2014-15 Detroit Red Wings Training Camp Report

The NHL Preseason is just about wrapped up and that can mean one thing for every NHL team: tough decisions. Finalized rosters will be turned in shortly with puck drop in the coming week, with teams looking for cap flexibility and looking at their crop of young players on the cusp of making their respective teams and ones just starting out.

The Detroit Red Wings are no different.

2014-15 Detroit Red Wings Training Camp Report

With one of the premier prospect pools in the league, the Wings have plenty to evaluate. The season is on the horizon, and many storylines center on these young players, as well as veterans looking to crack the lineup and possible non-waiver exempt players out of options that may be seeing their last minutes with the organization. We’ll start at the extended opportunities given with two injuries that leave the Red Wings suddenly open for new blood.

Who Will Take Pavel Datsyuk and Anthony Mantha’s Early Season Roster Spots?

The injury bug decided to bite early this year for Detroit as Anthony Mantha will  at least miss a month or so with injury.

Pavel Datsyuk? Well, the shoulder seems to be feeling a bit better as he now is skating without a gray jersey.

The Red Wings captain however, brought the news down to earth.

No matter how long it takes for the situation to play out, Detroit has options if the injury lingers.

This leaves players on the cusp of making it, possibly suddenly on the inside looking out. Names like Teemu Pulkkinen and Tomas Jurco, if he hadn’t already been penciled in jump out right away.

Pulkkinen has been described as one who can score like Jarri Kurri and has a shot compared a pretty good NHLer in his day, Brett Hull. Setting the Grand Rapids Griffins record for goals by a rookie with 31, he made a smooth transition in his second year over from the Swedish League. The big question is his size (5’10”) and importance of not rushing him into the NHL, but with a chunk of Detroit’s scoring punch possibly out, this writer feels Detroit would take a shot like “Pulky’s” as one of the first forward call-ups if Datsyuk’s injury persists or another happens.

Jurco falls into the conversation with his probability shooting skyward with the injuries. There were questions by many if the tie would go to veteran Danny Cleary, similar to last year with Gustav Nyquist, but with Cleary not impressing, Daniel Alfredsson still unclear about his situation, and more opportunity available with the injuries, Jurco should make this team and slide in on center Riley Sheahan’s line with Tomas Tatar.

Jurco has the finesse, size, and hands to be the next great elusive NHL player with scoring sense, the 21-year old Slovakian native has a chance to expand his growth period with a full course of NHL action.

Mike Babcock has shown praise, and at the same time, constructive criticism for the young man.

“Jurcs is an elite skater, big body,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Turns the puck over too much; we have to get that fixed. But he has all the ability to play with the real good players and be a real good support guy. He doesn’t get the puck to the net or go to the net himself enough, if he wants to be a scorer in the league, but he can be a real good support player at this point.” (Detroit Free Press)

With a full slate, there will be room for improvement over his eight goal, 15 point output in more than 36 games, and at the same time improving both facets of his game as a whole.

Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff’s Jobs Are Not “Safe”

Before the preseason started Babcock stated that Kindl and Lashoff’s jobs were safe, despite their struggles from last season. This preseason, if one takes a look at their play compared to others’, some defensemen on the rise have given their case to make the team over these two.

Babcock in the past has said “tie goes to the veteran”, but now according to this stage of development, he now has said that:

“Tie will go to the best player.” (Fox Sports Detroit)

Kindl and Lashoff as a pair were a combined -6 and had 25 points between them. When they are on the ice, the tendency of the Wings to be under pressure in their own zone seemingly increases. Turnover prone, non-factors in the offensive zone, and an inability to make that good first pass and settle things down in the defensive zone mar this pairing and have left their status up in the air with players on the rise. There are some who are knocking on the door, capable of playing in the NHL right now, and ones who will factor in down the road.

Most Likely NHL-Ready:

Xavier Ouellet

Quiet, poised in both zones, and a bonafied factor in the offensive zone characterize Xavier Ouellet’s game. A 2011 2nd rounder, Ouellet has spent four years in the QMJHL between the Montreal Juniors and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, with his breakout year in 2010-11 that made the Wings take notice. In 67 games he had 43 points and was a +27, showing that offensive prowess and positional play that earned him a spot in the organization.

The following year he hit 60 points in four fewer games playing for Armada. In 2013-14, Ouellet got his chance with the Grand Rapids Griffins, playing in 70 games totaling 14 points at the AHL level. His point totals went down, but this is not uncommon for a player jumping from junior to professional.

Ouellet held his own however, and is having a fantastic preseason with an NHL team looking to bolster defense. He has received praise from both the AHL head coach and from Babcock.

