Blogs > Red Wings Corner

Up-to-the minute updates and insights from the Red Wings locker room at home and on the road. By Chuck Pleiness of The Macomb Daily.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Three sent to GR; Meech is 7th D

After Saturday's game, Jimmy Howard, Jonathan Ericsson and Mattias Ritola were assigned to Grand Rapids. The Red Wings' other cuts will be made Monday, according to coach Mike Babcock.
"All we think have to play," said Babcock. "All played very, very well. They can all play in the National Hockey League quickly if they continue to work and develop. We're real excited with Ritola's camp to say the least. Ericsson had a great camp and so did Howard. ... They could be Red Wings sooner than later."
With Ericsson's demotion, Derek Meech becomes one of seven defensemen that the Red Wings will carry on their roster in their season-opener next Wednesday.
The fight for the final one or two forward spots boils down to Igor Grigorenko, Mark Hartigan, Matt Ellis and Aaron Downey.

Final cuts to come Sunday

General manager Ken Holland said that the Red Wings will trim their roster to regular-season size, Sunday.

Cleary back in the lineup tonight

Dan Cleary (ribs) will get one last tuneup before the regular season opens, centering a line with Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson. Henrik Zetterberg was originally scheduled to play, but was pulled from the lineup when Cleary became available.
"We got to get him in a game so he can feel some pace," said coach Mike Babcock.
Cleary said that his ribs hurt, but that he can manage the pain.

Who's playing tonight in the final preseason game against Toronto ...
Ritola-Kopecky-Maltby (Drake skated last night for Cleary)






Four sent down

After Saturday's practice, four players were assigned by the Red Wings to Grand Rapids ...
forward Evan McGrath
forward Johan Ryno
forward Ryan Oulahen
forward Darren Helm

That leaves the team with 17 forwards on its roster. Still fighting for a roster spot and in the lineup tonight are ...
Matt Ellis
Igor Grigorenko
Mattias Ritola
Mark Hartigan
Ellis, Grigorenko and Hartigan will skate on the same line. Grigorenko will be playing in his team-high seventh preseason game.

Two defensemen are battling for one roster spot on defense, Jonathan Ericsson and Derek Meech. Ericsson will be partnered with Brett Lebda tonight. Meech, who has played the past two games, won't dress.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sopel defects

TORONTO -- Somewhere between Detroit and Toronto, Friday afternoon, the Red Wings lost a defenseman.
Shortly before the team took the ice for warmups before a game that wound up a 6-4 Toronto preseason victory, Brent Sopel told Detroit coach Mike Babcock that he couldn't play. Sopel, a free-agent tryout, had come to terms with the Chicago Blackhawks with what is reported as a one-year, $1.5 million contract.
It might be the first reported case of a Canadian traveling to Canada to defect.
So the Red Wings, who brought six defensemen with them, played the game with five and went home with five. Sopel left the arena shortly after the game began to make his way home.
That Sopel was with the Red Wings -- from the start of training camp to the brink of their eighth preseason game -- when he signed with Chicago makes the situation quite unusual.
"This is the first time it's happened to us," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland.
Sopel, an eight-year NHL veteran who made $2.4 million last season, was fighting for a roster spot with Detroit prospects Derek Meech and Jonathan Ericsson.
That fight ended Thursday when the Red Wings offered Sopel a contract, according to Holland. The team upped its offer Friday. Holland, however, got a call from Sopel's agent Friday night, that a deal was done with another team.
"I'm hearing from others that it's Chicago," said Holland. "We made an offer (Thursday), upped it (Friday) and told him that's where we're at. We were interested in him as a sixth or seventh defenseman, as an insurance guy. So we'll look internally."
Earlier Friday, the team got news that prospect Kyle Quincey has a broken hand and will be out for 2-3 weeks.
That leaves Detroit with eight defensemen on its roster. Meech and Ericsson are the two now vying for a roster spot. Ericsson can be sent to Grand Rapids without clearing waivers while Meech cannot.
"I don't really know what to think," said Meech. "Obviously it might help me a little bit, but it's not the way I wanted. I can't think of it like that. My mindset was to come in here and try to outplay these guys to make the team. A situation like this, it's not home-free for me. I've still got to make the team, play my best hockey."
The Red Wings got goals from Kris Draper (two), Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk last night. The exhibition game, however, was secondary to the defection of Sopel.
"I don't know the rules for sure, but I thought when he was trying out for you, he was trying out for you," said Babcock. "He just told me before the game he wasn't playing. Obviously we were planning on him playing. I guess I don't know the rules very good and we'll have to figure it out.
"If you don't want to be a Red Wing, you don't want to be a Red Wings. It's real simple. I think the opportunity here is fantastic. Over the last few years, anybody that's come here has had a career year. If we just look at finances, if you have a career year, you get paid a ton the next year."

NOTES: There was a bizarre play that led to Toronto's sixth goal. Detroit defenseman Andreas Lilja went back to touch the puck behind the goal line with a linesman yelling, "Ice, ice, ice." When Lilja slapped the puck, the official waved off the icing, saying that goalie Jimmy Howard left the crease. Darcy Tucker scooped up the puck and Chad Kilger fired it in for an insurance marker. … Quincey's broken left hand was an injury that happened in training camp, but wasn't discovered until Friday. Quincey was battling for one of the Red Wings' seven defense spots. … Mattias Ritola's eye is fine. The prospect was hit by a puck in the first period of Thursday's game at Joe Louis Arena and didn't return after the injury. … Forward Dan Cleary's rib injury isn't getting much better. The forward isn't going to play in tonight's preseason finale. His status for Wednesday's season-opener is unknown. … Between periods, crowd shots for the movie "The Love Guru" were shot at the Air Canada Center. The film will star Toronto native Mike Myers. Case member Verne Troyer was at the arena last night.

Sopel signs with Chicago

Brent Sopel has agreed to terms with the Chicago Blackhawks on a one-year contract reported to be worth $1.5 million. The defenseman made the trip with the Red Wings to Toronto, but didn't dress for the game when the deal was done, leaving Detroit with five defensemen.
Sopel's departure puts Derek Meech in a good position to make the Red Wings roster. Meech is a prospect who would need to clear waivers if he's assigned to Grand Rapids.

Sopel not playing

Defenseman Brent Sopel made the trip to Toronto and was listed on the Red Wings' 20-man roster, but he isn't in the lineup tonight. No word yet on why. Detroit is playing with five defensemen because of Sopel's absence. Sopel is a free agent trying out for the Wings.

Lineup for tonight's game in Toronto


(not certain on defense pairings)

Howard starts

(not certain on combinations)


Raycroft starts

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More Babs on Grigs

After Thursday's win over Tampa Bay and Igor Grigorenko's shootout winner ...

"It was a nice move. Kopecky had a real nice move as well.
With the people that were in the lineup tonight, he's one of the guys who has skill and ability to score. We just thought that he could get it done.
Tonight, the game wasn't exactly blazing out there. We play at a real high pace and if you're going to play on our team, you've got to be able to play at that pace.
We'll watch him against Toronto one more time. Then we're going to make our decision.
Any time you do good things, you've earned the right to feel good about yourself. He got us the game-winner here tonight. Hopefully that gives him a boost."

And some bonus Nicklas Lidstrom thoughts on Grigs ...

"From Day 1 when we started training camp, he has improved. He knows the tempo, the pace of the game … it's not the European style where you can wait for your chances. Here, you've got to jump on them right away. Keep the shift short and high tempo. Slowly, I think he realizes that's what it takes. And he's getting used to it too. He's never played over here before."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On second thought

A week and a half ago, I wrote that I thought at that point in time Aaron Downey and Brent Sopel would make the Red Wings' roster and that Igor Grigorenko was heading back to Russia. Did I mention already that was a week and a half ago?
After six of Detroit's nine preseason games (that is way too many), I see things differently.
Downey hasn't done enough to open eyes. Last year's Brad Norton experiment is still being looked at as a failure and the team won't keep an enforcer. Look for three fighting majors for Detroit during the regular-season ... in two of them, a Swedish Red Wing won't even get his gloves off.
If Downey's not in, then Grigorenko is. The Red Wings will take their chances that they can get a second chance at bringing in Matt Ellis. They can't do that with Grigs. He's shown skill and hockey sense. The team thinks that Grigs will learn as he goes and they'll protect their investment by keeping him in Detroit. At least at the start of the season.
I never understood the thought that the roster would be solved by sending Grigs to Grand Rapids. Then my question is: "What's the roster going to look like in one month?" because it's the same decision all over again ... keep Grigs or lose him to Russia. If Ellis stays and Grigs goes to GR, then in one month, Grigs will be with the Wings and Ellis in GR (unless there's an injury).
Jassen Cullimore is off the roster and Sopel might be next. He was OK in his tryout, but he made some turnovers and that's what the team was keying on in their assessment of him. Perhaps the Wings will keep Derek Meech, who showed that he can play at an NHL level, as a seventh defenseman and protect its investment in him.
Another thought I never understood was that if the team kept Sopel, it would trade one of its six defensemen because Sopel would bump him ... and keep Meech as well. It might happen, but trades aren't easy in a salary-cap world. If Sopel is kept, the Wings have shown they won't hesitate to bump Andreas Lilja or Brett Lebda down to the seventh D slot.
Standard disclaimer ... all of this is conjecture and is subject to change at a moment's notice. But you already knew that, didn't you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Babcock on Grigorenko

Igor Grigorenko was in the Red Wings' all-NHL lineup, Tuesday, taking Dan Cleary's spot on the left side of the third line. Grigs logged 11:35 in ice time, had one shot on goal and was an even plus-minus. Here's coach Mike Babcock's post-game take on the Russian ...
"You come here and you find out what the tempo's like and you find out what fitness is. You're behind and you're trying to catch up. He's done a real good job. He's gotten better and better and better. He's really good with the puck. He sees the ice. He knows hockey. It's just the pace that kills him.
"I know he wants to be here and we sure like the skill level he has. Can he get a pace and a tempo to his game so that he can help us? Time will tell."

