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Training camp ‘15: Impressions from the first day of the Red Wings’ training camp

Training camp is a strange beast, and when there's a new coaching staff assessing 70 players, there are learning curves for everyone involved.

The irony about the Helm-Verrier collision involved the fact that coach Jeff Blashill is introducing a slightly faster, one-less-pass breakout--and today was all about breakouts, about retrieving dump-ins, setting up from inside the blueline and skating the puck out to center, generating speed through neutral ice and attacking in a structured matter--and that required everybody to keep their heads on the swivel as the old familiar Babcockian systems have new wrinkles.

Breakouts were emphasized first when the goalie retrieved a dump-in; breakouts were authored by defensemen making d-to-d passes, or one-touching passes to forwards, breakouts were utilized in 5-on-4 penalty-killing situations, on the power play, in 3-on-3 scrimmages, utilizing "whirlpool" drills at center ice, where d-to-d and forward-to-forward passes worked the "four corners" of the neutral zone, mostly, breakouts were utilized as counterattacking impetus and to emphasize defensive positioning, with man-on-man and "zone" defense balanced out a little better than Babcock's one-player-one-defender systems.

The most intriguing drill of the day involved a 3-on-3 with line changes, all with the nets set up pulled together to the hash marks, requiring 3 forwards, 2 forwards and a defenseman or 2 defensemen and a forward to attack each other at incredible speed, and although that was a bit of a diversion from the break-out drills and defensive coverage drills, it was a hell of a teaser for 3-on-3 overtime.

I can tell you that the players saw a LOT of video, from Blashill, from Tony Granato, from Pat Ferschweiler, there was a lot of instruction, and although I was at an oblique angle, the video was preceded by a lot of emphasis on "verbage," getting the language of what the players were about to see and what was emphasized. Babcock was a video-only guy, and as Henrik Zetterberg said, the Wings were pretty darn familiar with what was going to happen in meetings and what was going to happen during practices, so there were differences that even a non-professional professional like myself could spot.

I can't say for certain that, for example, Blashill is actively trying to make the Wings a more aggressive, "event-oriented team" as opposed to Babcock's, "Let's score two goals and shut 'er down instead of trying to win the race to three"-heavy play, and I can't say for certain that Blashill was doing much more than laying down a foundation for his hockey, because today's drills were somewhat elementary and generally involved the kind of stuff that Todd Nelson was teaching the prospect tournament participants during their first morning skate--though Blashill's drills were obviously more advanced in depth and required execution--but there's a sense that the next two days are going to involve more drills that emphasize speed as much as anything else, and...

It's hard to describe, even on a chalkboard, how Blashill's teams are simply more direct than Babcock's, and I'm waiting to see whether the neutral zone play, the forecheck and the power play are as explosive as the breakouts were. I'm hoping that I'll see that extra lateral or back-to-the-point pass that Babcock employed get axed, I'm hoping that we see a simpler, more efficient style of play and I'm crossing my fingers that all that "we're going to attack the corners of the ice, and then maybe go toward the net!" stuff that the late Babcockian era fostered is replaced by the kind of north-south, go-to-the-net hockey that Blashill employed in Grand Rapids...

But I don't think that training camp alone can hammer that kind of system change home. It's going to take the exhibition season, and ten, maybe twenty games for the Wings to really grasp Blashill's tendencies and vice versa. What Blashill is doing right now is setting the cornerstone and basic foundation of the way in which Jeff Blashill, Tony Granato, Pat Ferschweiler, Dave Noel-Bernier and Chris Chelios's Wings are going to think, speak and play.

It's a learning process and a getting-to-know-you process for the 70 players involved and it's a getting-to-know-you process for the coaching staff, and while Blashill is not trying to reinvent the wheel of puck possession hockey--it's worked for 25 years, after all--he's changing the angle of the Wings' attack, and that takes time.

