The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/10/12 at 01:05 AM ET
There are two ways to start this entry, and I’m going with them both:
1. About ten minutes into Grand Rapids Griffins assistant coach Jim Paek’s drills with the “afternoon group,” which happened to be “Team Lidstrom,” I was taken back to my childhood by a torrent of f-bombs so loud, so sharply spoken and so eloquently used as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and even prepositions and articles that I thought it was my father speaking (and dad was a probation officer in Detroit in the 70’s and 80’s with a veritable Jedi knightship in cursing). It would turn out that Brian Lashoff had later told me that the players were a bit tired from some serious dry-land training earlier in the day, but that they needed to be brought to attention, and as such, it was good that what was said was said.
The players have been in Traverse City for three days, on the ice for three days and engaging in two-a-day sessions for two, and they’re simply a bit mentally and physically wrecked from the wear and tear. Since traveling in from their hometowns and home countries on Thursday and Friday, they’ve been bused up to Northern Michigan, pushed through a “getting to know you” scrimmage and have ground out sessions of dry-land training alternated with some incredibly fast-paced skill development, power skating and systems play drills on the ice.
So, despite the fact that the almost dramatically streamlined nature of this year’s camp keeps the players mentally and physically engaged, they’re looking forward to actually sleeping past 7 in the morning and not having to arrive at Centre Ice Arena until 4 PM for Bryan Rufenach Day and then their first real chance to scrimmage against each other at full speed from 7-9 PM. They need a bit of a mental and physical break—especially given that about ten hours after their scrimmage ends, they’ll be scrambling out of bed to start another two-day stint of split sessions, culminating with one final scrimmage and a round of fitness testing on Friday.
2. While I was typing up what turned out to be the abbreviated “morning” entry, I kept on looking at these weird exercise implements placed near my traditional Chair for Writing (for the last two years). The door to the real “mezzanine” section overlooking the ice (the hallway overlooking both rinks is a mezzanine, but Centre Ice has placed extra risers above the north end of the Huntington Rink to squeeze in NHL personnel during the prospect tournament) had this bizarre double cable with an almost cheetah-striped pattern on it, leading back to a balance ball, one of those half yoga balls with a platform on top, and there was an exercise step-up platform next to that, and a frickin’ huge log, a real log, with finger holes strategically placed into two locations. In the middle of the lobby area, there was a big, 50-pound medicine ball, dimpled down from its weight.
As I kept typing away, reading about the Wings’ interest in Shane Doan and the Winter Classic Alumni Game(s) press conference, Wings capologist Ryan Martin started working with Aaron Downey, one of the Wings’ strength and conditioning coaches (alongside the newly-hired Peter Renzetti), dutifully discussing the on-ice portion of the morning’s activities, and thinking about watching the prospects work their way through what looked like slightly unconventional exercises after reading Nick Barnowski’s write-up…
And along came Mike Babcock, who managed to do the vast majority of the exercises—and later, when the prospects were doing them, choosing not to refrain from wiping a mischievously evil grin off his face—and when he asked me about being a “blogger,” I stated that I tend to be the type of blogger who tries to put out fires, not start them. He thought that was downright odd given what bloggers tend to do, and I rambled on about this, that and the other thing, being thoughtful this, controversy gets old that, and he asked me to start a fire. I said Nicklas Lidstrom would return to play defense…he laughed, and said, “At the alumni game!” and I replied, perhaps pitifully, “And do another Dr. Rahmani commercial.”
I got to speak to Babcock for over ten minutes later on in the afternoon, but from then on, it was a very different kind of afternoon.
Having more or less stuck to the script on during the first split sessions days’ morning and afternoon activities, and having gotten the drills down in today’s morning entry, I decided to stake out the mezzanine and watch the prospects work out.
Which was a wonderfully disastrously successful failure. Two days in, the on-ice drills are more or less clockwork, and clockwork two minutes early at that: the prospects are on the ice by either 8:25 AM or 2:25 PM, Tomas Storm and Jim Bedard split the skaters into skill development and goalie positioning drill teams at 8:28 or 2:28, by either 8:58 or 2:59, Andy Weidenbach is ready to take over to work on power skating, and by 9:30 or 3:30, the players are done with power skating, the goalies are off the ice early and the Zamboni scrapes the ice from 9:30 to 9:45 or 3:30 to 3:45, with players filing back onto the ice for Jim Paek, Keith McKittrick, Chris Chelios and Jiri Fischer’s skill drills, which start at iether 9:58 AM or 2:58 PM and run until about 10:30 AM or about 4:40 PM, with the afternoon session dragging out a wee bit because players lollygag for a bit longer.
