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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wings sign Lashoff, Raedeke, cut Deck, Ondrej

Yesterday, Ken Holland said that deals with forward Brent Raedeke and defenseman Brian Lashoff were imminent. Today, they're complete. Both 18-year-old undrafted free agents were signed to three-year entry-level contracts.

They're both with their junior teams and will be for at least this season. These deals are about three years down the road, not this year.

Here's the Red Wings' press release ...

Detroit Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland announced today that the club has signed forward Brent Raedeke and defenseman Brian Lashoff to three-year entry level deals. In keeping with team policy, additional terms of each contract were not disclosed. Both players recently attended the Red Wings’ prospect camp in Traverse City on amateur tryouts.

Raedeke, an 18 year old forward from Regina, SK, spent last season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League. He finished the season with 15 goals and 16 assists for 31 points in 72 games. Lashoff, an 18 year old defenseman from Albany, NY, skated last season for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. In 50 games, he scored five goals and added 15 assists for 20 points.

The Red Wings also announced the release of two players from their training camp roster, defensemen Kyle Deck and Martin Ondrej. Deck was in camp on an amateur tryout while Ondrej was in on a professional tryout. With the cuts, Detroit’s current training camp roster stands at 50.

Frankenstein's defenseman

Don't tell my wife I'm doing this, she'll think I have way too much time on my hands. But I was wondering what would a merged career of Bobby Orr and Nicklas Lidstrom look like.

Orr's glory came early. He was pretty much done soon after he turned 27, playing just 36 games over three seasons after the 1974-75 season.

On the other hand, Lidstrom became hockey's dominant defenseman later in his career. He won his first Stanley Cup two months after turning 27 and all of his individual awards after that age.

So, flip the switch please Igor. Let's splice together Bobby Orr's career til the age of 27 and Nicklas Lidstrom's career after he turned 27 (starting with the 97-98 season). What you get is ...

19 seasons
1,422 regular-season games
401 goals
1,100 assists
1,501 points
1,182 penalty minutes (Bobby could fight)
+816 (missing Orr's rookie season)

I was thinking that the statistics of this Frankenstein defenseman would tower over everyone else, but they're very similar to those of the two most dominant defensemen in terms of career stats, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey. Bourque had 1,579 points. Coffey had 1,531. Coffey scored 396 goals in 1,409 games. Bourque had 410 goals in 1,612 games. Both Bourque (+528) and Coffey (+294) trail the monster in plus-minus.

Orr is the most statistically dominant defenseman per game in history. Lidstrom has led the league in defense scoring, but he's in a statistically deflated era; his numbers would be higher if he was in his prime in the 80s.

But here's where the Orr/Lidstrom monster towers ... achievements, not numbers. The Orr/Lidstrom monster combined to earn ...

5 Stanley Cups
3 Conn Smythe Trophies
14 Norris Trophies
3 Hart Trophies
2 Art Ross Trophies
1 Calder Trophy

That's 14 Norris Trophies in 19 seasons. And Nick is still going.

Now if I can figure a way to put Wayne Gretzky's scoring abilities together with Bob Probert's fighting ...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Lidstrom's view on visors

DETROIT -- While Nicklas Lidstrom carried on a conversation, Chris Chelios reached into the Red Wing captain's locker and pulled out his helmet. With Lidstrom looking the other way, Chelios put on Lidstrom's helmet and frowned.

It was a most unusual sight … hockey's elder statesman, a living connection to the past, squinting to see through a visor.

The first thing that Chelios did was reach up to wipe the fog from the inside of the visor. After three more seconds, he took the darned thing off, put it back in Lidstrom's locker and went to his post-practice workout.

Lidstrom doesn't have that luxury at the moment. A broken nose, swollen blackened eye and over-the-brow stitches mean that Lidstrom will be wearing a visor for at least the short term.

This morning, Lidstrom skated through a morning practice at Joe Louis Arena, working through the adjustment of having something strapped a few inches from his face while he plays hockey at a remarkably high tempo.

"It just takes some time to get used to having something right in front of your face," said Lidstrom. "Once you get used to it, I don't think it will be a problem. It's just getting over the hump. Especially where the visor ends, there's a line that it's tough to see."

There's fog and there are beads of sweat that drip onto the visor when you look down.
Visors are higher tech than when Lidstrom last wore one -- as an NHL rookie in 1991-92. Lidstrom disliked visors then, partially because they weren't as effective. He laughs now when he describes the shape, using his hands to cut a box-like figure in front of his face.

"It's a lot different," said Lidstrom. "You can see better, clearer. They're formed nice now. The old ones almost had edges."

Still, Lidstrom uses phrases like "for now" and "we'll see" when he talks about wearing a visor, sounding much like a veteran of 15 visor-less NHL seasons.

Lidstrom has had just two days with the visor. Kris Draper said that it took him two weeks to feel totally comfortable after he put on a visor three years ago, after being struck in the eye with a puck.

"Now it's just another piece of my equipment," said Draper. "I remember lying on the table. I had blood in my eye, couldn't see. I was like, basically made a deal right then that if everything's alright, the visor's going on and never coming off. There was never a choice whether it took two weeks or a month."

Of the 18 skaters in the lineup when the Red Wings clinched the Stanley Cup last spring, Lidstrom was one of seven who didn't wear a visor.

The preponderance of visors and the success of visor-wearing players took away any excuse Draper could muster.