“He’s got a real consistency to his game … He seems to be able to find the right passing lanes and deliver the puck on time and let the forwards do their work. He’s strong on the puck, he’s strong in puck battles, and that makes him a good penalty killer.” — Jeff Blashill, Griffins Head Coach (May 2014, foxsports.com, Red Wings Central).

“He makes good decisions with the puck and doesn’t get himself into trouble. Smart players with hockey sense don’t tend to make a bunch of mistakes” — Mike Babcock, Red Wings Head Coach (March 2014, The Hockey News, Red Wings Central)

At just 21 years old, Ouellet has plenty of room to improve, and this writer believes it starts in 2014-15.

UPDATE: Apparently it looks like it will this year at some point, as Ouellet is skating with Kyle Quincey and the Kindl-Lashoff pairing seems to be 4th.

On the Cusp: Alexey Marchenko

It’s been a tough five year period for Alexey Marchenko with the injury bug. From 09-14, he has had injuries in three seasons out of five, the latest being an ankle injury that he is recovering from this preseason. The rust is there this year for Marchenko because of his absence from hockey, but the ceiling for him long-term has not caved in in the slightest.

The 22-year-old Russian d-man interestingly enough got his start in 09-10 with CSKA Moscow, headed by General Manager Sergei Fedorov. From 09-13, he potted 11 points, never really an offensive defenseman reflected by stats then. He received praise when he was drafted 208th overall in 2011 for his all around hockey sense.

“He’s not very offensive but he’s smart moving the puck. I would say he’s a puck-moving defenseman. He can play the power play and in general he has good tools to play in the NHL one day.” — Red Wings scout Nikolai Vakourov (June 2011, RWC)

Coming to Grand Rapids in 2013-14, Marchenko brought his hockey sense and evolved his offensive game. In 49 games played, he totalled 18 points and made a smooth transition to North American ice. Involved in the final cuts before the regular season, Marchenko knows that the organization believes in him as one of the best defensemen that will suit up in the Winged Wheel in the near future, and if not at the beginning of the season, his time will come soon enough. 

Ryan Sproul

He had me at “right-handed shot”. Selected 55th overall in the 2011 draft, the Wings have a special player and potential NHL star in the making in Sproul. The 6’4″, 204-pound Ontario native is a bonafied offensive defenseman coming from playing three years in the OHL for Sault Ste. Marie’s Greyhounds. The biggest season for Sproul after 33 point and 54 point campaigns came in 2012-13. In 50 games played,  he totalled 66 points with 20 goals, earning a spot with the Griffins for 2013-14. His rookie campaign proved he was no fluke. In 72 games Sproul potted 32 points with 11 goals, transitioning to the professional level quite smoothly as the others in the organization.

His booming shot, sparkling skating ability and offensive instincts give the Wings all they want in a right-handed defenseman on the offensive side. Defensively, he has made tremendous strides but still has room for improvement. He’ll have to prove to Mike Babcock and company that he will not be a one-dimensional d-man once his time comes for the big club. He’s off to a good start in that regard for both coaches however.

“He’s 6-foot-4, he can skate, he shoots BBs and he’s smart and he moves the puck.” — Babcock (April 2014, MLive.com, RWC)

“The knock on him coming in was he needed to get better defensively. He’s cared, he’s listened and he’s learned and he’s gotten much better at that area. He’s got a great first couple of steps with the puck, he skates faster with the puck than without it. He has a great shot. He’s a real talent, he could end up being a real star in the NHL.” — Blashill (May 2014, foxsports.com, RWC).

Mattias Backman

Another 2011 draftee, Backman spent the past three seasons with Linkoping, including the past two in the SHL. Known primarily as a two-way defenseman, Backman held his own on the offensive front, scoring 26 and 21 points in 2012-13 and 2013-14 respectively. During his latest stint in the SHL, Backman came over to play for the Griffins when his season ended. He played in just two playoff games, but earned valuable experience and held his own reasonably well. His ability to make that crisp and smart first pass out of the defensive zone rivals the likes of Danny Dekeyser.

 The coaches give their outlooks on the young man:

“Mattias has been compared a lot to Danny DeKeyser and probably rightfully so. He skates very well, he’s got a real long stick, they both have skinnier bodies and they’ve had to build up their strength to handle the rigors of pro hockey … But he’s got a real ability to get back to a puck, break it out, he can pass the puck real well, and he’s got, I think, borderline dynamic offensive ability from the blue line in. He looks like somebody — to me — that’s got a chance to play in the NHL as early as (2014-15).” — Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill (May 2014, foxsports.com, RWC)

“There’s a kid named Mattias Backman … He’ll step in and play on our team next year. He can really skate, really move the puck.” — Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock (May 2014, NHL Live, RWC).