Good lineup in for two Toronto games

Coach Mike Babcock said after Tuesday's 6-1 win over the Rangers that Detroit will dress an NHL lineup in the home-and-home games against Toronto, Friday and Saturday. Thursday's home game against the Lightning will be the last lineup with a preseason look to it.

Tuesday night's lineup

For the Red Wings against the Rangers. With Dan Cleary out, Grigorenko is being given a shot in an all-NHL lineup instead of Aaron Downey or any of the young forwards still around ...

Johan Franzen-Pavel Datsyuk-Tomas Holmstrom
Jiri Hudler-Henrik Zetterberg-Mikael Samuelsson
Igor Grigorenko-Valtteri Filppula-Kris Draper
Dallas Drake-Tomas Kopecky-Kirk Maltby

Nicklas Lidstrom-Brian Rafalski
Niklas Kronwall-Andreas Lilja
Brett Lebda-Chris Chelios

Dominik Hasek
Jimmy Howard

Red Wings make 17 cuts

Among those who were trimmed from the Detroit roster, Tuesday, were free-agent tryout Jassen Cullimore, a defenseman. Assigned to Grand Rapids were center Mark Cullen, defenseman Brad Ference and highly ranked prospect Jakub Kindl, also a defenseman.
Here's a list of Tuesday's roster moves ...

Assigned to Grand Rapids
Adam Berkhoel, G
Carl Corrazzini, RW
Mark Cullen, C
Brett Engelhardt, RW
Brad Ference, D
Randall Gelech, RW
Jakub Kindl, D
Ryan Oulahen, LW
Garrett Stafford, D

Neil Clark, RW
Jassen Cullimore, D
Jon Insana, D
Scott Jackson, D
Adam Keefe, RW
Cleve Kinley, D
Jamie Tardif, RW
Dominic Vicari, G

The Red Wings are now down to 10 defensemen. In addition to the six NHL defensemen who were on the roster this summer, still here are prospects Derek Meech, Jonathan Ericsson and Kyle Quincey and free-agent tryout Brent Sopel. Ericsson and Quincey can be sent to Grand Rapids without having to clear through waivers.
The team has three goaltenders with Jimmy Howard likely destined to be the Griffins' No. 1 netminder.
At forward, the Red Wings have 20 on the roster. In addition to the 12 there in the summer, remaining are: free-agent tryout Aaron Downey; prospects Igor Grigorenko, Darren Helm, Evan McGrath, Mattias Ritola and Johan Ryno; and minor-league veterans Matt Ellis and Mark Hartigan.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Saturday's game in Pittsburgh

Among those dressing for the Red Wings in Pittsburgh will be ...

Dominik Hasek (two periods)
Jimmy Howard

Nicklas Lidstrom
Andreas Lilja
Niklas Kronwall
Brent Sopel
Derek Meech
Kyle Quincey

Henrik Zetterberg
Mikael Samuelsson
Jiri Hudler
Kris Draper
Valtteri Filppula

Babcock didn't specify the seven other forwards in his post-game interview. Likely candidates include Evan McGrath, Mattias Ritola, Brett Engelhardt, Matt Ellis, Carl Corazzini.
Unless Dan Cleary (ribs), Tomas Kopecky (groin) or Darren Helm (shoulder) become available, two forwards who skated in Friday's game will likely play a second straight night.

Penguins' roster for tonight

Jordan Staal
Ryan Malone
Adam Hall
Maxime Talbot
Ryan Stone
Jonathan Filewich
Conner James
Jasrkko Ruuttu
Jeff Taffe
Dustin Jeffrey
Tim Brent
Tyler Kennedy

Mark Eaton
Rob Scuderi
Alaine Nasreddine
Mike Weaver
Kris Letang
Alex Goligoski

Dany Sabourin
Ty Conklin

Babcock says Cleary is day-to-day

Coach Mike Babcock said that Dan Cleary doesn't have broken ribs and will be sidelined on a day-to-day basis. Cleary joins Tomas Kopecky (groin) and Brian Rafalski (hip flexor) in the day-to-day injury list.

Red Wings lines against Pittsburgh

Mark Hartigan's good game against Minnesota did earn him another opportunity. With Tomas Kopecky out with a groin injury, Hartigan will center the regular-season fourth line tonight against Pittsburgh. These are Detroit's probable line combinations ...




Of that group, only Kindl and Oulahen have not played in either of Detroit's first two preseason games. Howard is the only one to have played in both.

No Kid, no kidding

The Pittsburgh Penguins haven't had their morning skate at Joe Louis Arena yet, but their game roster indicates that Sidney Crosby won't play in tonight's preseason game against the Red Wings. Neither will Evgeni Malkin, nor Marc-Andre Fleury, nor Sergei Gonchar. Among those listed as dressing for the game are Jordan Staal, Ryan Malone and Jarkko Ruutu, but for the most part, the Pens have a no-name roster.

Rafalski update

Brian Rafalski (hip flexor) did not practice Friday, but said that his injury is getting better.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Osgood to start

Chris Osgood will start in net Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a preseason game at Joe Louis Arena. Jimmy Howard will play as well with Dominik Hasek not dressing for the game.

Cleary concerned about rib injury

Forward Dan Cleary left tonight's game after being cross checked by Minnesota defenseman Kurtis Foster. Cleary will have X-rays and a CAT scan Friday to determine the extent of the injury to his ribs and upper body.
"It hurts pretty bad," said Cleary. "Hate to say anything now, but it doesn't feel good. Better now than later I guess."
Also, coach Mike Babcock said that Tomas Kopecky has a groin injury the degree of which is unknown.

Rafalski out of lineup tonight

Brian Rafalski (hip flexor) won't dress for tonight's preseason game against the Wild at JLA. Brad Ference (#32) will take his spot in the lineup. Valtteri Filppula (groin) and Dan Cleary (hamstring) are both in the lineup.

Training camp ups and downs

With training camp officially wrapped up (That's what the Red Wings were doing in Grand Rapids Wednesday, wasn't it?) here's a look at which players helped their cause and which players didn't over the past week ...
Stock is up
Dallas Drake -- Had scoring touch in camp. Fourth line was great.
Cory Emmerton -- Probably the best juniors in camp over the past three years.
Johan Franzen -- Showed he belongs on Datsyuk's wing.
Jimmy Howard -- Slim Jim is looking good.
Jiri Hudler -- Skating has improved.
Tomas Kopecky -- So far, so good at center.
Evan McGrath -- Most nights, Evan was the best non-NHL forward in camp.
Derek Meech -- Very smart, very good positional player.
Johan Ryno -- Created a lot of chances, but needs to finish better.
Stock is down
Jassen Cullimore -- Didn't show much on the plus side.
Igor Grigorenko -- Needs to show something in preseason games. Any glimmer and Wings will keep him on the roster.
Mattias Ritola -- Outplayed by Johan Ryno.
Brent Sopel -- Too many turnovers.

Franzen's rise

Johan Franzen wasn't a high-round draft pick. In fact, he wasn't even drafted until he was 24 years old, meaning that every NHL team passed on him every year during his first six years of eligibility before the Detroit Red Wings selected him.
Franzen wasn't handed a roster spot at his first training camp. He wasn't given power-play time his first season in the NHL and he wasn't looked at as a scorer.
Today, howeve, Johan Franzen is the left side of the Red Wings' top line, playing alongside Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom. He's also the team's leading scorer after one preseason game with two goals and one assist.
"I've always been a guy who wants to help back checking and sees dangerous plays," said Franzen. "I've always had that in me. When I was young, I was better than the others guys, so I scored a lot. When I came to the better leagues, it wasn't easy to score any more."
Franzen wasn't just a good scorer in his youth. His was a prodigy.
At the age of 14, Franzen played for his hometown's under-16 team, the junior team and the senior team, meaning that he was in the fourth division of Swedish professional hockey when most American kids are freshmen in high school.
"In his area where he grew up in southern Sweden, he was a youth star," said Hakan Andersson, director of European scouting for the Red Wings. "They had him in playing against men as a young kid. From what I understand, he was maybe their best player. A guy who helps me look for players said that Franzen was a star on that team when he was 15."
But a funny thing happened on Franzen's way to the Montreal Forum. When he reached the Elite League -- Sweden's top pro circuit -- Franzen played for a Linkoping team that was constantly fighting to avoid relegation down to a lower-level league.
Franzen spent large chunks of his ice time in his defensive zone on a team that was overmatched night-in and night-out.
Johan Franzen was soon lost in the shuffle of scouts' reports.
When Andersson and Detroit general manager Ken Holland scouted on of Franzen's games, they were disappointed to see the big center immediately racing back to bolster the defense once the puck was dropped.
"We said to Johan, 'We know you have a lot of offense in you'," said Andersson. "'At least fight for the puck in the faceoff before you go back. But if you win it, try to do something with it.'"
The Red Wings scouted Franzen for one season when he was 23, but decided against taking him with one of their eight draft picks. After another season of scouting, the Red Wings selected Franzen in the third round of the 2004 draft, making him six years senior the vast majority of his draft peers.
Andersson called Franzen: "You've just been drafted by the Detroit Red Wings. How do you feel about that?"
Thinking back to that moment of three years past, Franzen smiled. His answer to Andersson was understated in classic Franzen stye.
As a rookie in the fall of 2005, Franzen made the Red Wings out of training camp when Grand Rapids was the more likely destination.
Dubbed "Mule" by Steve Yzerman at that camp because of his ornery play along the boards, Franzen drew attention as one of the Red Wings' top penalty killers soon after the regular season started.
Franzen's play warranted more ice time as the season went along. In his second season with Detroit, Franzen's ice time went from 12:27 per game to 15:35. He also got 85:10 of power-play time as a sophomore.
Now heading into his third NHL season, Franzen is slated for the top line.
"When we had our meetings about the draft and I had him on my list, I said, 'Obviously, we're looking at 18-year-old players here and he was 24'," said Andersson. "He's better than a lot of the other guys, but there's less to come. An 18-year-old has potential, but Johan Franzen was already there. What you see is what you get. You're getting a strong guy who plays the game well, takes care defensively. At the worst, he's a third-, fourth-liner. At the worst. With a little luck, he'll develop some of his offensive skills and we'll get a better player than we thought.'"

