The Malik Report
from Ansar Khan of Mlive,
Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland will be at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo this week, interviewing potential draftees, talking trade with fellow GMs and working on signing the team's restricted free agents.
"Calls (from other GMs) are starting to come in," Holland said. "Teams are kicking the tires, like we're doing. Before they go into their (organizational) meetings they want to see what's out there. If there's a trade that makes us better we'll look at it."
Trades are more apt to happen in the days leading up to the entry draft (June 26-27) and during the event itself in Sunrise, Fla. A thin free-agent market might prompt more teams, including the Red Wings, to look to deal. Some clubs faced with a salary-cap crunch, including the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins, could be forced to move a key player or two for prospects and/or draft picks.
Holland stressed that much of the club's improvement must come from within. They need young roster players like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith and Petr Mrazek to take the next step.
The things you learn...The Free Press's Helene St. James spoke with a certain Eddie Olczyk regarding Grand Rapids Griffins coach Jeff Blashill, and she reveals a chapter of Blashill's history that even I did not know aobut:
Eddie Olczyk had an inkling nine years ago that Jeff Blashill one day would be an NHL coach.
In 2006, the two worked side by side coaching the United States squad at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, with Olczyk as head coach and Blashill as assistant. Blashill left quite an impression, one that's grown as the two kept in touch over the years.
"He's a terrific guy, first and foremost," Olczyk, a former NHL player and head coach who currently serves as a color commentator for NBC, told the Free Press. "For a goalie, and I always kid him about this, he gets it. He's a real intelligent guy. He's a people person. He's direct and to the point and when you talk to young players that have played for him at young levels, not pros, that's what sticks out. I saw that when we worked together. I knew someday he'd get the opportunity because the passion is there."
St. James continues, and I'm glad that she points out the fact that Blashill's coached both the vast majority of the Wings' prospects as a head coach and the vast majority of the Wings' veterans as one of Mike Babcock's assistant coaches in 2011-12:
The good news about the spotlight shining so brightly upon the Grand Rapids Griffins is that the Wings' press corps is affording us extra perspectives upon the team's brightest prospects. The not-so-good news is that it can be overkill for the average reader, and the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan, the Free Press's Helene St. James and now Fox Sports Detroit's Keith Gave have all penned articles about Anthony Mantha's struggles to adapt to pro hockey.
Is it all bad? Not at all, especially because Gave spoke with both Mantha and Wings GM Ken Holland about the honest truth that explains the turning-pro struggles of so many players who were the biggest fishes in relatively shallow leagues: in most cases, the players haven't fully comprehended how incredibly deep the ocean of professional hockey really is, and as a result, they're either under-prepared mentally, under-prepared physically, or they plain old struggle, get down on themselves, and take a season or two to truly acclimate to their surroundings.
In some cases, players burn out, but in most cases, and as appears to be the case in Mantha's, their difficulties in their first pro developmental seasons are perfectly-timed to reignite their developmental curve, as Holland suggested to Gave:
The Grand Rapids Griffins didn't steal their 3-2 OT win over the Utica Comets as much as they literally and figuratively wrestled the game from their opponents.
In an affair in which officiating was little more than a spectator sport as clutching, grabbing, hacking, whacking, after-whistle scrums, slugs, chirping and otherwise near-mayhem was allowed to take place, Utica's Nicklas Jensen got tied up with Tom McCollum, McCollum fell over, 90% of the eyes in the rink assumed that the referees were going to stop play, but instead, play continued, and Griffins defenseman Nick Jensen found Andreas Athanasiou breaking free of two Comets defensemen, Athanasiou roared away from his pursuers and scored an overtime breakaway goal that infuriated the Comets and pleasantly surprised Van Andel Arena's nearly 9,000 spectators.
The Free Press's Helene St. James asked Grand Rapids Griffins coach Jeff Blashill and Red Wings GM Ken Holland to address Anthony Mantha's difficult rookie season, and both gentlemen spoke positively regarding the long-term potential Mantha's reality-check of a 2014-15 season has sent:
"I think Anthony has a skill set to be really good at the NHL level," Jeff Blashill told the Free Press. "He needs to change his habit of how he skates every day in games. Because of his elite ability, he could play without moving his feet in juniors. He needs to learn to skate at a more consistent basis, get into puck battles, and when he has puck, skate to attack. If he gets that habit, he will be an elite player."
I've been saying that for a while--Mantha glides when he needs to be churning his legs and charging forward. He's got an amazing wingspan at 6'4" and 210 pounds of mostly arms and legs, and if he can utilize them more effectively and efficiently and get away from that two-minute-shift mentality he learned in the Quebec League, he can be explosive at times.
General manager Ken Holland said, "When it comes to player development, my philosophy is I'm always nervous. If a player has too much success early, you worry they don't understand how hard it is and that they have to put in time at the gym. When they don't perform to the level expected, then adversity is a great motivator. Nobody wants to be embarrassed. In Anthony Mantha's case, what he did in juniors is hard to do. We're going to support him and push him and educate him and tell him what's expected, and then it's up to the player to decide that he wants to do the things that need to be done."
That's the rub regarding player development. Anthony Mantha has all the talent to regain his title as the Wings' top prospect, if not one of the team's top prospects, but it's up to him to "live in the gym" this summer and work on both his physical and mental gifts to fulfill his potential.
The Grand Rapids Griffins hope to rebound from Thursday's disappointing 4-1 loss to the Utica Comets when the teams battle again this evening (7 PM EDT on the AHL Live/WOOD Radio), and down 2-1 in the series, it is absolutely essential that the Griffins win tonight to ensure that they're not facing possibile elimination on Sunday.