The off-ice training begins around 8:45 or 2:45, and the players wrap up their workouts fifteen to twenty minutes before the players do, and file in from the outside entrance to watch the last bit of on-ice drills.
So this very compulsive typist was trying to set up shop in the lobby, then shuffling back out to the rink, hedging back toward the still empty lobby, choosing to just say, “Screw it, I’ll stand here for fifteen minutes,” and right after the players got underway, Nick and I more or less ambushed Babcock and got to speak to him for a good while—which is very important as Babcock has seen enough, and is headed back to Detroit tomorrow.
That’s not to say that he hasn’t put in enough effort: he tends to pore over spreadsheets of players’ fitness data, chat with Ken Holland, Jim Nill or Ryan Martin, work his own phone as the Wings’ brass is very clearly trying to do more than evaluate their prospects and enjoy the golf (Holland, Nill, Martin and Babcock have either been having confabs or have been working their phones for significant chunks of time every day, and during this afternoon’s split session, Babcock did the “cup my hand over my mouth so no one can readm y lips” move he does on the bench, for about five minutes). But these players aren’t really going to be Babcock’s at all as Jeff Blashill will be up at the end of the week to introduce himself as the Grand Rapids Griffins’ head coach, and he, Jim Paek, Jiri Fischer and usually Keith McKittrick run the show during the prospect tournament. Babcock will see the few players who make it to the main camp, and he’ll work them very hard.
But the players worked very hard today, and having now seen both their on-ice workouts and off-ice fitness regimens, holy crap, are they getting the snot beat out of them.
After speaking to Babcock, I got to witness “Team Lidstrom” (refer here for a roster) go through five of what Willie Coetzee told me were a total of ten stations of circuit training, engaged in amidst perhaps the most awesome cluster**** of fans and NHL prospects imaginable as the Zamboni scrape yields people coming and going onto the concourse and right through the players’ stations as they work. Even during the prospect tournament, it works that way, but there’s more of a defined line between players and fans, whereas here, it’s Brendan Smith’s fault if he throws the 50-pound medicine ball and it hits you, not the other way around.
Aside from Smith cheering on Tom McCollum and the occasional, “How many of these do we have to do?” questions that were answered by passersby, myself included, the players were simply working too hard to talk, way too hard.
From the five stations that I was able to see, they started in the workout room (otherwise known as a 24 Hour Fitness location) by pulling those same cheetah-striped tension ropes all the way from a wall about thirty to thirty-five feet away, using one to essentially do a straightforward punching motion (or what some might call a “fist pump,” or the crowd participation part of Hail to the Victors).
The second tension rope stretch involved pulling the rope from one’s left or right side, twisting it out front as the player’s torso pivoted.
The third involved going out into the hallway and carrying what is simply a log with finger holes—no grips, no straps, just individual finger stalls, like a bowling ball, except shallower—through a series of lunges, leaps and “Cuban” lifts, for 150 feet south and then 150 feet north.
The players would follow that up with carrying cannonballs—chained to softballs—all the way down the 300-foot concourse separating the two rinks, down to the back door, and up the concourse again, trying to keep their butts underneath them and their guts from spilling out.
The fifth station involved pairing up with someone to throw the 50-pound medicine ball upward from a lunged position with the feet a shoulder’s width apart to approximately a foot in front of the other player, who’d have to pick up the ball and toss it right back, ten times.
The sixth involved players getting up on that half yoga ball to balance themselves while yanking on the 30-foot cheetah tension cord from the door to the mezzanine bleachers, with Aaron Downey suggesting that big Mike McKee, who may look 6’4” and 190 on the ice but is more like 6’6” and 230 off it, to try to use one hand while keeping his rear end muscles tight…
And the seventh involved doing two push ups with one’s elbows extended outward, then jumping up onto the step, then hopping back down and doing two more pushups, and doing that ten times.
The eighth, ninth and tenth stations probably involved being audited, sitting in a crowded waiting room at the Secretary of State office when it’s 100 degrees out and there’s no air conditioning and then letting spiders crawl all over you…
Or whatever the Wings’ version of the eighth, ninth and tenth circles of hell are, because the players were just exhausted, and they’d repeat stations for an hour. On top of that, as several told me in both the morning and afternoon, Renzetti’s decision to have the players warm up by stretching outdoors yielded “grass burn,” which is not a nice thing to have to be dealing with when you’re putting hockey equipment on (and I might mention that, despite the best efforts of the Wings’ equipment staff, when you’ve got 42 players skating, mostly in gear that’s been worn all year long save the players’ gloves, helmets and the “breezers” covering their pants, there is a certain eau de testosterone emanating from the rink).