"You look around the league and there's world-class players wearing a visor," said Draper. "I can never make an excuse like, 'I can't see the puck' or whatever. If Pav (Datsyuk) and Z (Henrik Zetterberg) can wear it, I can adjust."

Red Wings offer contracts to Lashoff, Raedeke

The Detroit Red Wings are close to signing two undrafted 18-year-olds who participated in their prospects camp as free-agent try-outs. Defenseman Brian Lashoff and forward Brent Raedeke have been in negotiations with the Red Wings, according to Detroit general manager Ken Holland, who said that Lashoff is close to finalizing a contract.

"I'm optimistic we'll get that (Lashoff deal) done soon," said Holland. "The two of them really impressed us in the rookie camp.

Lashoff, a native of upstate New York, is a 6-foot-2 defenseman who is starting his third season with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League.

"It was a great experience being around those guys, a team like that that's just won a Cup," Lashoff told the Barrie Examiner. "It's amazing. Going into prospects camp, I knew it was going to be competitive, but I thought I held my own. Then, in main camp, I didn't want to be out there staring at the backs of jerseys. I wanted to show what I could do, and I think I did that."

"We like that he has two years of junior to go," said Holland. "He's a big body who can handle the puck well. He's got to work on foot speed."

Raedeke is a winger starting his second season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League. The Saskatchewan native is a 6-foot-0 left-handed shot.

"Raedeke is a real good player," said Holland. "He's got good hockey sense. We just want to see him in the gym. He has to get physically stronger."

Holland said that the Red Wings are seven or eight below the league limit of 50 contract players before the Lashoff and Raedeke deals.

Monday morning practice

Team Howe is on the ice right now, but Pavel Datsyuk (groin) isn't skating with them. His groin injury presumably is still bothering him. Nicklas Lidstrom is back on the ice with a half-shield.

Here are the forward lines that Team Howe is working with ...


Good to see Evan McGrath skating with Jan Mursak to give McGrath a look with some good wingers. And it doesn't look like Aaron Downey is high on the depth chart at the moment.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Thoughts on preseason Game 4 (4-0 win over Atlanta)

-- Something is obviously still wrong with Valtteri Filppula's right thumb. He took a faceoff early in the game, but wound up with only three draws total despite playing center on his line. Linemate Dan Cleary had nine faceoffs. Filppula is obviously good enough to play, but his full game isn't back yet. Shooting is a problem with a banged-up thumb and Filppula directed just one shot at net, missing the net. Other than Filppula, only Darren McCarty, Cory Emmerton and Mattias Ritola had only one shot attempt among Red Wing forwards.

-- It's fun to see the difference between a veteran and a newcomer. Zach Bogosian, the 18-year-old defenseman who was the third overall draft pick this summer, tried to lug the puck through the neutral zone against the Red Wings. Bogosian's move was to dump the puck one way around a defender and skate the other way. The defender was Jiri Hudler, however, and he didn't bite. Hudler scooped up the puck and headed the other way with Bogosian caught out of position.

-- Babcock on the roster decisions to be made on defense ... "We've got some huge decisions on the back end. ... Lils (Lilja) for me is a real solid 5-6 guy. Big body. Good penalty killer. Real important part of our team. When you go through it, the math doesn't work out." The interesting thing about that quote is that the question asked was about Jonathan Ericsson, not Lilja.

-- Babcock post-game quotes on Ville Leino ... "He's an NHL player in waiting. So it's up to him how soon he wants to skate, how soon he wants to go to the net, how soon he wants to play." ... and Darren Helm ... "I think Helmer's an NHL player. Every time he's on the ice, something happens. He's an elite skater. He's got good hockey sense. When he came here, we didn't know if he'd ever make plays. He makes plays consistently. He's good in the faceoff circle. He's good on the penalty-kill. We're going to have a hard time not having him here."
Sounds like Helm has the edge at the moment in the fight for a roster spot.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thoughts on preseason Game 3( 2-1 loss to Boston)

-- Defenseman P.J. Atherton, who was a late addition to the Red Wings' lineup (decision was made to give Brian Rafalski a night of rest), looked relaxed and thus looked pretty good, connecting on passes, hitting the net with his shots. By contrast, Kyle Quincey looked tight, pressing and ineffective.

-- You don't often see this, but coach Mike Babcock chewed out a player on the bench last night, pointing at him, walking closer to make sure he heard. Evan McGrath was whistled for hooking in the second period, but it was likely the unsportsmanlike conduct call he picked up on the same play that drew his coach's wrath. The Wings killed off the double-minor, but lost four minutes of game time while they were trailing by a goal.

-- Speaking of penalties, Kris Draper has been called for three minors in two games. Two of those were offensive-zone penalties.

-- Manny Fernandez was supposed to start in net for Boston, taking warm-ups as the starter. But a bruised thumb caused by a warm-up shot benched Fernandez and Tuukka Rask took over. Rask made a remarkable save on fellow Finn, Valtteri Filppula, with 25 seconds left to save the victory for the Bruins.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lineup update

It looks like Brian Rafalski will have the night off. He's sore, could have played tonight, but they're giving him the night off. Here are the probable defense pairings for tonight's preseason game ...


And the forward lines with Datsyuk sidelined ...


Ty Conklin will start in net with Jimmy Howard backing up. The plan is for Conklin to play the entire game.


Pavel Datsyuk left this morning's practice early. I'll find out what's up ASAP.