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

More roster cuts

After today's practice in Grand Rapids, the Red Wings released three players ... defensemen Nick Tuzzolino and Brett Westgarth and forward Kris Vernarsky. All three are NHL free agents.
After Tuesday night's preseason opener in Minnesota, Detroit assigned three players back to their junior squads ... defenseman Logan Pyett and forwards Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton. The rights to all three of those junior players remain the Red Wings'.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Red/White game

If the Red Wings' annual Red/White game is an indication, defense and goaltending are ready for the regular season. The exhibition went scoreless through three running-time periods and a five-minute overtime before the White team outscored the Red, 2-1, in a three-round shootout.
Jiri Hudler (deke) and Mikael Samuelsson (deke) scored on Chris Osgood after a Henrik Zetterberg miss (five-hole). Tomas Holmstrom (deke) scored on Adam Berkhoel, but the netminder stopped both Pavel Datsyuk (deke) and Kris Draper (shot).
Dominik Hasek made 11 saves for the Red team before giving way to Osgood, who made 16 saves in the second half of the game. Jimmy Howard made 14 saves for team White and Berkhoel made 11.
Some notes from the exhibition ...
-- Although Hasek didn't allow a goal, Howard was the best goalie in the game. Howard made several sparkling saves, including stuffing Evan McGrath on a 2-on-1 blast and on the next sequence making the best save of the game, stopping Johan Franzen from a sprawled position.
-- Brian Rafalski had his worst game of the camp by far. The defenseman had three glaring defensive-zone giveaways and didn't have much on the good side of the ledger. To boot, Rafalski even hit Nicklas Lidstrom in the head with a dump-in. Not a good night.
-- Valtteri Filppula (groin) nor Dan Cleary (hamstring) played in the game.
-- Defenseman Derek Meech played a very strong positional game, moving his feet well.
-- Igor Grigorenko was silent most of the game, then had a great final shift in regulation, creating three scoring opportunities on one shift.
-- Aaron Downey had a poor game. The forward didn't hit much. He was in the only fight of the game, losing a decision to Neil Clark. Clark, who played in the Central Hockey League (low minors) last season, had a better game than Downey.

Kopecky hopes to be quick to learn the draw

TRAVERSE CITY -- Tomas Kopecky was given a summer project before he left Detroit to return home to Slovakia. He was told by Detroit Red Wings' management that he would be moving from wing to center when he returned in the fall.
"I like it," said Kopecky. "You always have your head on the swivel to make plays. Right now, we've played two (scrimmage) games and I'm trying to get comfortable. I have to learn a lot … the draws and to be good defensively. Basically, I watch guys like Hank (Zetterberg), Pav (Datsyuk) and see what they're doing in practices. I'm very excited."
After playing the past four seasons on the wing, Kopecky is being moved to center the fourth line.
Through training camp, the move looked great. Kopecky, centering Kirk Maltby and newcomer Dallas Drake, has been part of the team's most successful line in Traverse City. In two scrimmages, the trio combined for five goals and six assists. Each was a plus-2. Drake and Maltby tied with Johan Franzen for the team lead in points with Kopecky one behind.
The line that is supposed to bang and crash has also made life miserable for opponents by scoring.
But one key to the fourth line being effective in the regular season will be how quickly Kopecky learns a position that he hasn't played since his first season as a professional. In the defensive zone, center battle down low near the net while wingers watch the opposition defensemen up high. In transition, centers are responsible to set up their wings.
"He (shouldn't) overhandle the puck," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "That's real important. But in saying that, just the fact that he wants the puck is a whole different story than last year. Last year at this time, when he got the puck, he gave it to someone else. He's hanging onto it. That's a positive thing and a huge step for him."
Kopecky hasn't had it easy reaching the NHL and then staying. He moved to Alberta from his native Slovakia as an 18-year-old the fall after he was drafted in the second round by the Red Wings. There, Kopecky played at junior hockey's highest level as a center.
Seven years later, however, Kopecky has toiled for four seasons in the minors and had one NHL campaign cut short by a broken collarbone. The 25-year-old has 27 regular-season NHL games and four playoff contests on his resume. In those 31 NHL games, Kopecky has one point.
Having his position changed is one part chore and one part a sign that the team has a place for him.
"You've got to take that opportunity and run with it," said Kopecky. "Center is all over the ice, especially in the system that we play. Coming out of the zone, you get the puck and you need to make a play. When you're a winger, you get the puck and you skate fast. You have to make a play at the blue line or dump it in and chase it. At center, you've got to create plays, make passes."
All summer long, Kopecky worked out with other Slovak NHLers in Trencin, including Marian and Marcel Hossa, Zdeno Chara. Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra. He took faceoff after faceoff after faceoff.
"There are different kinds of faceoff guys," said Detroit's third-line center Valtteri Filppula. "Some days it seems it's going really well. Some days you seem not to win one draw. It's an important part of the game. Kopie is strong in his hands. That's important. And he's working hard at it."
Cleary and Kris Draper are teaching Kopecky how to keep a book on opposition centers for faceoffs. What they like to do in what zone. Where they look and how they approach the draw.
In training camp, Kopecky could be found on a near-empty ice sheet after every scrimmage and practice, working on draws with Dan Cleary.
"You've got to know a lot about they guys you're going against, especially how he's going to end up, how he's standing, holding the stick … all these little things," said Kopecky. "I didn't even know these things in junior, now I'm learning."
CAMP NOTES: The Red Wings open their preseason schedule at Minnesota Tuesday night. … If forward Aaron Downey makes the roster, the Red Wings will be his fourth Original Six team. (Boston, Montreal and Chicago are the others.) "Detroit is a great organization the way everything's being run right now," said Downey. "It's probably the best atmosphere I've been around. I'm having a good time. … I just got to go out there and bang, crash, create energy, have a willingness to stick up for my teammates. I think I definitely have a reputation around the league to do that."

Monday schedule

The Red Wings' annual Red/White Game begins at 6:30 p.m. EDT. There will be no practices today.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Schneider out four weeks

Former Wing breaks ankle bone in preseason game with Ducks.

Sopel playing young man's game

TRAVERSE CITY -- Brent Sopel feels like an 18-year-old again. And that's not a good thing.

Sopel is participating in the Detroit Red Wings' training camp this week as a free-agent tryout. For the eight-year NHL veteran, that means little more than food and lodging in Traverse City is guaranteed.

And that's a situation that Sopel, 30, hasn't been in since he was a young hockey player.

"I feel like I'm 18 again, going back," said Sopel. "It's not the situation that I wanted, but that's the hand I've been dealt and I just have to make the best of it."

The hand that Sopel was dealt the past two years was a luxurious one. After making a name for himself as a defenseman with a big shot, Sopel earned a contract that paid him $2.4 million per season over the past two years.

That contract made him the 57th highest paid defenseman in the NHL last season. That might not sound impressive, but Sopel was in the top third of the pay scale for NHL top-six defensemen.

In the past six seasons, Sopel has earned more than $7 million in salary.

That, however, didn't earn him a thing contract wise this past off-season. Sopel waited as an unrestricted free agent and waited. No deal came that was to his liking.

So less than one week before the start of the Red Wings' training camp, Sopel accepted an invitation from general manager Ken Holland to try out for Detroit as a free agent.

"Obviously, there's a little more pressure," said Sopel. "When you've got a contract, you're setting yourself up a little bit. It's in the back of your mind, 'Alright, I have to go out there and play well. I have to try to not make any mistakes.' It's weighing on your mind a little bit more than when you have a contract. But like I said, that's the hand that's been dealt to me now. I have to take it and roll."

Sopel has been paired in camp with Nicklas Lidstrom, which makes any defenseman's job easier. It's a good sign that the Red Wings' management wants to give Sopel the best possible opportunity to prove himself.

In two scrimmage games, Sopel had one point (a goal) on just one shot on goal. He was an even plus-minus while his defense partner Lidstrom was a plus-2 with three points.

In Sunday's scrimmage, Sopel had a defensive-zone giveaway to Henrik Zetterberg that was snuffed out when Lidstrom covered.

"Obviously, he has offensive ability," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock of Sopel. "What we need to see from him is a safe, steady guy who makes good decisions with the puck and chips in offensively when he gets an opportunity. We're an offensive team in a lot of ways, but we don't take risks."

Babcock is quite familiar with Sopel. He was coaching juniors in the Western Hockey League when Sopel was a young player in that circuit. Sopel's coach for three of his junior seasons was current Red Wing assistant coach Todd McLellan.

Familiarity helps, but roster numbers don't. Detroit has six NHL defensemen under contract and will carry seven this season. Add to the mix that prospect Derek Meech is out of options and could be lost to another NHL team if the Red Wings don't keep him in the NHL and Sopel's play is going to have to force to team to make a tough decision.

