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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.

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.


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