Meech and Sopel fighting for Wings' job
Both were on their way to
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
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
Meech signed his second three-year contract with
Meech's position this fall is intriguing because he's the only one of
"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
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
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
Sopel could make the Red Wings as one of seven NHL-tested defensemen. Or he could force
"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."