Either Sopel could beat out Meech for a roster spot or the Red Wings could opt to trade one of their six defensemen to make room.

"I'm sure it's tough on him," said Lidstrom. "You don't have a contract, you're here to try out, hopefully make the team. It's got to be a tough situation. Every time we're skating, he has to prove himself try to be creative or play tough or do what he's good at."

Bowman says he's not going to T.O.

Scotty Bowman spoke about the Toronto Maple Leafs' front-office job, Sunday, after the Red Wings' day of scrimmaging and practices were done. Bowman said that Toronto called Jimmy Devellano before speaking with Bowman. The Maple Leafs were trying to create a new executive position to which general manager John Ferguson Jr. would report. Bowman said that he was contacted by Richard Peddie, CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. Bowman had a meeting, "out of courtesy" according to Bowman. The job, however, wasn't a fit for either side and Bowman said that he is not going to the Maple Leafs.
"It's sort of the same job I have here," said Bowman. "I wasn't interested in that. I didn't know any of those people."

Training camp scoring leaders

Dallas Drake led the team in goals. Kirk Maltby led the team in assists and Tomas Kopecky was a plus-2. The fourth line was the most successful line for the Red Wings in the two-game round-robin scrimmage tournament ...
G-A-Pt Player
3-1-4 Drake
3-1-4 Franzen
0-4-4 Maltby
2-1-3 Chelios
2-1-3 Kopecky
1-2-3 Holmstrom
0-3-3 Lidstrom
1-1-2 Ritola
1-1-2 Emmerton
1-1-2 Keefe
0-2-2 Datsyuk
0-2-2 Meech

Franzen and Scott Brannon were both team-high plus-3s. Johan Ryno was a team-worst minus-3. Mikael Samuelsson led everyone with eight shots on goal.

First cuts

The first wave of roster cuts will likely be made today. Sent packing were ..

Randy Cameron
Zack Torquato
Josh Aspenlind
Victor Bartley
Yves Bastien
Scott Brannon
Chad Greenan
David Jarram
John Kurtz
Patrik Magnusson
Pierre-Oliver Pelletier
Dominic Vicari

Cameron and Torquato were drafted by the Red Wings this summer and will head back to their junior teams. The Red Wings retain their rights. The other players are free agents.
Most of the junior-eligible players were sent to their teams except for Cory Emmerton, Logan Pyett, Jan Mursak and Scott Jackson.
Pyett was told that he would be kept for a few more days and then returned to his junior team in time for its season-opener. Mursak will likely get to play in a preseason game before being sent back to junior. Jackson can go back to juniors an an over-age player. Emmerton, the Red Wings' top draft pick in 2006, has had a strong camp and will likely get a preseason game look.

Filppula sits out practice

Valtteri Filppula didn't practice with his group, Sunday, but said that his groin soreness was minor and that he'd likely be back on the ice tomorrow. No specifics on his injury.
Cory Emmerton practiced in Filppula's place on a line with Kris Draper and Dan Cleary.

Third training camp scrimmage

For all of you Team B fans out there, good news. Team B ended the scrimmage portion of training camp with a 4-3 victory over Team A. Scott Brannon, Henrik Zetterberg, Adam Keefe and Randy Gelech scored for Team B. Igor Grigorenko, Johan Franzen and Jonathan Ericsson scored for Team A. A few notes from the scrimmage ...
-- Jiri Hudler was flying. He made smart plays and outskated opponents on the backcheck.
-- Grigorenko was better, but not outstanding. His goal came when with goalie Dominic Vicari out to play the puck and a bad hop going right to Grigorenko. With Vicari diving head-first back to the net, Grigorenko blasted a shot into the open goal.
-- Adam Keefe had a remarkable game. He fought Neil Clark early (slight edge to Clark). Then Keefe hit, hustled, scored on a deflections, then caused the turnover and made the 2-on-1 pass to Gelech for the winning goal.
-- Brent Sopel looked good and bad. He broke up a Zetterberg pass on a 4-on-2 and stepped up offensively on a few occasions. Sopel did, however, have a couple of defensive-zone turnovers.
-- Aaron Downey was quite noticeable. He was chippy with Ryan Oulahen on his first shift. Downey hit and pushed people to make great space. After the scrimmage's only fight, Downey first hollered approval to teammate Clark, then hollered more approval to Keefe. "Way to go Clarky. Way to go Keefe." Fighters' respect.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fight for roster spots is on

TRAVERSE CITY -- Fighting isn't just good for hockey. It's essential.

So long as the fighting is over a roster spot or ice time.

"There are 23 (roster spots) up for grabs just like very year," said Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. "Competition is a great thing. The guys who aren't competing for a spot are still competing for ice time. That's what we have here, a good internal competition."

Competition also makes an NHL training camp worth watching.

The Detroit Red Wings have 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies signed each with NHL experience. That's the exact number of players that will dress for any given regular-season game.

But the team will carry seven defensemen and 13 or 14 forwards on its roster, meaning that there are two or three jobs being fought over this weekend.

The fight at forward is simpler, but still intriguing.

Aaron Downey can fight. And that means that Mike Babcock likes Aaron Downey.

The Red Wings started last season with Brad Norton on the roster. Babcock even got Norton in the lineup for six games despite the fact that Norton's skills as a player were weak and as a fighter were below average. Downey is a better hockey player.

Babcock has been bringing an edge to the Red Wings, wanting to make his team more difficult to play against. That means better defense, tighter checking and more hitting. It's also difficult to play against a team with an enforcer.

Last season, the Red Wings were last in the NHL with 10 regular-season fighting majors. Four of those were Norton's. The season before, the Red Wings were last in the NHL with six fights.

Bringing in a fighter -- and one like Downey, who probably won't cost much more than $500,000 -- wouldn't make the Red Wings a tough team, but it would push them slightly towards mediocre on the toughness scale.

Downey's play in camp has been adequate. On Saturday, he was irritable (challenging Tomas Kopecky after one whistle and Brad Ference after another) and that's what the Red Wings want.

Downey's roster competition comes from his training camp linemate, Russian Igor Grigorenko, who won't fight, but is supposed to be able to put the puck in the net. The problem is Grigorenko hasn't shown offensive flash in training camp. He came in out of shape and he has been outplayed by Evan McGrath, who had a hard time getting playing time in Grand Rapids last season.

If the decision had to be made now, Grigorenko's chances of staying with the team are slight.

The best thing that Grigorenko has going for him at the moment is that the Red Wings will lose him if they send him to Grand Rapids for more than three weeks. An out clause in his contract allows Grigorenko to return to Russia … in fact, he told a Russian newspaper before he left that he would return if he didn't make the Detroit roster. He and his agent are already talking about how Igor will shine … if given good linemates. That's not a good sign.

The Red Wings would prefer to send Grigorenko to the American Hockey League to get more acclimated to North America and hockey on this side of the Atlantic. But the team might opt to keep him with the Red Wings to protect its investment. Let Grigorenko learn in Detroit and see if he develops there.

The Red Wings kept Kopecky, Jiri Hudler and Joey MacDonald last season for fear of losing them through waivers if sent down to the AHL. MacDonald stayed on the roster despite being a third goalie, showing that the Red Wings like to protect their investments.

At defense, Brent Sopel is being given every chance to succeed, being paired with Nicklas Lidstrom in scrimmages. Sopel, who last year earned $2.4 million, is the biggest name trying out for the Red Wings this fall. Add to the mix that Babcock is familiar with Sopel for their days in Western Canada.

Derek Meech is in the same position as Kopecky, Hudler and MacDonald were last fall. If Meech is optioned to Grand Rapids -- where he was an AHL all-star last season -- another NHL team can claim him.

Meech has also started camp well. His pairing with Chris Chelios is a sign that the Red Wings want to give Meech a chance to show what he can do, putting the ultimate veteran with the youngster.

If you're looking for a guess, I'd say that Downey and Sopel will be Red Wings. Right now, Meech looks closer to supplanting Sopel than Grigorenko does with Downey.

But that's the beauty of training camp. The players will keep fighting. Those who have the upper hand now, might not in two weeks.

Second training camp scrimmage

Team C won for the second time at training camp, beating Team A, Saturday, 6-5 in a shootout. Chris Chelios ended the shootout as the 16th shooter (the previous 15 managed just two goals) when he skated in between the faceoff circles, slowed and sent a slap shot that got past the glove of Adam Berkhoel. The netminder had just made a fantastic glove save on a Dallas Drake deke and backhand on the previous shooter.
Standouts in the game include Dominik Hasek and Jimmy Howard. Hasek played a scoreless first half (two 30-minute running-time halves) and Howard who surrendered just one goal to the line of Tomas Holmstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen. Holmstrom finished with two goals and one assist. Tomas Kopecky also had two goals an one assist and Cory Emmerton had one goal and one assist.
Other notes from the game that ended at 12:45 p.m. ...
-- It was hard to notice Igor Grigorenko, who skated with Mark Hartigan and Aaron Downey. Grigorenko even missed the net on his shootout, going with a deke, but tapping the puck wide.
-- Defenseman Brent Sopel was paired with Nicklas Lidstrom and looked very good. In the second half, Sopel jumped up in the offensive zone with confidence, getting back in timely fashion.
-- Aaron Downey was involved in two shoving matches ... one with Brad Ference and one with Tomas Kopecky.
-- Evan McGrath played a very strong game. The center stole a clearing pass from Ference late in regulation time and sent a nice pass across to Johan Ryno, who scored to put Team A ahead, 5-4, with 1:11 on the clock. Drake scored with 33.8 seconds left to send the game into overtime. McGrath set up Holmstrom on a two-on-one one-timer in overtime, but goalie Olivier Pelletier made the save.
-- Pavel Datsyuk looked brilliant.
-- Cory Everton was one of the top forwards on the ice. He made smart passes, had a beautiful goal on a rebound where he dragged the puck around the netminder and he pressured the defense well.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Howard's beginning

TRAVERSE CITY -- Jimmy Howard was in mid-sentence, explaining how his commitment to summer workouts helped him lose 10 pounds and get in the best shape of his life. Just then, teammate Chris Osgood walked by and said, "I'll be right back, Moose."