Nobody complained. Some players made better faces than others. For whatever reason, they were all carrying those small pint-sized water bottles instead of something bigger, and they guzzled those puppies down as they drizzled with sweat, but the symphony of pain was perhaps only matched by the lack of sympathy from the usual 8-to-12-year-old boys running about, insisting that they can do a better job or that they want to try. Some of them belonged to the training staff and some of them were just 8-to-12-year-old boys, and if there was a gigantic testosterone bubble afloat in the rink, the kids popped it by not giving a rat’s butt about the effort, intensity, attention to detail and plain old pain the guys were in.
I felt awful for ‘em, but they’re professional and would-be professional athletes, and I’m also an overweight 34-year-old blogger. When people work out that hard for a cause, I admire their fortitude and am generally content with my lot in life given what I’ve seen it takes to do what they’re doing for a living…
But as Babcock himself said it—and he’s much more fascinated by the fitness part than the on-ice part given that he knows he won’t see three quarters of these kids ever make the main camp—these players have to have a drive to train and a drive to compete and a drive to want to improve and take part in that 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, 365.25-days-a-year job that is being a professional athlete, and as Babcock said while citing Chris Chelios, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and the recently retired Nicklas Lidstrom, these players have to find that “drivetrain” while knowing that it’s only going to get more and more difficult for them to keep up with those younger and faster than them, should they ever make the NHL.
That’s not empty or loose talk, and that’s why I hope you take my assessments of these prospects as my earnest attempts to positively but realistically frame them as talented individuals. I think the harshest reality of watching these camps over the past five years is watching names pop up online, whether it’s via my search engine monkeys, on Twitter, in foreign-language newspapers, of the vast majority of the players involved in these events either spending their hockey careers as minor pros, AHL’ers, guys who get the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, or, more often than not in a day and age where a team’s AHL franchise is its developmental arm, just as the Grand Rapids Griffins have become the defacto Junior Red Wings, in Europe.
Names like Evan McGrath (who was supposed to be a Kozlov-like sniper), Tyler Haskins, Drew MacIntyre, Miroslav Blatak, Nils Backman, Ernie Himelfarb, I could go on, some of them make the NHL, some of them keep playing hockey somewhere, and some move on.
The Red Wings are willing to invest the time, energy, effort and especially money into developing these players into the best athletes and best people they can be, however, regardless of the result, and for the vast majority of these prospects, the future is still very bright, and that’s what matters for now. What happens in the fall and beyond is up to them, and up to chance, to some extent, so this is a time to be positive and to be hopeful.
But these are prospects who are, with few exceptions, a long ways away from the NHL.
On the ice, I kinda had it down in the morning. After Paek’s f-bombs, the players settled down and settled in for a slate of layered drills designed to encourage d-to-d passing yielding up-the-middle offensive rushes, board battles and attempts to clear the puck through the side boards to minimize risk, retrieving dumped and chased pucks, whether from the goaltender or from defensemen who would let themselves be had on purpose, and—as Paek stopped a couple of drills to point out—not just “wheeling” it around the boards to the safest open man, but instead having the courage to fire the puck up the gut on occasion because a forward is smart enough to know that while you need to have that defensive “out” along the boards, in a system like Detroit’s, “Wheel, wheel, wheel!” is a statement rarely heard by the rink mics because, “Get it out and get rid of it” is not a strategy the Wings employ.
And it’s that Wings’ system of play that requires defensemen taking part passively in the dump-and-chase and go-the-other-way drill to “gap up” and shadow the forward to take away his time and space, it’s that system which requires players to have their sticks on the ice and ready for a pass, to try to gain that extra edge in skating to the inside of their opponent to charge through the neutral zone with speed and roar in on a 2-on-1 with 2 viable options in shooting or passing to a winger smart enough and hardworking enough to skate himself into a scoring position.
This stuff is easy to describe but hard to describe done well because the X’s and O’s move and have to move within certain boundaries and at certain paces depending on the situation. Ideally, when the Wings attack, their speed and numbers overwhelm their opponent, and if they do not, the players’ abilities to pass, regroup, go d-to-d to reset their opponents’ defensive formations and then send pucks to wingers down low who have outlets skating toward the net, are lurking behind the net or are nudging toward the faceoff dots from the boards all available. Ideally, when the Wings defend, their players essentially behave like the limbs of a starfish, circling and twisting and curling as necessary to take away chunks of the defensive zone as much as shooting and passing lanes, with support always willing to rotate in and help win a puck battle while the other limbs adjust as necessary.