The Red Wings' training camp schedule is a bit funky from a media standpoint.  I got to watch Team Delvecchio's entire practice, part of Team Lindsay's practice, and part of Team Lindsay's scrimmage vs. Team Howe--which Team Lindsay won 4-3 (click for the box score)--but that was it. Players start being brought out to the media around 12:15 PM, and the scrimmage doesn't end until 12:45, and the final team's practice doesn't even begin until 12:40, so there's a limited scope of what I can see on a given day.

Given that what I saw was limited, here's what I thought of the players on each team:

Team Delvecchio

Forwards:

Darren Helm #43-Brad Richards #17-Tomas Tatar #21

Darren Helm #43 looked absolutely fantastic on the line with Richards and Tatar for about ten whole minutes. If Helm is on this line, he gets to reprise his role with Datsyuk, stirring the drink as a forechecking winger who can pressure defenders and dig out pucks for Richards and Tatar. But then Helm got hurt, and he's going to be out for a week or so due to the concussion protocol.

Brad Richards #17 looked good from what I saw of him. He looked fresh, energetic, he had a step that I didn't believe he possessed at 35 and he was a fluid playmaker and smart shooter alongside Tatar. I'm not sure I'd anoint him my first-line center based upon one sitting, but I liked his pace, I liked his vision and I like his professional attitude.

Tomas Tatar #21 Had a bit of rust on him. Tatar looked fine--strong shot, breakaway speed, good energy--but it wasn't his best day. Not everybody comes to camp looking like they've been shot out of a cannon.

Johan Franzen #93-Riley Sheahan #15-Luke Glendening #41

Johan Franzen #93 looked particularly rusty, and neither you nor I can say that we're surprised about that. Franzen, wearing all Bauer gear now, looked to be half-a-step behind, and it wasn't his conditioning that was an issue, it was just that he hasn't played since February.

Riley Sheahan #15 didn't really stick out. Sheahan was his usual self, silky smooth, a little plucky, attacking well, but he wasn't a stand-out by any stretch of the imagination today.

Luke Glendening #41 is not a great training camp player in that Glendening likes to lean on people and irritate them, and during training camp, he can use his speed to turn and burn with the best of 'em--and his stickhandling has gotten much better--but what makes Glendening a great grinder, he can't use.

Erik Tangradi #49-Tomas Nosek #83-Mark Zengerle #67

Erik Tangradi #49 didn't make much of an impression upon me, and that's because he's an enforcer. Tangradi is big, he's mobile, he can keep up, and that's about all I can tell you about him thus far.

Tomas Nosek #83 looked like he'd brought all the momentum he generated from the prospect tournament with him to the main camp. Nosek remains an understated player, but he's a big, rangy center whose sneakily superb offensive skills make you go, "Wow!" at least once every three shifts. Nosek had a superb day looking all sorts of near-NHL ready.

Mark Zengerle #67 is just a steady, secure and level-headed AHL scorer who's not going to do much more than score in the AHL. He looked sharp and he looked fine out there, but he's at his ceiling in camp.

Adam Marsh #63-Zach Nastasiuk #62-Colin Campbell #45

Adam Marsh #63 was very quiet. Marsh is taking part in his first NHL training camp, and he looked to be bobbing along, perhaps a little intimidated.

Zach Nastasiuk #62 checked, ground pucks out and generally played his brand of checking hockey, again, with another two steps to his name from the once step-slow center.

Colin Campbell #45 is a lot like Glendening in that he likes to lean on people and grind on them, and during training camp, the affable forward can only use his speed and checking ability to so much of its extent without hurting people.

And Jerome Verrier suffered a broken leg while playing as an extra forward. A real bummer for someone who was hoping to earn an ECHL or AHL spot.