Looking forward for this season, Backman in the preseason showed the Wings what they will potentially get when the 22-year old’s time comes with the big club. His size (6’2″, 176), hockey sense, swift skating and ability to play in all situations ranks him up among the top defensemen in Sweden and in the Red Wing organization. He did not make the team out of camp this season, but if opportunity comes during the year Backman seems like he will surely be one of the young blueliners in the conversation to come to Hockeytown.

Surprise of the Preseason: Nick Jensen

The Wings knew that they may have struck it rich when they chose Nick Jensen at 150th overall at the 2009 draft, but this writer believes that they didn’t think he’d shine this much in the preseason. The 2012-13 WCHL Defensive Player of the Year made a case to possibly crack the opening night roster, making things happen in the offensive zone and using his impressive skating to settle things down in his own zone.

After three years in the NCAA playing for St. Cloud State, Jensen came to the AHL for just 45 games as he was coming off shoulder surgery after a fight with Tyler Bertuzzi. Chipping in offensively here and there, his defensive game shined more than anything showing off that mobility that got the Wings interested in the first place.  His shot is relatively MIA and he sometimes finds himself chasing the puck, but that will come with transition to a professional league.

“Every game I’ve seen him, he was the hardest competitive guy (on the ice) and he’s got the heart of a lion. He’s in people’s faces, he’s taking people’s space away thanks to his skating, and he makes great outlet passes. He’s had a great year and we’re really happy with his development.” — Red Wings director of player development Jiri Fischer (April 2013, RWC).

At just 24 years old, Jensen has made the case that he will be in a Red Wing sweater sooner rather than later.

Stephen Weiss Looks To Be Odd Man Out Early On

It’s been a long road back to playing hockey for Stephen Weiss. Coming off a lockout-shortened season where he played only 17 contests, last season was not much better, as only 26 of a possible 82 were played before his season was shut down in November. So now, here we are, three days away from the Red Wings home opener against Boston, and Weiss is reported to be wearing a gray jersey, possibly indicating that he may be one of the odd men out to play.

This writer believes it is not due to injury, but performance in the preseason. With the emergence of Riley Sheahan, health of Darren Helm, and solid preseason Luke Glendening had, Weiss is suddenly the odd man out on the depth chart. Word is he lost out to Joakim Andersson and Luke Glendening.

This much we do know: Weiss may be a $5 million healthy scratch Thursday, which is a disappointment for him and the team that this is even in question. He has missed a lot of games and needs some time to get into game shape yes, but with the contract he received and the results so far are nightmarish.

It begs the question if he will ever regain the form of years past. He isn’t getting much younger, as he is 31 and when players get up over that age 30 mark, injuries are harder to heal from. It will be interesting to see what Weiss can bring to the table when he hits the ice for Detroit. Who knows, with Datsyuk unlikely for Thursday he could still crack the starting lineup.

Tough Decisions That Came Down To Waivers:

Mitch Callahan

If he gets claimed, the Wings will lose a valuable Twitter commodity in Callahan. They may lose something on the ice as well, what was it, 26 goals and 44 points in 70 games in a breakout 2013-14 season for a gritty player that can score.

In all seriousness, losing “Cally” to waivers would be disappointing, considering what he could bring to the Wings in the near future. He’s 23 years of age with plenty of room to improve and he plays a style of hockey that the Wings would love to have.

The problem for Callahan is that he is out of options with a huge surplus of forwards trying to make the team. It appears Andrej Nestrasil took the last spot at forward, with Dan Cleary occupying another valuable spot that could also cost the 23-year-old from California.

He’s a high energy guy that vows to get under the skin of the opposition, but his size for that role (6’0″, 195 lbs) has always been a question mark. He kills penalties, moved on from his oft-fighting days, and has shown scoring prowess in a grinder’s role. Cally’s received praise from both head coaches and it will be interesting to see where he ends up if claimed.

(Update: Callahan was sent down to Grand Rapids and survived the waiver claim period)

He’s a winning type of hockey player because he wins puck battles, plays good defense and goes to the net and the hard areas well.” — Jeff Blashill (February 2014, RWC)

“He’s a tough kid, seems to know how to play, he’s a good penalty-killer.” — Mike Babcock (March 2014, MLive.com, RWC)

Landon Ferraro

Another 2009 draftee, Ferraro is in the same boat as Callahan. He played three years in the WHL for the  Red Deer Rebels and one for the Everett Silvertips, in which he was projected to be a 2nd line center early in his junior career. He regressed however, after his draft year in which he scored 37 goals in 68 games.