First impressions linger.

Howard, the Detroit Red Wings' second-round draft pick in 2003, has always been known as a big goaltender, a moose. At 6-foot-0 and more than 200 pounds, covering a lot of net has been a strength for the former University of Maine standout.

Having lost 10 pounds this summer, Howard covers slightly less net and the Red Wings' management is delighted.

"Jimmy, I didn't even recognize him," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "He's like a different person, he's lost so much weight. When you make a commitment to fitness, you have a chance for your skill to come out. … To me, he's taken a huge step this summer. We're thankful for that because obviously he has the ability. Now he's got to do it. One thing about our league, it's a one-goal league or a half-a-goal league. So you can't let in bad goals."

What makes Jimmy Howard an interesting player at the team's training camp (which runs through Tuesday) is the two goaltenders ahead of him on Detroit's depth chart. Both Osgood and Dominik Hasek are signed just through this season. Both Osgood and Hasek are nearing the end of their careers.

Howard is potentially the netminder of the future for the Red Wings. Although he'll likely play this season in Grand Rapids -- Howard acknowledged that after Friday's practice -- Howard is a key to the Red Wings' future. If he doesn't have a strong season this winter, the Red Wings will need to come up with a new plan for goaltending next season.

"This is a big year for Jimmy Howard," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "He wants to play in the NHL. We want him to play in the NHL. It's time for him to send us a message, play well, let everybody know that you're right there. He had a good rookie year. We were hoping that he was going to step up last year and I think in a lot of areas, he did. In some areas, we were hoping he'd step up a little quicker. That's going to play itself out. The hope is that he's going to be an NHL goalie."

It was an injury suffered at training camp by Osgood two years ago that sprung Howard into the NHL for his professional debut. Then 21 years old, Howard got into four NHL games before going to Grand Rapids to stay.

That season, he battled with Joey MacDonald for playing time in the American Hockey League. Last winter, Howard clearly bested Stefan Liv in Grand Rapids and got into a team-high 49 games in net with the Griffins.

"I've had a taste of (the NHL) and that makes me want it that much more," said Howard. "When I get the opportunity to play out there, I want to seize the moment."

To help his cause, Howard stepped up his summertime training, working out six days a week on cardio-vascular. Taking just Sundays off, Howard's circuit training helped him drop 10 pounds before arriving in Traverse City.

"It allows you to play for a longer time at a higher intensity," said Howard.

Better physical condition and cutting out the occasional soft goal will go a long way to endearing Howard to the Red Wings' front office. For now, he's preparing himself for Grand Rapids. Howard lists his goal for this season as playing in the AHL all-star game.

But that's really just another step in a bigger goal.

"You always want to show them that you're capable of being the goalie of the future, stepping in for one of the best teams in the NHL," said Howard. "I'm ready. I know I am. I want it. I'm chomping at the bit. I'm going to show them everything that I have and everything that I've worked on."

Training camp roster breakdown

Here are the lines for the Red Wings' main camp ...

Tomas Holmstrom-Pavel Datsyuk-Johan Franzen
Igor Grigorenko-Mark Hartigan-Aaron Downey
Johan Ryno-Ryan Oulahen-Carl Corazzini
Neil Clark-Jamie Tardif-Josh Aspenlind


Nicklas Lidstrom-Brent Sopel
Brett Lebda-Jonathan Ericsson
Garrett Stafford-Logan Pyett
Cleve Kinley-Scott Jackson


Dominik Hasek-Adam Berkhoel

Jiri Hudler-Henrik Zetterberg-Mikael Samuelsson
Matt Ellis-Mark Cullen-Brett Engelhardt
Adam Keefe-Kris Vernarsky-Randall Gelech
John Kurtz-Zack Torquato-Scott Brannon

Jassen Cullimore-Brian Rafalski
Kyle Quincey-Andreas Lilja
Patrik Magnusson-Jakub Kindl
Nick Tuzzolino-Jon Insana

Chris Osgood-Logan Koopmans-Dominic Vicari


Daniel Cleary-Valtteri Filppula-Kris Draper
Dallas Drake-Tomas Kopecky-Kirk Maltby
Mattias Ritola-Cory Emmerton-Jan Mursak
Yves-Bastien-Randy Cameron-David Jarram

Niklas Kronwall-Brad Ference
Derek Meech-Chris Chelios
Brett Westgarth-Victor Bartley
Chad Greenan

Jimmy Howard-Pier-Olivier Pelletier

Training camp's first scrimmage

Dallas Drake had a good first day on the job, scoring a goal and assisting on two other in Team C's 3-1 win over Team B in a scrimmage, Friday. The Red Wings are starting training camp with their projected regular-season lines intact, meaning that Drake skating on left win with Tomas Kopecky at center and Kirk Maltby on the right side.
Other notes from Day 1 ...
-- Red Berensen has been on the ice as one of the practice coaches.
-- Defenseman Derek Meech, who is fighting for a roster spot, was paired with Chris Chelios ... a good sign for Meech.
-- Prospect Evan McGrath was able to practice despite having a large gash on his left ring finger. McGrath said that he'll be able to participate fully this weekend.
-- Prospect Darren Helm (shoulder) skated on his own today. He's not likely to play in any of the scrimmages and might miss other practices as well.
-- Igor Grigorenko was on a line with Mark Hartigan and Aaron Downey at Team A's practice. (Team A didn't have a scrimmage.) The three players are fighting for roster spots with just one or two open up front.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Roster philosophy

Coach Mike Babcock said, Wednesday, that the Red Wings will carry an NHL team and an AHL team during their preseason. In the past, practice time has been divided into a unit that was going to play in a preseason game and one that wasn't. This will be the first time that the Griffins haven't held their own camp in Grand Rapids, instead holding camp at Joe Louis Arena with the Red Wings.
Babcock said that the new division will have players who will wind up on the same regular-season team get a better familiarity. For us, it will make it easier to determine a player's status.

Meech and Sopel fighting for Wings' job

DETROIT -- Derek Meech and Brent Sopel got on the charter buses that were parked at the loading dock of Joe Louis Arena, Wednesday. Meech in one. Sopel in the other.

Both were on their way to Traverse City with the Detroit Red Wings for the team's training camp, which takes the ice, Friday. Chris Chelios was there. So were Dominik Hasek and Kris Draper. Pavel Datsyuk mugged for the photographers. Kirk Maltby was punctual as ever, the first veteran to show up.

Meech and Sopel are, however, two players who might have the most riding on this bus ride north. Both are fighting for a roster spot with the Red Wings. Both know that there's limited room on a team that usually carries seven defensemen and has six NHL veterans already on the roster.

"That's what we have here, a good internal competition," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "I'm going to stand there and watch nine exhibition games and I'm going to see what all shakes out. I go to rookie camp and people ask me, 'What do you think?' I don't. I keep watching and keep watching. They solve all the problems. … We'll find out whether you're mentally tough enough and talented enough to be a Red Wing. Competition is a great thing."

Meech and Sopel are competing within the framework of a team that already has Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Andreas Lilja, Chris Chelios and Brett Lebda under contract as defensemen.

Meech, 23, came to the Red Wings as a seventh-round draft choice in 2002. In three professional seasons, he has played 224 games for Grand Rapids and four for the Red Wings. A star in juniors, Meech captained his Red Deer team, partnering on the blue line with Dion Phaneuf. The pair also formed Canada's top defense tandem at the 2004 World Junior Championships.

Meech signed his second three-year contract with Detroit in August ($483,333 average salary).

Meech's position this fall is intriguing because he's the only one of Detroit's top defense prospects -- Jakub Kindl, Jonathan Ericsson and Kyle Quincey are the others -- who is out of options. If the Red Wings don't keep Meech on their roster, they'll have to expose him to other NHL teams, who can claim him on waivers.

"Signing a new contract was huge for me," said Meech. "Coming into camp this year, it's all business. A chance to make the top seven and see what happens that way. As long as I come into camp and play the way I can and do the things I know how to do, things will work out."

Last fall, the Red Wings had three highly regarded prospects who were out of options -- Jiri Hudler, Tomas Kopecky and Joey MacDonald. They kept all three on the NHL roster despite the fact that keeping MacDonald meant burning a roster spot on a third goalie.

Meech is well positioned and comes into camp on a professional high. Last winter, he was named an American Hockey League all-star. Meech was labeled the Griffins' "best, most consistent defenseman" by Grand Rapids general manager Bob McNamara.

Sopel, who was also a late draft pick (sixth round in 1995) is the career opposite to Meech.

Seven years older than Meech, Sopel has played in 434 NHL games with three organizations and in just 182 AHL games. Unlike Meech, however, Sopel is attending this training camp without a contract. He's trying to earn one.

After splitting last season between Vancouver and Los Angeles, Sopel became a free agent when his contract expired this summer -- a contract that paid him $2.4 million in each of the past two seasons.

But good offers didn't come for the unrestricted free agent. Sopel is now in the position of having to fight for a roster spot just three seasons after finishing 14th in scoring among NHL defensemen and being wooed by the Islanders with $4.8 million.