Defense:

Danny DeKeyser #65-Mike Green #25

Danny DeKeyser #65 was unremarkable because he plays smoother than a baby's butt. DeKeyser looked very good with Green, especially given that DeKeyser is wont to "stay back" while Green attacks the puck carrier, he made gorgeous outlet passes, he looked nimble on his feet, perhaps another five pounds heavier than he was last year and spry. DeKeyser looks ready for the season to begin.

Mike Green is a bit of a confounding player to watch. At times Green over-attacks the puck carrier to no end, and at times, Green stays in the right position and easily makes due with a smartly-issued stick check. Green can rush up the ice on his own, or he can set up his teammates with slick outlet passes and whip hard shots on the net. And Green can also be the center of the play, a puck-lugging, net-rushing dynamo of offensive flourish and some defensive danger. He comes as advertised...

And he's using an Easton Stealth CNT stick as his practice weapon, so take note, folks, we may have to start up a Metro Detroit chapter of the, "Find Green some old Stealth CNT sticks because the 2007 model is what he still prefers" club.

Brian Lashoff #23-Ryan Sproul #48

Brian Lashoff #23 is the defenseman everybody forgets about, but Lashoff is very, very clearly looking to take someone's job, and while it's unlikely that Lashoff does more than head to Grand Rapids feeling very good about his efforts in attempting to unseat Kindl, Smith or Quincey, he's someone we should remember was a fine #6/7 defender but a year-and-a-half ago.

Ryan Sproul #48 looked like himself--a little flat, but confident with the puck, making heady rushes and smart outlet passes.

Richard Nedomlel #77-Scott Czarnowczan #79

Richard Nedomlel #77...I hate to say it, but I think that Big Richard, as admirable as he is, might be a career ECHL defender. He hasn't improved his skating, he isn't any stronger and he isn't any more urgent. He is what he is, a good minor pro with massive size.

Scott Czarnowczan #79 also appears to be a very serviceable AHL defenseman, but not much more than that.

Ty Stanton #64-Jared Nightengale #46

Ty Stanton #64 still has me befuddled. Is he just a strong depth defenseman at the AHL or ECHL level, or is he the kind of Major Junior prospect that's a no-frills defenseman worth a contract? I'm starting to believe the former--and believe that he's not going to get a job from the Wings despite being 6'4" and 200 pounds of lanky, physical defenseman--but I hope for more.

Jared Nightengale #46 is a strong ECHL defenseman who looked supremely comfortable at an NHL training camp.

Goaltenders:

Petr Mrazek #34: Petr, using a Warrior stick that gave him a little trouble, is ever Petr, a smart puckhandler when he's not scaring your pants off, a swashbuckling netminder that sometimes gives up a squeaker because he's trying too hard, but generally a rock-solid athletic butterfly goalie who is slowly but surely working his way out from the blue paint.

Matt Mancina #50: Mancina looked like himself--a big, efficient butterfly goaltender who is soaking up the atmosphere at training camp.

Connor Ingram #68: Ditto.

Team Howe:

Forwards:

Tomas Jurco #26-Dylan Larkin #71-Teemu Pulkkinen #56

Tomas Jurco #26: Had what I call "late-arrival legs," and Jurco didn't come back over here until September 10th. His hands looked fine, but he's been on the ice in North America for under a week, and that's not the greatest idea when you're trying to reestablish yourself as a scorer with pace.

Dylan Larkin #71 scored a gorgeous goal after blowing by Henrik Zetterberg in the scrimmage, and Larkin looked absolutely fearless today. I don't believe that the speedy Larkin is going to crack the NHL roster, but I do believe that Larkin is going to impress during the preseason and perhaps work his way up the call-up ladder with his impeccable playmaking.

Teemu Pulkkinen #56 had a good day. Pulkkinen looked like his spry, sneaky-scorer self, and the slightly pint-sized "Pulkky" looks to have put on 5 or 10 pounds of weight without slowing himself down.

Daniel Cleary #71-Andy Miele #22-Anthony Mantha #39

Daniel Cleary #71 didn't play due to a leg injury.