Coming to GR, he reinvented himself at the professional level, with his best season coming in 2012-13 when he had 24 goals and 47 points in a season in which the Griffins won the Calder Cup.

Ferraro looks now to be a guy who will battle to be a third line or fourth line center with an NHL team, with the biggest asset being his speed.

This preseason he has shown his speed but failure to finish off plays created from his speed.

“Landon’s certainly been a big part of our team and any success we’ve had. Landon plays in all situations — five-on-five, power play, penalty kill and last minute, up a goal and down a goal, and that speaks to the versatility in his game.” — Jeff Blashill (February 2013, RWC)

“He did a real good job (on the penalty kill). I like his speed. He’s got to get stronger, but he’s quick.” — Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock (March 2014, MLive.com, RWC).

Landon has lost a bit of his projected scoring touch, but a speedy 3rd line role could be appetizing to any NHL team that could claim the 23-year-old. This one is less likely to be a claim for another team in my book, but if he does get claimed, it would be a small loss for Detroit.

(Update: Ferraro has been sent down to Grand Rapids as well and cleared waivers)

The Emergence of Andrej Nestrasil

It’s been a long road to the Red Wings for the 23-year-old since he got drafted with Detroit’s third choice in the 2009 draft.

Spending three years in the QMJHL, two with the Victoriaville Tigres and one with the Prince Edward Island Rockets, Nestrasil topped out at 19 goals and 70 points in 58 games in 2010-11.

He then bounced around the ECHL and AHL affiliates of the Red Wings, the Walleye and Griffins, for two years before making it as a regular with Grand Rapids in 2013-14. In 70 games he had 16 goals and 35 points, citing his size, puck control, and strength as his biggest assets. He still needed to develop his speed to join the conversation of being an NHL player, and boy did he do that in the offseason.

In the preseason Nesty looked quick, flashy with 1-on-1 play, and made plays which led to celebrations of goals. He played his natural position of wing for most of the preliminary campaign, and impressed many in Red Wings management. The roster for Detroit right now is at 26 with some more difficult decisions to make come 5 p.m. on Tuesday, but for now at least until Datsyuk gets back it appears Nestrasil has gotten a roster spot for his performance.

For how long he has the spot is up to “Nesty’s” play and the health of Datsyuk, but for now it is a good chance to see how he can compete to be on the team for future years and avoid waivers.

Petr Mrazek Continues To Show Why He Will Challenge Jimmy Howard In The Near Future

Boy is this kid good.

The 22-year-old Petr Mrazek has shown that he is an NHL-caliber goaltender in the past two seasons with Grand Rapids and in spotty starts for the Red Wings.

He was the organization’s first goaltender to go from WCHL to AHL to NHL in one season. He capped that season off by leading the Griffins to a 2013 Calder Cup Championship. He followed that season up with a 2.10 GAA and .924 save percentage in 32 games in the AHL and a 1.74 with .927 in nine games with Detroit in the NHL.

In the preseason, it wasn’t much different.

Bailing out his defense, continuing his sparkling positional play, and oozing confidence, Mrazek has made it clear that he will soon come up to replace Jonas Gustavsson as the back-up and certainly challenge Jimmy Howard when he does. He signed a contract extension for the 2015-16 season, setting his sights on doing just that to prove he could be Detroit’s starter in the coming years.

 Opening Night Lineup Still In the Air

There’s still three days of practice to evaluate and roster moves to make to get the lineup down to 23. There are many scenarios to fit the deadline, but would come with some sacrifice. Putting Datsyuk on IR would free up a spot for Jurco and sending Mrazek and Ouellet down would bring the Wings to a compliant roster. If they cannot find any takers for Jakub Kindl or Brian Lashoff, this seems like it would be the primary scenario.

It would be unfortunate for Ouellet not to make it, considering he is the most NHL-ready out of all the defensive prospects and seems that he could make an impact more than both of the 3rd pairing combined. Kindl and Lashoff showed more signs of regression this preseason while Ouellet showed growth and impact in both zones.

Overall it has been another interesting camp for the Detroit Red Wings and there is so much more to be decided. It will be interesting to see what lineup the Wings send out for the opening of another season in Hockeytown Thursday night, and how the lineup will play out as a whole throughout the course of the season.

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Statistics and bios courtesy of RedWingsCentral.com, Hockey DB, Hockey’s Future, and the Detroit Free Press.

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