UPDATE: Datsyuk just left the trainers' room. He's out of the lineup tonight and not saying exactly what the injury is. Datsyuk did say that he should be back in the lineup soon and that his injury isn't long-term.

Also, with only 12 forwards practicing with Team Howe this morning, including Datsyuk, someone who's on the ice at the Team Lindsay practice (going on right now) will have to be "traded" and in the lineup tonight. After Datsyuk left the ice this morning, Valtteri Filppula shifted up a line to center Tomas Holmstrom and Marian Hossa.

Filppula confirmed that he will play tonight, his preseason debut after missing time with a jammed thumb.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Coach Mike Babcock on Datsyuk and team soreness/injuries ...

"I think everyone's pretty good," said Babcock. "We have the day off tomorrow and we'll monitor everyone. We've got a whole bunch of guys that are sore. We'll see after the day off, we'll have a better idea who's injured and who's sore."

There are no practices Saturday ... the only day of the preseason without anything scheduled. Sunday morning will be the next on-ice test for Datsyuk.

Friday morning practice

It looks like Valtteri Filppula (jammed thumb) is a definite for tonight's preseason game against Boston at Joe Louis Arena. Team Howe is practicing with 12 forwards, including Fil. He did some one-time drills on his own before practice. Shooting was the one thing he hadn't been doing in previous practices.

Also, defenseman Jakub Kindl might make his return

Here's the lines they're working with ...




A few quick thoughts on the lineup ...

YOu can divide the Red Wings in half and you've still got a pretty good NHL lineup going tonight. Remarkable depth of talent on this team.

-- Note that Nicklas Lidstrom (broken nose) isn't on the ice and won't be playing with his unit (Howe) tonight.

-- Mursak was singled out by Mike Babcock after Wednesday's game as one prospect who looked good up front. I would take putting him on a line with the two Finns, Filppula and Leino, as a good opportunity for Mursak earned by a good outing.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thoughts on preseason Game 1

-- Highlight was the Red Wings controlling the puck for 1:17 on a delayed penalty. Read that again ... 1:17 the Habs couldn't even touch the puck. Remarkable.

-- Jonathan Ericsson looked very good on the blue line as did Derek Meech. Kyle Quincey didn't look good, having a big turnover in the defensive zone and having trouble holding the puck in at the offensive blue line.

-- Jan Mursak had a lot of jump and was effective. He was the one young player that coach Mike Babcock praised after the game. Evan McGrath had moments where he looked very fast and had a sweet set-up to Marian Hossa. Ville Leino was effective, but at times he had trouble with his positioning, being a wild card at times.

-- Tomas Kopecky had an excellent game for a return from knee surgery.

-- The Habs' tying goal came on a fat rebound left by Jimmy Howard.

-- Pavel Datsyuk was the best player on the ice. No news there.

Kopecky's hit

Tomas Kopecky's knockout hit on Mathieu Carle was effective, so much so that at first glance you assumed it was dirty. But both sides said after tonight's game that Kopecky's hit was clean and that Carle was caught admiring his own pass.

"On the first thought, it was a bad hit or somebody blind-sided him," said Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau. "I came down. I looked at it on the tape. The timing was there. Mathieu had his head down a little bit. Kopecky came across, he wasn't trying to gain speed, he was trying to make contact with Mathieu. The shoulder just hit the head."

Carle released a neutral-zone pass and continued skating towards the offensive blue line. A backchecking Kopecky came from behind Carle on the left and put his shoulder into the defenseman. The hit was a tad late and Carle was way too long in admiring his pass. The result was a check that knocked Carle unconscious. The rookie was conscious before leaving the ice and returned from hospital in time to leave Detroit with the Habs.

"You never want to see anyone get hurt," said Kopecky.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

LIdstrom caught by shot

UPDATE: Lidstrom received stitches on a cut above his right eye. He went to Detroit Medical Center for precautionary x-rays. Could have been a lot worse.


Nicklas Lidstrom left tonight's preseason opener with 16:55 left in the third period when a shot by Montreal's Shawn Belle deflected up into Lidstrom's face. The Detroit captain crumpled to the ice holding his face with a pool of blood fast in forming beneath him. Lidstrom didn't return to the game.

Fil getting better

Valtteri Filppula (jammed thumb) won't be playing in tonight's preseason opener against Montreal, but he was able to do more at this morning's practice than he has been of late. Filppula took part in all drills with Team Howe, including wrist shots. He hasn't been shooting the puck since being run into the boards by Aaron Downey in a training camp scrimmage.

"It felt good," said Filppula. "If it keeps getting better like this, I don't see why I shouldn’t be playing real soon."

Filppula could make his preseason debut as early as Friday.

-- Also from practice this morning, Jakub Kindl (groin) skated with Team Lindsay. He won't play in that squad's preseason game, Thursday, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

-- Because of Kindl's injury (he's listed on Team Howe's roster, but skated with the Lindsays to get in a full workout), Jonathan Ericsson was "traded" from the Lindsay squad to the Howe squad to bolster that blue line.

-- If you're curious where Marian Hossa literally fits in the Detroit locker room, he's got a stall between Dan Cleary and Pavel Datsyuk. It was the spot Darren McCarty occupied late last season. McCarty moved two doors down beside Kirk Maltby into Dallas Drake's old stall.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Final thoughts from training camp

The Howe/Lindsay (Red/White) game just ended and with that, training camp comes to a close. Here are a few thoughts on the past few days in Traverse City as the team is on the cusp of its nine-game preseason slate. The notes are more about the fringe, the position battles, than the stars whose roles are well defined.