Andy Miele #22 is vying for an outside shot at the NHL roster, but he didn't have the greatest day. Miele looked like a 5'8" forward who's dominant in the AHL but has some size and strength to make up for at the NHL level.

Anthony Mantha #39 was going at 80%, perhaps because he was grateful to get through the prospect tournament relatively unscathed. Mantha doesn't have blazing speed, but his strides are powerful, and Mantha's shot can be something of beauty when he really leans into it.

Tyler Bertuzzi #59-Andreas Athanasiou #72-Mitch Callahan #57

Tyler Bertuzzi #59 was his irrepressible self, high-energy, skating standing up straight, roaring up and down the ice, checking and grinding and creating opportunities for his teammates.

Andreas Athanasiou #72 checked his speed somewhat, but Athanasiou looks more and more like a cannonball of a Helm-type forward that is ready for NHL duty every time I see him play.

Mitch Callahan #57 showed no ill effects from his surgically-repaired ACL, but the plucky Callahan is still getting back up to speed. I don't think he's going to make the team out of camp, and I think the ACL injury will be why he slides through waivers.

Evgeny Svechnikov #37-Dominic Turgeon #78-Marek Tvrdon #60

Evgeny Svechnikov #37 looked fantastic for somebody on his first day of an NHL training camp. There was no intimidation whatsoever in the cobra-sneaky slithery goal-scorer's touch and the speedy Russian generated scoring chances for his linemates as well.

Dominic Turgeon #78 looked a little intimidated, on the other hand, but he chugged up and down the ice making the right defensive play and surprisingly looking like a strong offensive playmaking foil for Svechnikov.

Marek Tvrdon #60 was quiet, very quiet.

Joel Rechlicz #73

And if I may be honest, Joel Rechlicz #73 made little to no impression as someone who is a pure fighter skating alongside NHL'ers.

Defense:

Kyle Quincey #27-Alexey Marchenko #47

Kyle Quincey #27 looked like Kyle Quincey--a little risk-taking, a little dangerous, mostly steady and simple and safe.

Alexey Marchenko #47 looked a little stumbly today, which was strange to see. He's a very technical defenseman, and I'm not sure if Go With the Flow Quincey is his best partner.

Xavier Ouellet #61-Nick Jensen #3

Xavier Ouellet #61 was himself, smooth, understated, a savvy puck-mover and someone who's "gained a step" over the past half-a-year.

Nick Jensen #3 also looked like a heady offensive defenseman, but he was mostly quiet today.

Nathan Paetsch #24-Robbie Russo #51

Nathan Paetsch #24 is a very steady and very physical AHL veteran who is going to remain an AHL veteran.

Robbie Russo #51 didn't display the same dynamic, flowing game that he did during the prospect tournament, but there were still flashes of the puck-moving Russo that was so darn impressive amongst his peers.

Andrew Prochno #75-Justin Lemcke 58

Andrew Prochno #75 still looks like someone who is best-suited to go where he is going, to Toledo, to start his career in the AHL. He's a very steady, happily bland defender.

Justin Lemcke #58 is also best when not seen too much, and Lemcke was very quiet and very steady.

Goaltenders:

Tom McCollum #38: McCollum, wearing the new CCM Premier pads and his old Reebok gloves, looked a little more sound in the net than he has previously, a little less prone to letting up squeakers or through-the-five-hole goals. He was solid in the scrimmage.

Jared Coreau #31: Coreau has better fundamentals than McCollum in my opinion, and the 6'5" netminder looked excellent in all aspects of his game as he worked his way through the scrimmage.

Team Lindsay:

Forwards:

Justin Abdelkader #8-Henrik Zetterberg #40-Gustav Nyquist #14

Justin Abdelkader #8 was the search-and-destroy winger on one hell of a line. Abby looked very, very comfortable playing alongside Zetterberg and Nyquist as the "high forward" and he generated some offense of his own in the scrimmage.