"I think he has the chance to be a real good fit for us," said Babcock. "He can shoot the puck. He can skate with the puck. He's had some of the erratic play. … We think he has the potential to be a top-four defenseman. Now just because we think it doesn't mean it's going to happen."

Babcock has more than a good scouting report on Sopel. Both are from Western Canada and Babcock first met Sopel when the defenseman was a youth hockey player. Babcock's assistant coach, Todd McLellan, was Sopel's junior coach in Swift Current.

Sopel could make the Red Wings as one of seven NHL-tested defensemen. Or he could force Detroit's hand into trading or cutting one of its top six defensemen.

"There's an opportunity here and I'm going to go out there and prove to the organization to make a spot for me," said Sopel. "Once camp starts, I just have to play the way I can and make them make a tough decision."

Europeans no longer have draft bonus

TRAVERSE CITY -- The Euro has dropped in value.

That is, the European hockey player being selected as a late-round gamble in the draft.

In the collective bargaining agreement that ended the NHL lockout in 2005, teams' rights to European-drafted players were severely curtailed. Before the current agreement, NHL teams could draft Europeans and keep their rights on the shelf forever whether or not the player ever signed a contract. Now, Europeans can remain in a system for only two years without a contract.

Non-college North American players were always in that situation and remain so. College or college-bound players may now be claimed by NHL teams for four or five years after being drafted (they may play a year of Tier II junior before entering college) without being signed.

The effect of the rule change could be seen at this year's amateur draft and at the Detroit Red Wings' prospects camp that concluded Tuesday in Traverse City.

In 2007, only 14 of the 60 players drafted in the final two rounds were playing in Europe. In 2000, that number was 30 of 64.

"In the old CBA, a North American you had to sign after two years and a European you could hold onto forever," said Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill. "You get into the later rounds, when there was a North American and a European kid that were about the same, you'd go with the European because he could develop. Some kids are ready at 20, some are ready at 25. Europeans have lost that time."

When the Red Wings made their fifth and final draft pick this summer, they selected Bryan Rufenach, a defenseman starting his collegiate career at Clarkston this fall. The Red Wings have until 2011 to make a decision on whether or not to financially commit to Rufenach by signing him. By then, Rufenach will be 22 and have four years of high-level college hockey on his resume. The same goes for the Red Wings' first-round selection this year, Brendan Smith, who is attending the University of Wisconsin.

With the Red Wings' other three draft picks -- Swedish forward Joakim Andersson, forward Randy Cameron of the Quebec junior league and forward Zack Torquato of the Ontario Hockey League -- the decision clock will expire in two years.

"The philosophy will never change in the first three rounds," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "But when you get to the sixth, seventh round, if you can select a player and he's going a route where you get extra time to evaluate him, that's an advantage. Lots of later-round picks end up playing in the NHL. They need time. If we would have drafted Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk (under these rules) and had two years to make a decision, probably we would have signed them, but allowing them to stay in their environment and develop at their own pace has allowed them to become the players that they are today."

Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson of Sweden was the last player selected in the 2002 draft, 291st overall. When he signed a two-year contract in 2006, he became the lowest-drafted player to ever earn an NHL deal. Holland tabs Ericsson, who participated at the prospects camp, as having a good chance to some day play in the NHL.

For the Red Wings, the rule change could steer the organization away from one of its signature traits -- finding gold in Europe in late-round draft picks.

Detroit's top power-play forward unit of last season -- Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom -- had an average draft position of 213th overall with the highest pick being used on Datsyuk (171st) in 1998. At 22, Zetterberg was the youngest when he first played in North America. Datsyuk and Holmstrom were both 23 when they ventured across the Atlantic Ocean.

"Everybody develops at a different rate," said Nill. "People forget that Pavel Datsyuk didn't come over here until he was 23. We're in a tough business. We're very short term. There's pressure to win all the time."

And that pressure means that Europe will never be ignored as draft fodder for the NHL. While the low-round incentive for taking Europeans is now gone, the talent produced in hockey powers like Russia, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic will always be among the best in the world.

"The development doesn't know there's a two-year limit," said Hakan Andersson, Detroit's director of European scouting.

Red Wings leave JLA

The buses were loaded up and headed out for Traverse City and the team's main camp, getting underway shortly after 10:30 a.m. EDT.

More to come.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Prospects' third game

A few thoughts on the Red Wings' 3-2 loss to the Rangers, Monday ...
-- Evan McGrath is was flying. He was the best forward on the team. He blocked shots. He went to the net. He showed good skills. And he was the vocal leader on the bench.
-- Darren Helm left the game with a slight injury that will keep him out of Tuesday's final game of the tournament. He should be ready to go for the main camp, Friday.
-- Igor Grigorenko needs to do a lot more to make this team. He had a sub-par game against the Rangers. He was above average in a tournament against 18-22 year-olds, a tournament that he could have dominated. He came to camp out of shape. There's still time for Grigorenko, but at the moment, the Red Wings' brass is not impressed.
-- Victor Bartley was the Red Wings' best defenseman. That's good for Victor, but not good for Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl, both of whom had subpar games.
-- Mattias Ritola was buried on the third line in this tournament and didn't do anything to prove that's not where he belongs.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Prospects' Game 3 lineup




Wings confirm three free-agent tryouts

TRAVERSE CITY -- Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland confirmed, Monday, that three free agents with NHL experience will try out at the team's main camp this week: defensemen Brent Sopel and Jassen Cullimore and forward Aaron Downey.

Sopel, 30, split last season between Los Angeles and Vancouver. The right-handed shot made a name for himself on the power play, scoring six of his 10 goals in 2003-04 with the man-advantage. Sopel is an eight-year NHL veteran who earned $2.4 million in each of the past two seasons.

Cullimore is a stay-at-home blue-liner who earned $1.9 million with the Chicago Blackhawks last season. The 34-year-old has been in the NHL for 12 seasons, playing with Vancouver, Montreal and Tampa Bay before landing in Chicago.

"We've got six NHL defensemen under contract now," said Holland. "We want to carry seven."

The presence of Sopel and Cullimore lessens the likelihood that the Red Wings will bring a young defenseman with them to start the season. NHL veteran Brad Ference will also be at camp. Prospect Derek Meech cannot be optioned to Grand Rapids without first passing through waivers. Jakub Kindl, Jonathan Ericsson and Kyle Quincey all can be assigned to the American Hockey League without risk.

At the team's prospects camp, which ends today, Holland called all four young defensemen potential NHL players.

Downey is the most economical of the three free-agent tryouts. The 32-year-old forward (he turns 33 on Sept. 27) has never earned more than $500,000 in his NHL, getting a $475,000 salary last season with Montreal. (He spent part of the season with the Providence Bruins).

"Downey adds grit up front," said Holland.

The Red Wings have four full lines of NHL veterans under contract. There's also prospect Igor Grigorenko, who has an out in his contract that allows him to return to Russia if he spends more than three weeks in the minor leagues.

The team would like to carry at least 13 forwards on its roster.

Helm passes pressure test

TRAVERSE CITY -- Darren Helm felt the pressure. And that was exactly what the Detroit Red Wings' management wanted.

For a young man growing up in Canada, wearing your nation's hockey jersey and competing against other countries is a dream. It's also pressure filled.

When Helm -- who is participating in the Red Wings' prospects camp -- was selected to play for Team Canada at last winter's World Junior Championships, it was a wonderful test for a 19-year-old.

"It's great pressure," said Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill. "You always want your kids to play at the highest level they can and under pressure because in the Stanley Cup final, that's what they're going to have to do."

Helm, now 20, was drafted by Detroit in the fifth round (132nd overall) in 2005. Born in Manitoba, Helm had a breakthrough year after being drafted, finishing fifth in the Western Hockey League with 41 goals.

Last winter, however, Helm's biggest accomplishment came when he was chosen to play for Team Canada at the World Juniors in Sweden. High-profile forward prospects like John Tavares and Angelo Esposito were cut from the roster while Helm remained.

The Red Wings' draftee played on either the second or third lines for Canada, scoring two goals and taking home a gold medal against the best under-20 players from around the world.

The tournament -- held over the Christmas holidays -- has become a national television event in Canada, earning top ratings in its time slot.

"You don't really actually notice how big it is and how many people are watching until you get back home," said Helm. "Obviously it was a huge honor for me to put on that jersey. Every time I put it on I got shivers. The whole tournament in itself, you're playing for your country, going for the gold medal. They expect nothing less.

"There's lots of pressure. You try your best to put the pressure aside so you can play your game."

Some career pressure was alleviated for Helm after last fall's training camp when the Red Wings inked him to a three-year entry-level contract. Had the franchise not opted to sign Helm by this year's camp, he would have been a free agent.

Helm went back to Medicine Hat last winter and had another productive season. He's a fast skater with good hockey sense who can be used to kill penalties, on the power play or at any time in the faceoff circle.

For the second consecutive year, Helm helped Medicine Hat reach the Memorial Cup final -- the championship tournament for North America's top junior circuits.

"For me this year, I'm a little more relaxed than what I was the last couple of years coming in here trying to get a contract," said Helm. "I'm still here trying to get a spot on a team, obviously I'd like Detroit, but Grand Rapids would be a good fit. There's lots of pressure on everyone here, lots of guys trying to get a contract or make a first impression or make the team. It's the same, you've got to put the pressure aside. There's lots of nervous energy that you can use."

Grand Rapids is a likely destination for Helm who is out of junior eligibility. The Red Wings have four set forward lines ready for when the main training camp opens Friday. That doesn't include prospect Igor Grigorenko, who can return to Russia if the Red Wings don't keep him in the NHL, or any free-agent tryouts who might be invited to camp.