-- Forget about outplaying Ty Conklin. Jimmy Howard hasn't outplayed Daniel Larsson ... and that's a compliment to Larsson, not a slam on Howard. The Swedish netminder has come to camp ready and looks very strong. He's an excellent position netminder, who looks much better than a No. 2 AHL goalie.

-- Mattias Ritola's stock has risen since last fall. How's this for a nifty snapshot? With the puck on a 2-on-1, Ritola threads a pass tonight through the feet of a defenseman onto the stick of his linemate for a great scoring chance. The defenseman? Nicklas Lidstrom.

-- Francis Lemieux, a 24-year-old three-year veteran of the AHL showed an excellent offensive game in camp. He's a Grand Rapids contract player.

-- Wait until you see Marian Hossa's defensive game. He's not Pavel Datsyuk, but he's excellent. With his speed and size, Hossa ran several opponents off the puck on the backcheck.

-- Darren McCarty has outplayed Aaron Downey in camp. There's a long way to go until the roster is named though.

-- Ville Leino looked excellent in the scrimmages, always around the puck and defensively responsible. He wasn't nearly as noticeable in tonight's Howe/Lindsay game, however, with a higher talent level.

-- Logan Pyett is a defenseman to watch. For a player who built a reputation with great offense, Pyett is quite good in the defensive zone.

Howe-Lindsay game lineups

Team Howe


Conklin (starts)

Team Lindsay


Osgood (starts)

Kindl out

Defenseman Jakub Kindl won't play tonight in the Howe/Lindsay game or in tomorrow's preseason opener because of a groin strain. It's likely that Jonathan Ericsson will switch from Team Lindsay to Team Howe and be made available for tomorrow's game.

Filppula out first two preseason games

Coach Mike Babcock just said that Valtteri Filppula (jammed thumb) won't be in the lineup for the first two preseason games. The earliest he could be on the ice would be Friday's game at Joe Louis Arena against Boston.

Kindl banged up

Defenseman Jakub Kindl might not play in tonight's Howe/Lindsay game because of an unspecified injury. Kindl will warm up with the team and his status will be determined at that point. If Kindl can't play, Sergei Kolosov will skate for Team Howe.

Leino the late-bloomer

TRAVERSE CITY -- In most professions, being 24 years old is a beginning. In hockey, being 24 means you're career is about to pass you by if it hasn't taken flight.

Sidney Crosby has an MVP award and a scoring title on his resume and he's just 21. By the age of 24, Bobby Orr had two Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythes, three Hart Trophies and five Norris Trophies.

And it's not just the legends. A late bloomer like Dan Cleary had played in 261 NHL games at the age of 24. Henrik Zetterberg had 140 games of experience by his 24th birthday and Pavel Datsyuk celebrated his 24th as a Stanley Cup champion.

So with no NHL experience, no North American experience and never having been drafted, 24-year-old Ville Leino is a hockey anomaly as he competes for a spot on the Detroit Red Wings' roster.

"It's development," said Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill. "Everybody develops at different stages. Every player is ready at different times. Who knows what would have happened if we brought Pavel Datsyuk over before he was ready? Would he be the same player?"

Signed by the Red Wings as a free agent in May, Leino is currently fighting for a forward spot on the roster, competing with Darren McCarty, Aaron Downey and Darren Helm among other candidates.

Leino has impressed with his performance at training camp, showing both an offensive flair and defensive responsibility.

"I thought he played very well," said Nill. "He plays our style, puck control. I thought the puck followed him all the time."

Leino blossomed this past season -- his sixth in the Finnish elite league, SM-Liiga -- earning league MVP honors. He was first in the league in assists, second in points and third in goals scored.

Because he hadn't been drafted and his contract with his Finnish club, Jokerit, had expired, Leino became a potential NHL player who would cost the team that signed him no assets.

Five NHL teams wooed Leino, including the Red Wings. Going on at the same time was the wooing of Swedish star Fabian Brunnstrom, a process that had a much higher media profile than that of Leino.

Brunnstrom made the Red Wings one of his three finalists, taking in the team's second-round playoff series clinching win in Denver. By that time, Leino had already visited Detroit and seen the Red Wings beat the Colorado Avalanche at Joe Louis Arena.

"I saw a team that was excellent," said Leino. "And I really liked the organization, first-class, and (general manager) Ken Holland. You always have to weigh the good and the bad and there was obviously not as much opportunity to make this lineup, but it's such a good organization."

Two days after Brunnstrom announced that he was signing with Dallas, Leino inked a deal with the Red Wings.

"I like that they play a style that I'm used to, puck possession," said Leino. "They play a European type of game."

For a 24-year-old who has spent his entire career in Europe, Leino has adapted well to the North American game in training camp. The rinks are smaller her than in Finland and there's a heavier emphasis on shooting.

But of all the major European hockey nations, Finland's brand of hockey is likely the most comparable to that of the NHL.

"If you look at leagues over in Europe, Finland might be the closest to the NHL in type of game, being physical and a little more end-to-end," said Red Wing Valtteri Filppula, a native of Finland. "In Sweden, it's more of a puck possession game. But still, there's more room in Finland than the NHL. I felt that (at first). A lot of times here, you're in a better position to shoot than you think. Some turns you make, you think you have more room, but the boards are closer. It's going to take a while for him to get used to."