Henrik Zetterberg #40 just looks a lot more comfortable in terms of his back's ability to take hits and to plain old stretch and move a year-and-a-half after his back surgery. Whatever spunk or jam was lost during last sesaon's slide is back and he's really, really excited about having a new coaching staff to work and collaborate with.

Gustav Nyquist #14 wearing a Warrior helmet to match his Warrior everything else, Nyquist was a little quiet, but a quiet Gustav Nyquist is a Nyquist generating scoring chances and shooting the puck on net superbly well.

Drew Miller #20-Joakim Andersson #18-Landon Ferraro #29

Drew Miller #20 plain old looked like a 31-year-old who's determined to not lose his job to one of these rascally kids.

Joakim Andersson #18 was just his steady, defenisvely reliable self.

Landon Ferraro #29 was his usual ball of energy self, roaring up and down the ice to generate speed and pressure on the forecheck and backcheck.

Jeff Hoggan #81-Louis-Marc Aubry #32-Martin Frk #42

Jeff Hoggan #81 looked like a 37-year-old AHL captain with nothing to prove during training camp. He is who he's going to be the Griffins' captain under a new coaching regime this year.

Louis-Marc Aubry #32 is always something of a disappointment as he possesses Mantha size and sometimes Mantha hands, but he doesn't utilize them reliably enough to be much more than an AHL checking center.

Martin Frk #42 is hard to get a read on. Frk was energetic and skating fast, looking for the right time to unleash his hard, accurate shot, and at the same time, I'm not sure if he understands how in danger he is of losing his job.

Evan Polei #82-Connor McGlynn #80-Nick Betz #58

Evan Polei #82 might not be literally handcuffed not being able to fight during training camp, but he's close.

Connor McGlynn #80 looked like the steady, simple center he was during the prospect tournament.

Nick Betz #58 earns a big "ditto."

Kurt Etchegary #85

Kurt Etchegary #85 was still grinding up and down the ice and creating energy.

Defensemen:

Niklas Kronwall #55-Jonathan Ericsson #52

Niklas Kronwall #55 doesn't have a whole heck of a lot to improve upon and from what I saw of him, he still looks like the defacto #1 defenseman who makes slick plays and can deliver vicious hits on occasion, though he seems to prefer to allow his skating and stick-checking and positioning to cash his checks these days.

Jonathan Ericsson #52 is holding both hands on his stick more, and that's a good sign as Ericsson was having trouble adjusting to his lessened grip strength in his bottom hand by trying to learn how to be a one-hand-on-the-stick defenseman. He's a terrible one-hand-on-the-stick defenseman, but put two hands on that big CCM stick and he's a whole lot steadier and smarter.

Brendan Smith #2-Jakub Kindl #4

Brendan Smith #2 still wearing his old Reebok gloves looked happy and healthy and hale dekeing and dangling and playing his game out there.

Jakub Kindl #4 definitely appears to understand that his job is both in jeopardy and that his job is possibly his to redeem should he have a good training camp and exhibition season. He's determined out there.

Joe Hicketts #53-Vili Saarijarvi #28

Joe Hicketts #53 seemed very comfortable out there among the Zetterbergs and Nyquists, making safe, steady plays and looking to generate offense while playing as the steady defender alongside the risk-taking Saarijarvi.

Vili Saarijarvi looked like someone in his first NHL training camp--a bit wide-eyed, a bit scared, a bit over his head and at the same time, someone incredibly excited by the prospect of playing with NHL players. This was a good reminder that the possibly most talented defenseman in the Wings' system, offensively speaking, is also most definitely an 18-year-old.

Jarret Meyer #95-Jalen Chatfield #97

Jarret Meyer #95 moves very well for someone who's 6'8" and he looked safe and steady.

Jalen Chatfield #97 continued to chase the game.