Ideally, the neutral zone is a place traveled through as quickly as possible on the forecheck and territory surrendered as slowly as possible via remaining close to one’s opponent (that’s basically what “backside pressure” is, not allowing opposing forwards or defensemen to skate up the ice without someone from the opposite team nearby, trying to take away their most direct route to the net).
For the moment, the retrieval, dump-in and transition drills allowed the players to start ratcheting up intensity for tomorrow’s scrimmage, and the most intriguing drill of them all involved Paek timing alternations between five-on-five drills started at one faceoff dot where the defending team would “win” by getting the puck out, or the attacking team would “win” by sustaining time of possession until the whistle, all with no shots, and then once that whistle went, those five-man units were free-for-alls, with shots and rebounds in play and the blueline serving as the system by which the other side got possession of the puck and the ability to attack what was very regularly their own netminder.
Just as players fell over during Storm’s stickhandling drills and Weidenbach’s skating drills today, players took hard tumbles and rubbed each other out on regular occasions as they battled for possession, and even though this is indeed a summer camp, I’m talking something Jiri Fischer said yesterday to heart: the coaching staff will have a word with the players regarding fighting, dissuading them from doing so, or at least dissuading them from going full-out during tomorrow night’s scrimmage as, “Brothers who fight are still brothers; brothers who hurt each other fighting are no longer brothers.”
So yes, I expect a ton of intensity, energy and enthusiasm from a more wakeful and rested team tomorrow—as well as a serious amount of butt-dragging on Wednesday from both them and myself (expect a shorter write-up, especially with the Winter Classic Alumni Game presser taking place on Wednesday)—but after seeing the players push themselves to their limits in terms of skill development, training and battling with each other, it’s going to be most intriguing to see which players know how to channel friction and frustration toward the kinds of sound defensive plays, scoring chances and especially composure that the Wings value so very much, and which players plain old get pissed off when the gloves are figuratively off.
In terms of player assessments, keeping it shorter and sweeter this time around as they’re combined…That and I’ve been writing since I got back to the hotel at 5-something, and you’ll see the time-stamp as eleven-something.
Again, remember, these are assessments of prospects playing against prospects, in July, and I am not buttering their bread, but I’m trying to explain their skill sets positively. These kinds of assessments will be very different come fall, and for those of you not familiar with these, I talk more about the players I am more familiar with. Players with asterisks next to their names are try-outs and players with two asterisks are AHL-only players. Okay, there’s only one of them…
Willie Coetzee #45: Again, I like what I see from Willie. He’s still a work in progress in terms of his long-term outlook, especially given that he’s always going to be undersized, even as he’s bulked up considerably, but he’s a speedy and shifty, maneuverable skater, he stickhandles fantastically well, he’s a good passer, solid shooter and he sees the ice quite well for both playmaking and sneaking in as a sniper.
Brent Raedeke #47: Again, Raedeke is your meat-and-potatoes defensive forward with perhaps a step between merely “speedy” players like himself and the true speed demons like Darren Helm. He’s also a bit undersized, but he’s built strongly and absolutely excels at winning faceoffs, clearing pucks, being in the proper position to shut down opponents using his skating or body position and when he does have the puck in an offensive role, he doesn’t just clear it to the perfect spot 9 times out of 10, he also knows how to make plays and set his teammates up. Lots of heart, determination and quiet leadership from him.
Trevor Parkes #37: Parkes may be the opposite of both players in that I’m starting to think that at the AHL level, his hands need to catch up with his feet. He’s the kind of power winger that can choose to use his size, strength and superb speed for a big man to skate around or preferably skate through his opponents, and he can backcheck superbly as well, but he’s got hands, and sometimes he doesn’t use them as best he could when he bulldozes his opponents.
Andrej Nestrasil #49: Nestrasil, like Parkes, spent his year going up and down in the AHL, and he’s more of a skate-around guy than a skate-through guy, but he’s no less big or well-built. He’s a playmaker and a sniper in his own right but he needs to remember he can do those kinds of things that he did as a near-elite scoring winger in junior hockey, and perhaps unlike the ever-enthusiastic Parkes, the understated Nestrasil needs to channel a little more flair. His skating is very good and there is a power winger of the scoring variety somewhere in there.