Leino cleared his first hurdle so far, making the first training camp cuts and landing on one of the Red Wings' two preseason squads -- Team Howe. He has been skating in camp with two of his competitors for a roster spot, Downey and Helm.

"(Leino) is a heck of a competitor … he probably led the league in practice fights,” Leino's coach in Finland, former Red Wing Doug Shedden told “He loves to come to the rink, he loves to practice, he loves to put his equipment on and compete.”

Ritola learns new ways

TRAVERSE CITY -- Living in Grand Rapids wasn't easy at first. The city was fine, but Mattias Ritola was in the heartland of a country of which he was unfamiliar. Growing up in Sweden, Ritola had seen America in movies and taken some lessons in English.

But one year ago, Ritola was in full North American emersion, finding out about the language and ways of the land as he rode buses with the Grand Rapids Griffins. At least Ritola had his friend and countryman, Johan Ryno, with him on the journey as the pair of Detroit Red Wing prospects in their first season on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

That is, Ritola had Ryno as teammate and next-door neighbor for a little less than three months. Ryno wanted to return to Sweden and after 10 days of phone posturing with Detroit general manager Ken Holland, Ryno was allowed to leave the Griffins. Which left Ritola without a refuge. But Ryno's departure turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

"When he left, I started to spend more time with the other guys," said Ritola, 21. "I learned the language. It was so much easier that way. I didn't want him to go obviously, but it forced me to learn faster."

If the Red Wings' front office had any concerns about Ritola developing on his own in Grand Rapids, they were soon soothed. Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill praised Ritola's efforts in training camp this week.

"It's nice when you see a guy that's been here before and is supposed to be good, be one of the better players," said Nill. "I thought in the prospects tournament he played well. He played in the American League and that's a pretty good league. You become a man."

In the big picture, Ritola and Ryno went in opposite directions after the latter returned to Sweden. Ryno went from playing the first dozen games of the American Hockey League season as a top-line forward to being a role player back with Djurgarden of the Swedish elite league.

Both Ryno and Ritola have contracts with the Red Wings that run through 2010. (The two were bookend draft picks around Darren Helm in 2005 with Ritola being selected just before Helm.) But it's Ritola who is back at training camp in Traverse City this week and Ryno who is back in Sweden.

"I feel way more confident out there than I was last year, holding the puck more, being on the power play," said Ritola. "Here, the game is faster, smaller rink. More up and down the ice. Over there, it was more hold the puck and see what happens."

It was Ryno who showed earlier signs of adapting to the North American game, having a stronger training camp last fall than Ritola. But Ritola gained ground and stuck with the Red Wings through the preseason longer than other prospects like Ryno, Helm and Evan McGrath.

Ritola was part of a four-player mix for the final two forward positions. Matt Ellis and Aaron Downey were kept in Detroit. Ritola and Igor Grigorenko were sent to Grand Rapids after the final preseason game.

It became a season of growth in Grand Rapids for Ritola, who learned to speak the nuances of hockey and English. He and the Griffins' other Swede, Jonathan Ericsson, had a rule that they would never speak Swedish in the locker room.

"When you guys start to talk fast, it's hard to understand, but now I get it," said Ritola. "You don't want to sound stupid. In the beginning, they ask one thing and you answer another, you get laughed at."

It was also a season of many highs.

Ritola was called up to Detroit for two games to fill in for an injury-depleted lineup. He finished the season at plus-10, leading a team full of minus players.
And Ritola was one of seven called up by the Red Wings during their playoff run -- a who's who of Detroit prospects that included Helm, Jakub Kindl, Jonathan Ericsson, Cory Emmerton, Kyle Quincey, Justin Abdelkader and Jimmy Howard.


UPDATE: Just found out from's Sarah Lindenau that Raedeke is at the Traverse City airport, leaving town. So obviously he's not on the practice squad. Hopefully, I can confirm the entire list below as still being with the team. The team handed out two lists after Monday's scrimmage ... players cut from camp and the rosters for Team Howe and Lindsay. There are a group of players who weren't on either list who, I was told, will stay with the team and practice. But Raedeke's leaving.


Here is a list of players that the Red Wings will carry with them, but who aren't on either the Team Howe or Team Lindsay roster. In other words, players who will practice, but not play.

Valtteri Filppula (jammed thumb)
Cory Emmerton (injured tailbone)
UPDATE: Emmerton is on Team Lindsay and back on the ice.
Brent Raedeke
Kyle Deck
Jason Jozsa
Sergei Kolosov
Brian Lahsoff
Martin Ondrej
Larry Sterling

Monday, September 22, 2008

First cuts

The Red Wings just made their first training camp cuts.

Released were:
Jordan Foreman
Cody Thornton
Bryce Swan
Joe Ryan

Re-assigned to juniors were:
Randy Cameron
Zach Torquato
Stephen Johnston
Travis Ehrhardt
Thomas McCollum
Cameron Cepek

Preseason teams

The Red Wings will use two squads through the first six games of preseason, alternating games.