If the Griffins do win, they'll be able to once again take back home-ice advantage, but Grand Rapids has to get much, much more traffic in front of Jacob Markstrom to solve the Comets' goalie, and they've got to do a better job defensively to stem Utica's ssuperb counterattack.
I'm hoping to contribute to some sort of live blog, but the wireless service at Van Andel Arena is shaky, so contributions will be on a touch-and-go basis; thus far I've had good luck finding, ahem, creative ways to watch the game on OnHockey.tv and stream2watch dot com. The fact that tonight's game isn't facing NHL competition might make it easier to find online.
Via RedWingsFeed, the Grand Rapids Griffins recalled three players from the recently-eliminated Toledo Walleye:
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Detroit Red Wings on Friday reassigned right wing Martin Frk from the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye to the Grand Rapids Griffins. In addition, the Griffins recalled forward Alden Hirschfeld and defenseman Scott Czarnowczan from their ECHL affiliate.
I haven't seen somebody completely change the focus of an article and produce a new product, but the Free Press's Drew Sharp did just that. Sharp drastically revised the article he posted yesterday regarding the much-watched Grand Rapids Griffins (as noted in the overnight report), producing an almost-new product that discusses the particulars who took in yesterday night's loss to Utica...
There were at least a half-dozen executives and scouts in Blashill's office. Even Johan Franzen, sidelined with concussionlike symptoms much of the season, hung around outside, chatting with Mark Howe and Chris Chelios.
"Yeah, it is a little crowded around here," [Griffins captain Jeff] Hoggan said with a laugh. "But instead of being a distraction, you have to look at it as the organization having a lot of confidence in what we're doing here."
Suggesting that Ken Holland's not long for the general manager's seat, at least assuming that he can pull off another championship via his "rebuild" of the roster minus one Mike Babcock...
He deftly hides his emotions, but privately, Holland must feel the same level of excitement and energy that Babcock acknowledged last week, after taking the Toronto Maple Leafs' head coaching job. If they climb back to playoff elitism in the next couple years -- with zero top-10 draft picks in a salary cap-driven league -- Holland adds one last glorious chapter to an already-illustrious career.
And Sharp's final focus involves Teemu Pulkkinen, who's most likely poised to blossom under an AHL-graduating coach who knows how to get the most out of the Finnish sniper:
Updated 4x at 2:46 PM: The Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner has posited an unusual question, asking MLive readers to weigh in as to which member of the Grand Rapids Griffins will have the best NHL career. It is at least worth noting that Wings GM Ken Holland doesn't believe that he can count the number of probable key contributors and depth players on one hand...
"I think we're probably hoping two, three, four can make it next year and certainly some of them – (Xavier) Ouellet, (Alexey) Marchenko – played games for us last year. But I'd say seven, eight, nine that have a chance to play for the Red Wings at some point in time.
Is it the greatest collection of prospects ever growing in Grand Rapids? Time will tell, but let's give the nod for now to the 2013 Griffins, whose Calder Cup Trophy team included the likes of playoff MVP Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Petr Mrazek, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco. All are Wings now.
The caveat Holland inserted into his reply was this: You never know how a youngster will develop. Then there's the other challenge - finding a roster place for them.
To me, whether we're talking about Larkin, Mantha, Pulkkinen, Bertuzzi, "AA," Nosek, Marchenko, Ouellet, Sproul, Jensen, any of the Griffins' players, the biggest unknown really is what goes on within a player's mind as he develops, and whether his physical, mental and on-ice development can intersect at the right time.
The Red Wings give their players all the information they could possibly need as the prospect development pipeline fosters strength and conditioning, on-ice systems play, off-ice time management, nutrition and plain old growing-up mentorship from the Griffins' leadership and Jiri Fischer, but who makes the jump and who doesn't really depends on what the players do with the knowledge they're availed of and the opportunities for growth that they're given.
In any case, the Grand Rapids Griffins get "back at 'er" against Utica this evening (7 PM EDT on WOOD Radio and the AHL Live), and the AHL posited a "morning skate" set of notes regarding the series...
The Grand Rapids Griffins' defense is very balanced, but there are certain players that really jump out at you as NHL-ready, if not a little "over-ripe"; for the Griffins, Teemu Pulkkinen, Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet in particular look like players who are biding their time in the AHL until the Wings can find spots for them.
The Free Press's Helene St. James duly notes that Marchenko's more than ready to play NHL hockey, though the Wings' summer roster plans (see: free agency) will likely affect both Marchenko and Ouellet as they're waiver-exempt for another season:
Marchenko, 23, is likely to be a part of Detroit's defense corps from the start of next season. He played 13 games with the Wings this past season, but he was limited by an injury suffered at the end of February. He was back in the lineup for the regular-season finale and played in the first two playoff games when former coach Mike Babcock favored Marchenko over Brendan Smith.
At 6-feet-3, Marchenko adds size, and he has the rare asset of being a right-handed shooter. He was tops on the prospect defense depth chart in 2014 when a sprained ankle set him back significantly. It wasn't until this past season that he regained the form that impressed the Wings' front office.
St. James continues, and there are no questions about Marchenko's mobility any more. He's an incredibly useful multi-tool defenseman; at the AHL level, he's got some offensive flair, but at the NHL level, he's more of a Brad Stuart type, a safe, steady puck-mover, and you can't have too many of those kinds of players...
But Kronwall, Ericsson, DeKeyser, Quincey, Smith (restricted) and Kindl are already on the Wings' roster, and it doesn't benefit Marchenko to play as a 7th defenseman.
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.