Goaltenders:

Jimmy Howard #35: The sooner that you and I learn to be at peace with Jimmy Howard's inability to control his rebounds at an elite level, the happier we're going to be. Howard may be a strong #1A/1B goaltender, but even using those knee-roll-less Vaughn pads and having retweaked his blocker a bit, Howard is always going to be booting juicy rebounds out, and that's always going to be his biggest problem.

Jake Paterson #36: Paterson is learning how to not give out Jimmy Howard rebounds. He got beaten by some NHL shots that wouldn't have gotten past him in the prospect tournament but he looked solid.

 

That's my first day's take. I know I didn't take nearly enough pictures and I know I emphasized player assessments over drills. Please let me know if there's anything you'd like to see me do a little differently tomorrow, or somebody you'd like me to specifically focus upon, as this part of camp coverage is particularly interactive.

 

Let's try this again via my friend Jim Schoensee:

All images courtesy of Jim Schoensee

Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink
 

Comments

Avatar

George, I agree with your assessment of Larkin. The kid, even with all the veterans, is the most exciting and dynamic player on the ice. I would say that there’s no way he spends more than 1 year in GR….and in all likelihood will be called up during the season. He really looks like the real deal.

As I think about it, I guess the one question could be if he has the maturity to play at that level for 82 games.

Posted by Steve in SE MI on 09/18/15 at 06:14 PM ET

KelseyAnn's avatar

Daniel Cleary #71 didn’t play due to a leg injury.

I think my eyes rolled out of my head when I read this

Posted by KelseyAnn from Ahwatukee, Arizona on 09/18/15 at 07:09 PM ET

Avatar

Jurco needs to start showing up earlier for pre-season skates earlier than he has been, or a has-been is what he’ll be.

Posted by ianfdunham on 09/18/15 at 07:48 PM ET

SnarkinLarkin's avatar

George - my favorite thing you do is player assessments. Try and watch every second of the scrimmages and be our eyes as to how the players perform. As for interviews, most player interviews in my opinion are cliches and platitudes. I get the most out of the coach’s assessments. Keep up the great work!

Posted by SnarkinLarkin on 09/18/15 at 08:13 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Those of us who are puck hounds absolutely cringe about the scrimmages, because the player interviews are…I don’t get access to Red Wings games, and I only hear what the press corps chips out of the interviews, so for me, it’s important to get this one opportunity to actually talk to Red Wings players, if only briefly, but it forces me to not watch the entire scrimmages. It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t, to quote Bart Simpson. :(

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 09/18/15 at 08:18 PM ET

Mistercristo's avatar

George, don’t ever change; this was fantastic.  That picture of Blashill coaching gave me the chills.  This is easily the most excited I’ve been for a season to start since 2008.  Truly a new era for the Red Wings.  I would imagine that Athanasiou gets quite a few minutes during the preseason.  Who knows?  This might finally be his NHL chance. 

Oh, how I would love to watch a video of Larkin blowing by Zetterberg, scoring a goal, and both of their reactions.  Does anyone know if it exists?

Also, is that Todd Bertuzzi behind Brendan Smith in Jim Schoensee’ picture?

Looking forward to more impressive impressions.  Thanks for doing this.

Posted by Mistercristo from Cameron Frye's garage, circa 1987 on 09/19/15 at 12:19 AM ET

Mistercristo's avatar

Saw the Larkin/Zetterberg goal in the “Evening Report”.  Wow.  Talk about instant gratification.

Posted by Mistercristo from Cameron Frye's garage, circa 1987 on 09/19/15 at 01:29 AM ET

Hank1974's avatar

George, if this is Buffalo or Arizona,  does Larkin make this team?

Posted by Hank1974 on 09/19/15 at 07:12 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

If this is Buffalo or Arizona, people are shocked if Larkin doesn’t make the team because the depth of talent on the NHL team is a mud puddle.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 09/19/15 at 08:19 AM 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.