Wednesday...home vs. Montreal, Team Howe Halifax vs. Boston, Team Lindsay
Friday......home vs. Boston, Team Howe
Sunday......home vs. Atlanta, Team Lindsay
Tues., Sept. Montreal, Team Howe
Wed. Oct. Atlanta, Team Lindsay

Team Howe
Ty Conklin
Jimmy Howard

Chris Chelios
Tom Galvin
Jakub Kindl
Nicklas Lidstrom
Derek Meech
Kyle Quincey
Brian Rafalski

Pavel Datsyuk
Aaron Downey
Kris Draper
Tomas Holmstrom
Marian Hossa
Tomas Kopecky
Ville Leino
Kirk Maltby
Evan McGrath
Jan Mursak
Ryan Oulahen
Francis Pare
Jamie Tardif

Team Lindsay
Daniel Larsson
Chris Osgood

P.J. Atherton
Jonathan Ericsson
Niklas Kronwall
Brett Lebda
Andreas Lilja
Logan Pyett
Brad Stuart

Justin Abdelkader
Dick Axelsson
Dan Cleary
Cory Emmerton
Johan Franzen
Randall Gelech
Darren Haydar
Darren Helm
Jiri Hudler
Francis Lemieux
Darren McCarty
Mattias Ritola
Mikael Samuelsson
Henrik Zetterberg

Thoughts on final training camp scrimmage

-- Marian Hossa looks great alongside Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom. Hossa gave his team a lead in the third period when he streaked down the left side and beat goalie Tomas McCollum with a snap shot over the glove. Later in the period, Hossa looked tied up by defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, but drew the puck back and got a shot off.

-- McCollum had the last laugh, stopping both Hossa and Datsyuk in the shootout. Not a bad performance by an 18-year-old.

-- Ville Leino is good defensively. He made several strong plays, including knocking the puck away as the last man back in the third period of a tie game. Oh, he was also marvelous in the shootout, going wide and lifting a shot high over the goalie.

Notes from camp

-- Valtteri Filppula (jammed thumb) was on the ice today, but limited in practice. He didn't shoot, but he could pass and stickhandle.

"It feels better," said Filppula, whose thumb was hurt Sunday by an Aaron Downey check into the boards. "At least I can practice."

Filppula won't play in tonight's scrimmage and he won't participate in Tuesday's Howe/Lindsay game (formerly the Red/White game). But coach Mike Babcock said he might get into preseason games this week.

"He's out there the whole time (today) which is really good," said Babcock. "He just wants to make sure his legs are (good)."

-- Most junior players will be sent home from camp after tonight's scrimmage. The roster will be down to 42 after that.

-- Babcock said that the plan is to use two Red Wing teams during the first six preseason games. The two squads will alternate games with the Howe team playing in Wednesday's home game and the Lindsay team going in Thursday's game in Halifax against the Bruins. The rosters for the Howe and Lindsay teams will be released later today.

By the final weekend of the preseason, the roster will be trimmed to 30.

-- Dallas Drake stopped by Center ICE Arena to visit with his former teammates.

Hossa the shooter

Watching the Red Wings' top forward line -- Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Marian Hossa -- in scrimmage has been fascinating. Datsyuk and Holmstrom are extreme players, with Holmstrom more extreme than Datsyuk. Homer plays the net-front, period. And if he roams, it's to retrieve the puck. Datsyuk carries the puck and makes plays. He has obviously added a nice scoring touch, but keeping the puck on his stick is Datsyuk's trademark.

Enter Hossa, who although just 29, has already spent parts of 10 seasons in the NHL (would be 11 if not for the lockout). And he's done so because he has a multi-faceted game. So what role will Hossa take on the top line?

"I have to make sure I shoot the puck to the net," said Hossa. "That's probably going to be my job. I like to play that kind of game."

Sounds good. Hossa has six 30-goal seasons to his credit and two more 29-goal seasons. The rest of the Red Wings combined have six 30-goals seasons and one 29-goal season.

Hossa 6
Zetterberg 3
Datsyuk 2
Holmstrom 1

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Conklin's links with high school hockey

TRAVERSE CITY -- Detroit Red Wing Chris Osgood phoned his goalie coach Jim Bedard to get some important information on newcomer Ty Conklin.

"Can Ty golf?"

Bedard hosts an annual golf outing every summer in the Niagara Falls region. Bedard's report to Osgood was that Conklin tamed the best local course, shooting a 73 after three-putting the final hole, a par-5.

Osgood told his coach to keep that scouting report quiet. Osgood's intent was to figure a way to get on a team with Conklin in the Red Wings' annual golf tournament at their Traverse City training camp.

"I'm an overrated golfer," said Conklin. "I was the sixth guy on a six-man high school team."

That high school team, however, was Shattuck-St. Mary's -- a private school in Faribault, Minnesota known today for having the best prep hockey program in the world. Sports Illustrated said this of the Shattuck-St. Mary's hockey program -- "Shattuck-St. Mary's School is to high school hockey what Harvard is to law school."

Ty Conklin was a sophomore in high school in 1992 when he first laid eyes on the Shattuck-St. Mary's campus. A standout goaltender from Alaska, Conklin was recruited to the school that was just beginning to form its hockey identity. It was an easy sell because Conklin fell in love with the campus.

Having a hockey team since 1925, Shattuck-St. Mary's decided to go beyond its local boundaries in the early 1990s. Conklin's first year on campus was the first year that Shattuck-St. Mary's had left its Minnesota high school hockey league, opting for an international schedule.

Although most games were played at home, Conklin played against teams from across the Midwest, prep schools from out east, Midwest college JV teams and far-flung tournaments. A more-than-20-hour bus ride to a tournament in Calgary was good preparation for Conklin's future days in the minor leagues.