Riley Sheahan #15: I’m starting to see why the Wings called Sheahan up. It’s not just that he’s got way more offense than University of Notre Dame saw within him. He’s a strong two-way center with good size (6’2”-ish), a very broad frame that has more to be added to it in the core strength department and he’s an agile and adept skater with great vision who skates up the middle as much as Parkes sticks to the wings. Sheahan wants to go right up the gut toward the net, and that kind of natural instinct and fearlessness is a good thing.
Landon Ferraro #41: Hearing Ferraro talk makes me think he plays better. That being said, he is, again, a very long-term prospect. He’s never going to be bigger than his opponents and he has a little ways to go yet until he’s fully up to pro size, but he’s a wonderful playmaker, sneaky scorer and still a strong, strong bowlegged skater that can be utilized very effectively as a two-way center or more accurately used as an offensively-charged winger. He can take faceoffs to boot but he still gets bumped around and knocked over a bit too easily.
Andreas Athanasiou #78: Again, I hate to use the “H” word, but he’s built like Helm. He’s not tall but he’s lanky as lanky can be so he looks like he’s got to be six three, he does indeed squeak between players, his passes are good and he’s got an accurate shot, but there isn’t too much oomph to it, and while he is a pretty natural skater, he remains an underpowered one. He needs to grow into his body and he needs to bring the disparate elements of his game together, but for someone just drafted, you can see all sorts of good pieces there.
Kellan Lain #57*: Big. Fast. Defensively reliable. Very big. Very fast for his size. But more or less generic thus far, other than being able to keep up quite well.
Dean Chelios #24*: Dean started to show more of his offensive flair today, and it’s something he continues to need to show more consistently as he’s built like his dad—wiry—so he’s got to work twice as hard to keep up at more than the college game. His sniper’s touch is there, his skating is excellent and he is diligent and conscientious but sometimes his confidence is lacking.
Ted Pletsch #67*: At this point, I feel like calling this try-out a “poor man’s Riley Sheahan.” An inch taller and a few pounds heavier, Pletsch also likes to go up the middle and has good hands and feet, but they’re just a wee bit slower and a wee bit harder than Sheahan’s, and in this business, that’s enough to make the difference between a top prospect and a superb try-out.
Travis Novak #56*: Travis hasn’t stood out as much as I thought he would, but it’s only been two days. He’s still very thin and still not particularly strong but he’s a speedy playmaker who has the kind of maturity you’d expect from a senior. Good defensive play, very reliable, just not outstanding.
Julien Cayer #65*: Ditto for Cayer. He will probably impress more during the scrimmage as he’s more or less a big checking winger who does his best when there’s body contact to be had. His skating has improved and his hands have as well over the years so he’s very serviceable and he may be in the running for an AHL-only deal if he impresses in September.
Adam Almqvist #53: Again, I am so glad that the player whose jersey says “AlmqUist” is coming over to the U.S. So incredibly skilled, so zippily speedy, wonderful passing, great shot for someone who uses a five-foot-tall stick and yet he was the player who huffed and puffed the most and looked to be bursting at those almost tiny seams at times during the workouts. He’s not a big man and he’s not yet a strong man in the core, built up top but not from top to bottom, and he needs to come to the AHL to get into North American shape. Dark horse, my friends, dark horse.
Brendan Smith #2: If Smith. You’ve seen him. He’s an NHL-caliber defenseman, but he already told MLive’s Brendan Savage that this is like a vacation for him, and while he follows the drills and does do a good job of both rallying the troops, encouraging ‘em, keeping ‘em sharp and serving as the morale officer and soccer-game starter, he’s kinda half-assing it because he simply is so impeccably talented that he can get away with it. That being said, he fell over during some of the skating drills, too, and I think that if this is a vacation for the man who still needs to do some mellowing and some getting-serious-ness-ing between the ears, he’s going to have a pleasant wake-up call tomorrow night.
That or he’ll breeze right through that, too. I worry about Brendan in that respect.
Gleason Fournier #46: His feet and his hands. Fluid skater, excellent playmaker, hard shot, and the body still hasn’t matured. High high high skill level but he doesn’t necessarily put things together, though he has played at the AHL level and can get it done there in spurts. Fournier still puzzles me three years into watching him, because he could slowly but surely turn into one of those French-Canadian defensemen with offensive flourish, or he might be plateauing where he is.
