreiser’s surprising comment made about one Ian White on Saturday…

Ian White, Red Wings—The Wings took a hit when defenseman Brian Rafalski, one of the NHL’s most underrated players, unexpectedly announced that he was going to retire with one year still left on his contract. Detroit GM Ken Holland got a good look at White during the Wings’ second-round loss to San Jose and was impressed enough to sign him to a two-year deal. White doesn’t have the three Cups on his resume that Rafalski did, but the Wings are expecting him to be able to step in and serve as a second offensive defenseman behind Nicklas Lidstrom.

The major junior hockey teams that haven’t started their training camps yet will do so by the end of the week, but the Saint John Telegraph-Journal reveals that in the case of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, who kicked off their camp last week(!), Wings prospect Tomas Jurco isn’t playing at present as the team’s saving its NHL prospects from wear and tear in light of the fact that they’re going to play in NHL teams’ prospect tournaments and main training camps;

And yes, despite having a particularly lean weekend, it’s time to sing for my supper as I’m about halfway to paying my hotel bill for the Wings’ prospect tournament and main camp in Traverse City, MI, and I need your help to get there.

Sometimes when I write my rants
I’m blogging on my bed in sweatpants
But if I want to head to Traverse City
I’ll beg for a buck (or two fifty)
With crappy poetry
Delivered stoically
Bleary-eyed as I may be
From run-on sentences
Reading Swedish with vain hopes
Of interviews and scoop’s troves
Of August treasure to share with my readers
Instead of too much information about the leaders
Of a household that’s seen its share of slippage this past week
Instead it is hockey news I seek
But at this time of year
As sore it is to hear
This and last are the deadest of weeks
For Red Wings tidbits
That are worth your web-clicks
So I’m doing the best that I can
While we burn the slow time that is August
Perhaps too much to bear?
For the impatient, there’s no doubt that it must
Grind upon the hockey-less palate
Like an olive pit hiding in the salad
Of an average Joe or Dirk
In urgent need of dental work
Taking ibuprofen in lieu of a mallet.

Hey, it’s the first poetry I’ve written in at least a year…

You’ll have to use my email address, rtxg at yahoo dot com, to donate, if you can/will/feel like it.

Update: According to Sovetsky Sport’s Pavel Lysenkov on Twitter, the KHL has chosen to allow Alexei Kovalev to remain “Kovalev” on the back of his jersey despite their compliance with new IIHF rules regarding Russian surnames, which would have required Kovalev to go with “Kovalyov,” but Sergei Fedorov will just skip the protest and wear “Fyodorov” on his jersey.

The fact that the KHL has its players wear names with Roman alphabet letters but will flip-flop regarding the spelling thereof pretty much summarizes how they work…

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You know, the prospects who got away theme is a very good one.  Let me concentrate on one I like a lot and see a lot.  That would be Chad LaRose.  He is a fairly slow skating fourth line forward who would never really fit in with the Red Wings.  He does everything he is asked to do for Carolina and that is why the fans down here love him.

Unlike many of Carolina’s players, including some of the big names, Chad shows up every game and plays his guts out.  Picture a slow, bigger Darren Helm and you have Chad LaRose today. 

His offensive upside is limited, and is probably on the way down now.  He belongs where he is and will finish his career in Raleigh.  He probably will join the coaching staff or front office if he wants to.  His limited physical assets have forced him to develop a good hockey mind.


Posted by DocF from Reidsville, NC on 08/22/11 at 11:29 AM ET

Hockeytown Wax's avatar

On the ‘prospects that got away’ point .... sure the Red Wings have let a few ‘good ones’ slide, but none of them have turned out to be a Datsyuk or a Zetterberg.  So far, it looks like Tomas Fleischmann may be the most talented of them all… and over a 20 year stretch, thats not bad.  In my head I can hear Kenny Holland say something like “geez, you can’t keep ALL of them, even though you wish you could”. Yes, a few have gotten away but, to this point, there haven’t been any game changers.

On Ian White ..... watching him play for Toronto thanks to HNIC, it seemed like there was more to his game than what we saw, almost as if playing for Toronto was stifling his skills (imagine that .. LOL). As Bertuzzi has mentioned a few times, playing for Detroit is like a breath of fresh air because they pay attention. They find out what your strengths are and abuse them instead of forcing you into a particular style. Sure Detroit has its demands and parameters, but I think being fast enough and smart enough to be a Red Wing is a small price to pay compared to what other teams force players to do.

I think Red Wing fans will be amazed at just how good Ian White really is, and they’ll be shaking their heads in disbelief saying “how does Ken Holland do it?”. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s offered a long term contract somewhere between x-mas and the all-star break.

Lastly, something else to anticipate this coming season ... don’t be surprised if Brad Stuart has a ‘holy crap’ kind of season (and I mean that in a good way). So far, the Red Wings (ie: Mike Babcock) haven’t used him much on the power play, and while he was with San Jose, thats where Brad piled up a bunch of points, so now that Rafalski is gone, Stewie is one rung closer to the top and deserving of more PP time. He’s got a great shot and I think Babs will take full advantage of that this fall.

Oh ... one other thing .... if it turns out that Fabian Brunnstrom fits in and plays well in the Red Wing organ-I-sation, that makes up for 2 Tomas Fleischmann’s.

Posted by Hockeytown Wax from West Bloomfield, Mi. on 08/22/11 at 03:12 PM ET

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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.


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