"We would play pretty much anyone we could get our hands on," said Conklin. It was starting to get exposure. We would play good prep school teams out east and those teams would get good exposure."

Part of Conklin's experience at Shattuck-St. Mary's was being a member of the golf team, a position that included some nice perks. The entire golf team was comprised of hockey players and the golfers were given junior memberships to a club in Faribault for $50.

"We would go play 36 holes every Saturday and Sunday," said Conklin. "We used to live out there on the course."

And part of Conklin's experience in high school was to help Shattuck-St. Mary's evolve into the hockey power that it is today.

Conklin was part of the ramping up of Shattuck-St. Mary's hockey recruiting and scheduling that led to the program becoming a proving ground for future NHL players. Notable alumni from the school include: Sidney Crosby; Zach Parise; Jonathan Toews; and Jack Johnson.

"At the time when I was there, Shattuck didn't get the recognition that it does now when you get guys like Sid (Crosby) going there," said Conklin. "It gets talked about a lot more now."

Conklin, who signed with the Red Wings this summer as a free agent, went from Shattuck-St. Mary's to the University of New Hampshire and then to the start of his NHL career in 2002 with the Edmonton Oilers.

Filppula likely won't miss any action

Forward Valtteri Filppula left today's scrimmage after being checked into the boards by Aaron Downey. Filppula jammed his thumb on the play and he skipped the final half of the scrimmage. Filppula, however, said that the injury is slight and he shouldn't miss time.

"I'm pretty sure I'll be back (on the ice) tomorrow," said Filppula. "It's not bad."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Downey back in a fight

"In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him
til he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains."
-- lyrics from Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer"

TRAVERSE CITY -- Every game for Aaron Downey is a fight. Every season is a bigger fight, trying to make, then stay on an NHL roster.

Last fall, Downey came to training camp with the Red Wings as a free agent tryout, an NHL veteran who didn't have a contract at camp, only a chance. This year, Downey is coming off a successful season in which he played a career-high 56 regular-season games. He had 10 fighting majors for a team that had 16 in the two previous seasons combined. Most of all, he was part of a Stanley Cup champion.

But Downey is back in a fight. He has a contract this time around, but it's a two-way deal, meaning it pays different rates whether he's in the NHL or AHL and makes him more likely to spend time in the minor leagues.

Aaron Downey has to prove himself again, fight for a roster spot with Darren McCarty, Darren Helm and Ville Leino.

"This team gave me an opportunity," said Downey. "That's why I'm back here today. I don't want to go sign with the Dallas Stars or someone like that like I could have. We won a championship here. We have a team bond here. I believe in loyalty and this team believes in loyalty. I believe in loyalty. I'm a farm boy."

Last year, Downey couldn't attract much interest around the NHL because of a concussion he suffered when he played with the Montreal Canadiens. The Red Wings -- a franchise looking for an enforcer -- were the one franchise that gave Downey a chance to prove his health on the ice, not just in conversation.

Downey, Matt Ellis and Derek Meech earned the final three roster spots at the end of the preseason. The day that the final roster was announced, Downey came into the locker room after practice -- a room that included Chris Chelios, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Dominik Hasek -- put down his helmet and announced loudly to the media, "I'm sure you'll all want to be knowing this stuff … I was born on a farm, a poor boy raised …"

There were, however, no reporters around. It was all locker room humor.

Ellis and Meech exchanged glances. Meech was the first to start laughing. Then Ellis cracked up.

"He was so vocal that at first, you just kind of looked at him and you think, 'Is this guy serious?'" said Meech. "Then you realize why he's been in the league and how he's been around and done so well in his career is because he has such a presence in the locker room. He's able to loosen guys up and make guys feel good. He hasn't stopped doing that. He was a big part of this team last year."

Downey will quote locker room speeches from the movie "Bedazzled." He'll release one-liners faster than Brett Hull released a one-timer.

"If I come in pouting about my ice time, I'd probably see a Greyhound bus ticket pretty soon in my (locker) stall," said Downey. "That's not what they sign me for. They sign me to be a guy who has an unconditional attitude every day, wake up, come to the rink and bring a good positive light, spirit every single day."

Downey came to camp this year feeling that he needed to work on small facets of his game like holding the puck longer before making a decision, skating more with his head up. That's the sort of thing that he felt separated Darren McCarty from him last spring. When the playoffs began last year, McCarty was on the ice and Downey was watching games in street clothes.

"I learned a lot from watching Darren McCarty last year and the rest of these guys," said Downey. "I had a great year for fighting last year. I proved I can play six to eight minutes and came out on the positive. I can only get better. If I come and do my job, why can't I be here (with the Red Wings). I had other teams I could have signed with, but at the end of the day, I like this family-style atmosphere and we're going to win another championship."

Training camp lines

Team Abel




Team Delvecchio




Team Sawchuck




NOTES: The first scrimmage is today at 11:15 a.m., Team Delvecchio vs. Team Sawchuk.
It's interesting that the strategy for forwards is to keep potential regular-season lines together. Hudler Zetterberg and Franzen will be a unit in camp and coach Babcock said they will likely start the season that way. But on the blue line, the attitude is more of learning, pairing veterans with up-and-comers. Lidstrom is with Pyett. Stuart is with Ericsson, Rafalski is with Kindl and Chelios with Quincey.