Max Nicastro #58: Big, strong, big, strong, big strong big strong. But he’s also an excellent skater, he’s got a heavy, heavy shot, he passes well, he’s wonderfully responsible defensively and he is just starting to come up to speed in terms of his conditioning and getting back into the game after having to skate on his own for a long period of time. He needs the chance the Griffins have given him to both restart his hockey career and to cash in on his potential as a viciously physical defenseman who has the skill to keep up with his peers.
Mike McKee #73: Big, strong and so very young, McKee is brash, bold, bemused, full of potential as a physical defenseman that doesn’t have to work as hard as Nicastro did (Nicastro was this skinny little twig when he first came to camp, and now he’s this huge man; McKee is just this huge man who’s going to get bigger), his skating is good but could be a little better, his passing and shooting are good but could be a little sharper, and I guess I would say that about his focus. That and he needs to quit chewing tobacco. So does Ferraro. It would not hurt him to go back to the USHL, but it would also not hurt him to go to Western Michigan and have to play for Andy Murray, and I hope the Wings steer him in that direction.
James De Haas #74: More along the lines of a slightly undersized skilled defenseman, he certainly has the wheels and he certainly has the playmaking ability to impress over the long haul, but is very much so someone who needs to play in the BCHL to retain his college eligibility as he has yet to grow, never mind grow into his body.
Thomas McCollum #38: With Thomas it will always be between the ears. That and in closing those holes just over his leg pads on his glove and blocker sides. Very large at 6’2” and at least 210 very fit pounds, no longer charging out headlong to challenge shooters (by “playing back in his crease,” McCollum might as well say, “Not skating out to the hash marks on every shot,” because his over-commitment could be that glaring), he’s a great puckhandler, his glove is excellent, his blocker superb, he slides in and out of the butterfly with ease, he no longer labors when going from side to side, he no longer turns his body away from the puck to make diving Hasek-style saves, and he needs to take Dominik’s, “I cannot worry about the last shot, I can only stop the next puck, and worry about the next puck, and worry about the next puck, and then, I, I, I, I do not know, I know,” except without the Hasekian rambling.
Parker Milner #29*: Parker is a great fundamental goalie, there is no doubt about it, he has wonderful hand positioning, he’s got a mobile top and his lateral agility is fantastic, but he’s a bit undersized and he plays like a classic pro-fly goalie wearing proglo pads from 2003. He’s got those super-stiff thigh rises that were nearly unstoppable when goalies were allowed to wear thigh boards and “landing gear” that was three inches thick, but he doesn’t have that, and that means he’s got a big five hole.
Tomas Jurco #28: The magic hands slowly reappeared. New gloves with four backrolls and perhaps a little less jet lag revealed the sniper within. Not so much is made of Jurco’s playmaking, and he really can be an elite passer when he wants to be, but he’s got a helluva nose for the net, too, and while he really hasn’t grown much physically—I’d say that’s the only real disappointment, he hasn’t been able to bulk up that very wiry frame as much as one would like for a player graduating to the AHL—he is indeed from the Slovak Power Forward factory, and he likes to snipe.
Louis-Marc Aubry: He only took a twirl or two, and I’m not sure if he’s going to scrimmage. I hope his ankle heals because the Wings aren’t the only people who have high opes for this gigantically gangly forward.
Teemu Pulkkinen #62: I said it before and I’ll say it again: underpowered. The North American kids coming up are built like the log the Wings’ prospects were lifting today, with tree trunks that almost bulge at the hips as well as the shoulders, and both Almqvist and Pulkkinen almost have these pectoral fins. For Pulkkinen, part of that may stem from the fact that he rebounded from shoulder surgery during his draft year, but I think North American training’s going to help his core, and he’s gonna need that when he eventually comes over here. Hands are silly good. I mean Jurco can indeed do the goal-scoring YouTube stuff, and he does it in the most subtle ways, but if there was a lower-key channel for the more casual fan who was like, “Oh, there’s an awesome top-shelf shot, and hey, another, and hey, seeing-eye through players’ legs, yeah, that might be groovy…” It’s not that Pulkkinen is compared to Brett Hull because he doesn’t care or something. It’s because he’s a little lower-key and because there is some subtlety to what he does. What he does is probably pretty close to NHL level right now in terms of his shooting and passing, but those little legs need to get more efficient, and that’s why he’s here.
Mitchell Callahan #42: I like Jim Nill’s assessment of Callahan better than I do Brendan Savage’s assessment. If Wings fans are looking for Darren McCarty, Mitchell is just not quite big enough to doff gloves on such a regular basis, but man, can he piss people off, and he has indeed grown into a superb defensive forward over the past year. His skating is better, his sense of vision and positioning are better, his shot is still a bit of a loose cannon but his passing is good and again, while Smith’s goofing off because he can, Mitchell is smiling and yapping it up and then he’s serious as Jim Paek’s curse words, bang, works hard, in line, laugh laugh laugh, when the puck drops, it’s yes sir, may I have two others, and how exactly do I make that pass so that it’s more efficient?