On top of that, the Red Wings prefer to allow a first-year pro to get experience and confidence in the minor leagues.

"Our experience tells us that at some point (in their first pro season) they're going to hit a wall," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "For young players, confidence is such a big thing. If you're dominating, you're growing as a player. They don't understand that. They just want to see the bright lights of the NHL. They want to play with the best players, make NHL salary, fly on private planes. Because they think they're ready."

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Kindl dreams of Red Wings roster spot

TRAVERSE CITY -- At times, hockey can be an easy game. The waiting game, on the other hand, is never easy. Not when you're a teen-ager.

"A long time for an 18-year-old is a week; They don't think in terms of years," said Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.

Jakub Kindl is a 19-year-old defenseman in the Detroit organization. He's ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the system (behind goalie Jimmy Howard and ahead of forward Igor Grigorenko) by Years he know about, having spent the past six years playing junior hockey -- first three years in his native Czech Republic and the past three for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.

Waiting another year or more isn't easy when you're a teen-ager and that which you wait for is a dream.

"I was hoping last year that maybe I had a shot to play in the NHL," said Kindl. "I wasn't going to say it, but I was hoping. I didn't have a bad camp. I had a couple of points in four games. I don't want to say that I wanted to be there, but I was hoping. I didn't get that much opportunity. They told me that I have to come here and be stronger. So that's what I was doing with my summer, spending a lot of time in the gym. We'll see how things go this year."

Kindl has been a force on the blue line for the Red Wings at their prospects camp, which concludes Tuesday. He did the same last year and then carried that momentum through the team's main camp and the preseason.

In fact, Kindl remained with the Red Wings in preseason long after the other junior-eligible players were sent back to their 20-and-under teams. His talent for offense from the blue line while remaining defensively responsible teased Detroit's management.

"About a week before we did send him to juniors, we said that we were going to send him out," said Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill. "Then we played him a (preseason) game and he played very well. We said that we'd give him one more and then let him go back to juniors and he played better. He wound up playing about five games."

With seven NHL-experienced defenseman on the team at training camp last fall, there was little chance that Kindl would wind up in Detroit.

This year, however, there will be no juniors. Kindl is no longer eligible and signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Red Wings. This year, Kindl might wind up with the Red Wings or more likely with the Grand Rapids Griffins. When the Griffins called him up for seven American Hockey League playoff games last spring, Kindl wound up on the first power-play unit.

Jakub Kindl is taking his first strides as a professional.

"My dream is to play in the NHL, but I'm looking forward to playing in Grand Rapids if that's where I go," said Kindl. "I'll go step by step. I've got to be patient. I believe if I'm patient, good things will happen."

Kindl's command of the English language has matured as much as his game. Two years ago, he was shy about giving an interview. This past weekend, his personality shone as he spoke about getting ready to live on his own as a pro, about annoying former Kitchener teammate and current Wings prospect Evan McGrath about things like what cell phone to buy … the little things as Kindl puts it.

The big thing about Kindl is his talent. Drafted 19th overall in 2005, Kindl is still the Red Wings' highest selection since taking Martin Lapointe 10th in 1991. Kindl was an OHL all-star in Kitchener and was the captain of the Czech Republic team at last winter's Junior World Championships.

Kindl's resume is similar to Jiri Fischer in that both are Czech, both came to North America to play junior hockey and both were first-round draft picks by Detroit. Fischer cracked the Red Wings' lineup as a 19-year-old after playing the first seven games of the 1999-2000 season in the AHL.

Will Kindl do the same as a 19-year-old?

"We think that we have four players (Kindl, Derek Meech, Kyle Quincey and Jonathan Ericsson) who have a pretty good chance to be NHL defensemen down the road," said Holland. "Our feeling is if you can make the team and play … Kindl isn't fighting for the seventh spot on the team, he's fighting for one of the six spots on the team. … Even if you're a sixth defenseman and playing five minutes, you're better off in my mind playing 20 minutes at the American League level … power play, penalty kill, late in the game, key situations. Young players don't understand that. When they hear the news that they're being assigned somewhere else, they've very, very disappointed."

Off day

The prospects were given Sunday off. Next one-ice action is a Monday morning (11:30 a.m.) practice and a Monday evening (7 p.m.) game against the Rangers' prospects.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Prospects' second game

A few thoughts from the Red Wings' 3-1 victory over Tampa Bay tonight ...

-- Tampa Bay doesn't have much.
-- Igor Grigorenko was the best offensive forward in the game. His skating isn't his strength, but it's not a negative by any means. Tonight, he was the one guy who slowed the game down. In the first period, he created a lot, but looked for the pass even when he was in the slot with the puck. After one power play, Coach Mike Stothers hollered on the bench "Not one f-ing shot on the power play. Grigger, shoot the puck." Grigger shot the puck in the second and third periods. He anticipates well. He plays down low, but prefers the perimeter. Although he had three assists, Grigorenko was key on just McGrath's goal, getting the puck to him in front. (Jonathan Ericsson carried end-to-end on one of Grigorenko's assists and on Jan Mursak's goal, Grigorenko's pass was two zones and a dump-in away from the puck going in.)
-- Evan McGrath had a great game. His faceoffs improved over the first game. He worked hard in front of the net. (His goal came with him working just outside the crease.) McGrath set Grigorenko up for a one-timer that took a very good save to stop.
-- Johan Ryno was again much more noticeable than Mattias Ritola. Ryno had an excellent penalty-kill in the second period where he blocked two shots from the point then dove to clear the zone. He does this funky thing while blocking shots ... standing upright and lifting one leg to kind of kick the puck like a soccer player. That's how he got his first block and I've never seen it done like that before. When Ryno cleared the zone, Coach Stothers yelled, "That's a big-time play boys." On the other side, Ryno created some offense, but once again didn't finish. He had a a wide-open back-door slam with the score 3-1 late in the second that he flipped over the open goal.
-- Josh Aspenlind, playing on right wing with McGrath and Grigorenko, had several big hits. He didn't work the puck well, but his physical play meshed well with his linemates.
-- Odd game for momentum. Tampa Bay outshot Detroit 12-4 in the first 25 minutes. Over the next 15 minutes, however, Detroit outshot the Lightning, 14-2. When Mursak scored the winning goal, Detroit was behind on shots, 13-5.
-- Jakub Kindl is playing a very strong defensive game. Ericsson has been more noticeable, but Kindl has played very well positionally.
-- Mursak's goal came on a dump-in that he beat the defenseman into the corner. Mursak sent a quick blind pass into the slot for Darren Helm and the puck caromed in off a defender.

Lines for prospects' second game

For tonight's game against Tampa Bay ...



Peletier in net

Grigorenko's time is now

TRAVERSE CITY -- Where Igor Grigorenko is living come December is one of the most intriguing questions in Hockeytown.

The young Russian might be in Detroit in the early stages of an NHL career, learning about life in North America, picking up the English language bit by bit. Or Grigorenko might be back in the same town in Russia in which he lived before, playing for the same team, comfortable in language and surroundings.

The highest profile player at this weekend's Red Wings prospects camp has an out clause in the contract that he signed with Detroit, May 8. If the team assigns him to the minor leagues for more than three weeks, then Grigorenko may return to Russia, opting out of his NHL pact.

Grigorenko's Detroit contract is a two-way deal, calling for him to earn $858,000 with the Red Wings and $75,000 if he's playing for the Grand Rapids Griffins. In Russia, Grigorenko conservatively would earn $800,000 after taxes. Monetarily, the decision would be an easy one.

But professionally, the NHL is the place to be.

"Everyone wants to play in the best league," said Grigorenko with his agent, Mark Lapush interpreting.

"He will be playing here definitely," said Lapush. "Wait until you see what he does if they put him with someone like (Pavel) Datsyuk."

Grigorenko has the best chance of any of the players at this weekend's prospects camp to stick with the Red Wings. At 24, Grigorenko is the oldest player at the camp. He's also the prospect with the best resume, having played five seasons in the Russian Super League and competed for his homeland in the World Championships and the World Juniors. As a 20-year-old, he skated on a line at the World Championships with Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Grigorenko will be given every opportunity to prove his value this weekend, at the main training camp next week and throughout the preseason. He has the potential to be a scoring-line forward in the NHL for many years to come.

"We'd like to think he's going to be a good player at this (prospects) tournament," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "Most of these kids are 18-22. On the other hand, he doesn't speak a lot of English, he hasn't played much hockey in rinks this size. For us, this is a week for him to get adjusted. We're going to give him this entire month to show us what he can do. Then we're going to have to make a decision. We're hoping he'll play his way onto the team."

The upside for Grigorenko teases Red Wings' fans. His potential, however, is mated with lingering question marks.

Four years ago, Grigorenko was in a serious car accident that shattered his leg and eventually had him fighting for his life in a Russian hospital with a fat embolism in his lung. Grigorenko said Friday that he feels that his level of play is back to the same as it was before the accident.

Grigorenko spent his time between lunchtime practice and nighttime game to fill out his application for a Social Security card. In many ways, his life off the ice is more difficult now than on the ice.

"The game feels the same (here as in Russia)," said Grigorenko. "But everything would be much easier if I spoke English."

There are, however, indications that the Russian came to this camp not in top physical condition. One member of the Red Wings' hierarchy confirmed that the club was concerned that Grigorenko hadn't worked hard enough during the summer. The Russian was slow at the end of shifts during the first game of the prospects tournament.

"Before the accident, he reminded me of Slava Kozlov, but better," said Hakan Andersson, Detroit's director of European scouting. "He was similar, but Grigorenko was such a tank. He's still a tank, but he's not totally back to what he was. Doctors say he's fine, but with how nerves work … you can't measure everything."

