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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.

Monday, September 17, 2007

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."


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