Alan Quine #59: I can’t say enough about his skating. He’s not Helm fast but he is Helm elegant and can really dart in and out of traffic with ease, slippery and sleek as he slithers up the ice and creates scoring chances as a playmaker on the rush. Still a bit too wide in the shoulders but man, can he fly and man, is he serious about doing his best to earn a contract this year. Hard-working and another nearly fearless player in terms of going up the middle.
Marek Tvrdon #60: Sigh. I know Tvrdon had a remarkable year with Vancouver, but he looks remarkably jet-lagged. He looks quite a bit like he did last season, even though the Wings have signed him. Big, big, big man, cut from that Slovakian Power Forward Factory’s mold, with maybe a little more of a Kopecky-like checking winger/passer’s feel, and he’s just a big human being, but he’s a bit underpowered and he has yet to really show what he can do.
Martin Frk #48: Again, like Pulkkinen, except a step down in terms of the shooting and a step up in terms of being big and lanky. He’s much more a power sniper, if that term exists, who does indeed need to work on his skating and needs to work on filling out that body, and the fact that he missed so much time with a concussion does show, even in July when guys are building a foundation for the following year, but he goes to the net and he goes there to place the puck inside it.
Luke Glendening #72**: Defensive forward, defensively sound, great skater but almost a right-handed Brent Raedeke. He’s fast, he’s smart, he knows how to get the puck out of trouble and there is some scoring flourish in there but even coming out of college, he needs to mature a bit physically. That’s why he’ on an AHL-only deal and that’s why he’s coming out of college as a captain who’s going to get a lot of playing time in Grand Rapids.
Rasmus Bodin #75: Hard to read. Big big big and physical as can be, but he’s playing like a physical “Swede” two weeks after he was drafted, not the guy who plowed over people half a foot shorter and fifty pounds lighter than him in the second division…
Which is exactly why he’s here. Because he is big, and his hands and feet are more than serviceable.
Michael Babcock #70*: Like Chelios, as defensively conscientious as his father, as hardworking, as energetic and enthusiastic and attentive, he is an incredibly bright young man who is very fast, works very hard and very much so needs another year of USHL hockey before he goes to college and hopes that he won’t be 5’9” for the rest of his life. Funny kid, too. When I said his dad was scary, he looked at me with those big blue Babcockian eyes and said, sincerely as could be, “I KNOW!”
Phillipe Hudon #61: Not particularly big at maybe 6 feet tall, but man, does he play a power forward’s game in a smaller package. Very fast, very aggressive, physical and hard-charging, really making “understated” in terms of his stickhandling and playmaking a good, good thing to be called, also enthusiastic and just very hard-working. He says he wants to improve and he plays like it.
Robert Rooba #64*: [makes signing noises] He played for the Espoo Blues in Finland and I can see that. He’s got pro poise to his game and he’s a very naturally big man with good hands. But I’ve seen so very little of him, and I need to see him in a scrimmage, maybe two. Hands are there, feet are there, poise is there, strength is okay.
Brian Lashoff #23: This will become a refrain: Brad Stuart II, hopefully three or four years down the line. It’s hard to believe that he’s only going on 22 because he is so big, so strong, so very remarkably solid, so mobile and so dependable. He’s also like captain serious—and I don’t mean Jonathan Toews—because he’s so very businesslike on the ice. He’s benefited from having a brother playing pro hockey and he is so even-keeled and so very cool and collected…I mean, it might take him another two or three years, he might be making jokes about the prospect camp like Smith, but even if I didn’t think he was a mensch, he’s just too solid to not count out as someone who could come up to Detroit in a pinch and just fit right in.
Nick Jensen #71: Again, he makes me smile. As Nicastro came into camp four years ago as this wiry little fellow, Jensen came in as this stick figure with a buzz cut, and now with this big flowing mop of red hair, he blazes up and down the ice and makes gorgeous plays. He’s got a ways to go in terms of finishing, but his legs and vision are already worth an AHL try and he’s got two more years of college to go.