Drafted in 2001, Grigorenko has long been one of the Red Wings' top prospects. His injuries from the car accident in 2003 set back his development, but in the past three seasons, Grigorenko has had successful Russian Super League campaigns. He finished 18th in scoring in 2005-06.

If he can produce offense in the NHL as he has in Russia, then Grigorenko will be a welcome addition to the Red Wings. But will success come quickly enough for the team and player to wind up married?

"Grigorenko is going to be a big challenge," said Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill. "He's got an out to go back in November. Our whole thing is give yourself a chance. One or two weeks of struggling … give yourself more than a month. Don't use your out. Now, easier said than done. You can have $1 million tax-free in Russia or make $75,000 in Grand Rapids. But if you want to be an NHL player, just relax and go from there."

Friday, September 7, 2007

Prospects' first game

A few thoughts from Friday's 3-2 loss to the Atlanta prospects ...
-- Igor Grigorenko skated on the left side of Evan McGrath's line with Jan Mursak on the right. The Red Wings' top scoring line created some chances, but didn't finish well. Grigorenko started slowly, but played solid second and third periods.
-- Johan Ryno had two breakaways, but couldn't convert either.
-- Goalie Dominic Vicari was a standout with Detroit being outshot 32-21.
-- Patrik Magnusson looked like the weak link on defense during practices, having a hard time connecting on basic passes. But in the game, it was free agent defenseman Chad Greenan who struggled. Greenan left huge gaps between himself and the puck carrier and was caught napping on the Thrashers' first goal.
-- Darren Helm centered the second line with Swedes Johan Ryno and Mattias Ritola on his wings. Ryno made an impact. It was difficult to notice Ritola.
-- Jakub Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson were the top blue-line duo. They're the only two defensemen under contract with the Red Wings at the prospects camp.
-- Evan McGrath struggled on faceoffs.
-- Free agent defenseman Scott Jackson had a strong game.
-- Forward Zack Torquato, drafted this summer by the Wings, was alert. He played a good positional game. He was the first on the bench to notice a penalty against Atlanta and start hollering for Vicari to head to the bench.

Mursak strives for perfection

TRAVERSE CITY -- Jim Nill likes the way that Jan Mursak adjusts the knot in his tie.

When the Detroit Red Wings' assistant general manager went to scout the 19-year-old prospect, Nill saw the skating ability, the stick-handling, the hockey sense. What stood out in Nill's mind, however, was the precision with which Mursak worked on his tie, adjusting and caressing it until the teen-ager had the knot just so.

"He's a perfectionist," said Nill. "It's his personality and his work ethic. That's how he is on the ice and off the ice."

The perfectionist came very close to putting in a perfect season last year. Drafted late -- the sixth round in 2006 -- and coming out of a country -- Slovenia -- that is second-tier among the world's hockey powers, Mursak had a good training camp last fall and then lit up the Ontario Hockey League.

Despite adjusting to playing and living outside of Europe for the first time in his life, Mursak tallied at least one point in each of his first 22 OHL games with the Saginaw Spirit against the best junior-age competition in North America. That streak set a Saginaw franchise record.

By Christmas, Mursak was among the top 10 OHL scorers. The 182nd overall draft pick was looking like the perfect late-round selection.

"Certainly, he was a real pleasant surprise," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "What he did for us last year is show us he's a legitimate prospect. He's stronger. He can skate. He can handle the puck. He can think."

Mursak is back in Traverse City this weekend for his second training camp with the Red Wings. He'll stay here for the team's main camp that begins Sept. 14.

Mursak finished last season as the Spirit's leading scorer with 80 points, including 27 goals, in 62 OHL games. He also skated for Slovenia in the second-tier World Junior championships.

It was while playing in an under-18 international tournament against countries like Belarus and Austria that Mursak got his break. Noticed by an Austrian agent, Mursak was given the opportunity to play hockey in either Sweden or the Czech Republic. He chose the latter because it was closer to home.

"I learned Czech in one year," said Mursak, who is now fluent in English as well. "There's some good players in Slovenia. But there are only six or seven rinks (in the entire country). It's very hard for hockey. Everything is about soccer. All the money goes to soccer. It's getting better, but it's really hard. No scouts, no agents, no one there to see you."

Because he played in a hockey power like the Czech Republic as an 18-year-old, Mursak was seen by scouts and eventually drafted by the Red Wings.

That led Mursak to playing in Saginaw as a junior, learning more about playing on the small North American ice surfaces, picking up the English language and finishing his final year of high school at Saginaw Nouvel Catholic. He also set up his own web site (

A long-shot to stick with the Red Wings this season, Mursak is likely bound for Saginaw once his stay in Traverse City ends. The Red Wings' management is high on Mursak's skill, hockey sense and competitiveness. They also like that he added 20 pounds since last fall's training camp.

"He's a guy that you call in the office when he's 165 pounds and you show him what Kris Draper and Henrik Zetterberg can do with their strength," said Holland, "and he goes to the gym and he gets physically stronger. He's improving. Some kids are slow learners … They've had success and they think they're going to get by on their skill. He's not like that. He knows that he needs to get stronger to have a chance as an NHL player."

It's a detail in the development of a hockey player that can't be overlooked. But details don't intimidate perfectionists.

"I really like to have things in line," said Mursak. "I hate to have my room messy. I put all my things where they need to be. I think I learned this from my parents. Working out takes working on a lot of little things. I don't mind that."

This year's line combinations

Of course, this will change repeatedly thoughout the preseason and regular season, but as of today, these are the forward lines and defensive tandems for the Red Wings, according to coach Mike Babcock:



Note the move of Kris Draper -- one of the league's best faceoff men -- over to the right side on Filppula's line. Tomas Kopecky is centering a checking line and Jiri Hudler is on one of the top two scoring lines.

Veteran D to get camp invites

General manager Ken Holland said Friday that there will be a couple of veteran defensemen coming to the Red Wings' main training in Traverse City next week. Holland said that he has tentative agreements, but declined to name with whom until the players' involvement is secured.
One source in the organization said that Brent Sopel is one of the blue-liners who will come to camp as a free agent. Sopel is 30 years old and split time last season between Los Angeles and Vancouver. The unrestricted free agent has spent parts of nine seasons in the NHL, scoring 10 goals (six on the power play) in 2003-04 for the Canucks.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Prospects Camp Opens

TRAVERSE CITY -- Seeing isn't just believing. Seeing is also understanding.

For the next five days, the Red Wings' management will get to see some of their top prospects competing against each other and future stars from seven other NHL teams at their annual prospects camp. And that will help them understand what talent is in their system.

Igor Grigorenko, the 24-year-old forward who played four seasons in the Russian Super League, skated with other young Wings, Thursday, at the opening practice of the camp. So did Jakub Kindl, the 20-year-old Czech defenseman who starred in the Ontario Hockey League the past three seasons and nearly made the Red Wings last year.

Grigorenko and Kindl are the two highest profile prospects in the Detroit organization and the two players here who are the best positioned to be Red Wings this season.

Also in camp are Johan Ryno, 21, and Mattias Ritola, 20, who have spent their entire careers in Sweden, but will likely play this season in North America. Swedish defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, 23, -- the final player taken in the 2002 draft -- is here after having an impressive season at Grand Rapids last winter. So is 21-year-old forward Evan McGrath, the former Ontario Hockey League scoring star whose stock dropped after his first season as a professional in Grand Rapids, and 19-year-old Jan Mursak, the Slovenian whose stock jumped after a great season with Saginaw of the OHL.

They came to Traverse City from all levels of leagues from all points of the globe to play in front of the eyes of the Red Wings' management.

"The toughest part of our business," said Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill, "is when I go over to Sweden and I'm judging a kid, now I've got to compare him to a kid playing in the OHL. This (camp) takes away all of that (comparison)."

The 22 players in the Red Wings' prospects camp will remain in Traverse City and take part in the team's main camp when it begins, Sept. 14.

Before that, however, they'll take part in a prospects camp that has them practice every morning and then play one game against another team's prospects every day. Atlanta, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and the New York Rangers also have prospect teams here for the five-day tournament.

"The biggest part of it is we get to judge the kids against their own level," said Nill. "Before, we'd have a training camp and the Kindls, Rynos, Ritolas would have to play against Nick Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan. First of all, they're going to be in total awe of these guys, so they're nervous. They're probably not as strong as the veterans. They can't really show what they can do. If a guy's a big hitter, he's not going to run into Nick Lidstrom. He's just not going to do it in training camp. There's too much respect. We get to see them against their own age group at their own level of play and they can do what they do best."

The prospects who aren't allowed take part in this camp are those who play for colleges and those Europeans who have yet to sign a contract with their NHL team. For Detroit, that means that Michigan State's Justin Abdelkader and the Red Wings' top two draft picks this summer -- defenseman Brendan Smith (Wisconsin) and forward Joakim Andersson (Sweden) -- are not here.

Also not taking part in the prospects camp are the Red Wings' top pick of 2006, forward Cory Emmerton, and defenseman Logan Pyett, who are currently playing for Team Canada in the junior Super Series against Russia. Both, however, will take part in Detroit's main camp next week.

Between the eight teams at the prospects camp, there are 17 first-round draft picks, 19 second-rounders and 20 third-rounders playing this weekend at Traverse City's Center ICE Arena.

Nill and general manager Ken Holland were in the stands watching the Red Wings' first practice Thursday. So were Detroit coaches Mike Babcock, Paul MacLean and Todd McLellan and Grand Rapids general manager Bob McNamara. Griffins coaches Bob Stother and Jim Paek and Detroit goaltending coach Jim Bedard ran the practice.

Games start today and run through next Tuesday.