Xavier Ouellet #54: I am incredibly surprised that he has not impressed me more. I have heard so much of him and I certainly see his calmness and patience with the puck, his ability to turn so many high-risk situations into easy clears, but when someone comes out of the Quebec league, you expect them to reflect its heritage as a higher-scoring, more finesse-based league by backing up the numbers he’s put up, and he’s more or less blended in aside from the fact that he’s safe and a seamlessly simple skater.
Ryan Sproul #22: Sunday was a bad day. Monday was a very good day. Big man, gigantic shot, very mobile, try to stir Nicastro’s developing size and Smith’s puck-carrying vision and you can see why the Wings are so high on him, but he not only needs to get a bit more filled out, but a bit more consistently there. He’s growing and that’s part of it, it’s not immaturity, it’s just finding that focus.
Ben Marshall #50: Still very undersized, still very slight, still very fun to watch. If he was taller and had one more year of college under his belt, maybe we’d be talking up what will be inevitably Rafalski-like comparisons down the line, but for now he is an excellent playmaking defenseman who is dealing with being 5’10.”
Richard Nedomlel #3: Again, I like what I see from him. His finishing skills weren’t as good as they were on Monday, but his skating has made a remarkable improvement over the course of a year, he’s more mobile in general, he’s more physically fit, he’s still a stringbean but to see him put that muscle on it and to know there’s room for more, he could be a very big, very physical defenseman with some oomph on his shot and some oomph in his checks.
Gleb Koryagin #77*: Still trying to figure him out. Short stick, wonderful hands, deft deft deft touch, good feet, comes and goes in terms of consistency.
Petr Mrazek #34: Petr is Petr. Rolls with the punches, is as easy-going and level-headed as can be, it’s never going to be between his ears with Petr, it’s going to be working on adding size and heft without adding bulk, it’s going to be ensuring that he does not lose any of that wonderful mobility or combativeness when he is tamed somewhat, its’ about making sure his glove still stays high without it turning into a liability and it’s about bearing down a bit, because Petr is also like Brendan. Petr is a remarkably naturally talented athlete who hasn’t had the opportunity to get pumped up very much, and as much as I hate to say it, it might take getting ran to jostle him. That being said, there are fewer holes than you saw at the World Juniors, much more poise, but he’s also trying to digest all of Bedard’s wisdom and some of that is taking time to process.
Jake Paterson #68: Big kid, very happy to be a Wing, apropos comparisons to Corey Schneider, he is a combative goalie whose rebounds are “soft” and in his feet or near his hands, easy to pick up or kick away, his stick is very good…And he can get backed in, and those soft, soft rebounds can be popped into the back of the net. He’s got Petr’s even-keeled demeanor and could have some of Thomas’s physique down the line. But he’s two weeks from being drafted.
• This interview with Brian Lashoff was short as I simply asked him where Jim Paek’s, um, words, came from.
• Rasmus Bodin. Nice kid. His English is better than my Swedish, and he did the best to make sense of my questions:
• Jake Paterson is everything you would expect a goaltender two weeks away from being drafted by Chris Osgood’s team to be: in the moment, soaking it in, and a little pixelated:
• Alan Quine has bulked up considerably physically going into a contract year, and he’s on the ball, too:
• And Phillipe Hudon was downright eloquent while speaking about hockey and his ability to bounce back from a season split between Cornell and the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigres due to some OCD issues. Great kid, and I can relate.
And again, one from Nick Barnowski and one from me.
• Barnowski and I spoke to Mike Babcock for ten minutes:
• And he took the lead when we both spoke to Wings capoligist Ryan Martin for another ten minutes.
In the programming department, it’s been two long days with four to go, and as there is no practice tomorrow morning, and the Bryan Rufenach situation is obviously very delicate, I am going to hang back from the rink till about 5. That means that, if it’s okay by you, I will actually sleep in for the first time in a while, I’ll rise when I’m able, shower, update the blog and try to take it slow.
Wednesday is going to be nuts between trying to get back from the scrimmage and scribble something between 9 and 11 and be up at 6 the next morning to cover a 7:40-5:20 day at the rink and the Winter Classic presser, so I’m curious as to what you’d like me to write regarding that recap as well given that a George-style recap would involve being up till 2 or 3. I’ve tried to pace myself better and while today is an exception to the rule, this is riding a fine line and I’ve got to be careful to make sure you get your money’s worth and I don’t get sick or start calling Petr Mrazek different people’s names again.
Please let me know what you think about this entry, let me know what you’d like to see more or less of, who you’d like me to focus on, and if there’s anybody you want me to interview. I’ve been so busy that I’ve been barely able to look at any comments and this would be a good time for some reflection before jumping back into the two-a-days.
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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.