Red Wings begin Cup defense at training camp

The Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars are tough. But the Detroit Red Wings' toughest opponent this season might be the calendar.

Being as motivated as they take the ice for the first time at training camp in Traverse City, Saturday, as they were during last spring's Stanley Cup playoff run is the team's first challenge.

"Emotion is such a big part of our sport," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "When you've been playing games in May and June and on every other night in the playoffs, the media doubles, quadruples and all of a sudden you're coming back in October … the games don't feel quite as big. But they're important because it's hard to make the playoffs. I think the biggest challenge for any Stanley Cup team is to find that emotion, that motivation. It's a fine line between winning and losing and a one-goal win last year could be a one-goal loss this year."

Returning from a championship summer of Stanley Cup parties is something with which Holland is familiar, having been with the organization for titles in 1997, 1998 and 2002.

Experience with success permeates the Red Wings' organization, which is the last NHL club to repeat as champion (1997 and 1998). Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty have won four Stanley Cups with the organization. Chris Osgood, Chris Chelios and Brian Rafalski have won three Stanley Cups each.

So for a first-time Stanley Cup winner like head coach Mike Babcock, there were plenty of numbers on speed-dial to call heading into training camp to find out about repeating as champions. To prepare for this weekend, Babcock spoke with Holland, Lidstrom, Draper, team vice president Steve Yzerman and recently departed vice president Scotty Bowman.

"How do you make the games in October just as important as the ones in June?" said Babcock. "That's part of the mental battle and we'll go through that. … We're just going to try to create normalcy. We're coming back to training camp. We get back to work, establish work ethic and structure and let our skill come out, just like we do every single year. We won the Cup last year. I know it. We're very proud of it. The bottom line is we have a job to do."

And the Red Wings are well tooled for the job.

Gone from last spring's lineup are two players who retired -- forward Dallas Drake and goalie Dominik Hasek. Coming to Detroit's camp for the first time, however, are forward Marian Hossa and goalie Ty Conklin, both NHL veterans who played for Stanley Cup finalist Pittsburgh last season.

"Everything that we do from camp on is to win the Stanley Cup again," said Draper. "It's not too often that a Stanley Cup team doesn't lose players in the off-season. Then the exciting thing is to add Marian Hossa. He's really excited to be part of the Red Wings."

Also new to camp is 24-year-old (turning 25 on Oct. 6) forward Ville Leino, the Finnish elite league's (SM-Liiga) player of the year.

But with Holland estimating that the Red Wings have 28 to 32 players capable of playing in the NHL, there won't be any free agents brought in as tryouts to training camp this year, seeking one of 23 NHL jobs. Last season, Aaron Downey earned a roster spot that way and Jassen Cullimore and Brent Sopel went from Detroit's camp to contracts with Florida and Chicago, respectively.

Ten defensemen will be vying for the eight blue-line roster spots. There will likely be just one forward spot up for contention with Downey, McCarty, Leino and Darren Helm fighting for the spot.

"Our hope is that we have a lot of younger players on our team that are really hoping to establish how good they are," said Holland. "When you think about (Niklas) Kronwall and (Valtteri) Filppula and (Johan) Franzen. I think even Dan Cleary has another level or two. (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk are still really coming into the prime of their careers. The hope is that they're still motivated to take their career to another level. The other thing is that we have these young people coming in that we think are ready to compete for jobs. If somebody should slip, they're looking to take someone's job. We're hoping internal competition and players who can take their career up another rung or two."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Red Wings visit Selfridge

Five celebrities visited Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Thursday morning. It was the short, quiet, silver one, however, who drew the most attention.

Detroit Red Wings Kris Draper, Chris Osgood, Dan Cleary, Brett Lebda and the Stanley Cup spent time at the Harrison Township military base on their way up to today's opening of training camp in Traverse City. The four Red Wings drew their share of attention, but the longest line for pictures was for the Stanley Cup, not the players.

"That's the way it should be," said Draper. "People like us, but when we bring the Cup, people really like us. That's the best part."

The Red Wings' annual trek north from Joe Louis Arena was altered this year with two groups of players going separate from the main group. Draper, Osgood, Cleary and Lebda stopped at Selfridge and White Pine Middle School in Saginaw before arriving in Traverse City. Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula and Niklas Kronwall went to the State National Guard headquarters in Lansing and the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids before heading north.

Thus marks the end of a summer of celebrating with the Stanley Cup for the Red Wings, who begin their business -- winning another championship -- Friday in Traverse City.

The Cup is the oldest team-sports trophy in North America, first being awarded in 1892. Unlike the trophies awarded in other sports, new Stanley Cups are not made each year. Cup winners keep the trophy only until a new champion is crowned. It is the only trophy in professional sports that has the name of the winning players, coaches, management, and club staff engraved on it.

"It's nice to get one more day with the Cup," said Lebda. "You have a day with it in the summer, but having bonus time is nice.

"It's kinda funny because wherever you bring the Cup, people know what it is, even if they're not hockey fans. It's such a symbol that when you show up with it, people stop and take notice. As much as we're ambassadors, it's the Cup that's the ambassador."

Selfridge commander Gen. Michael Peplinski welcomed the four Red Wings before they took part in a question-and-answer session and mingled with the military crowd, getting pictures taken.

"You've got some die-hard fans out here," said Gen. Peplinski. "For those of us who have been deployed around the world, no matter where we are in the world, you're our home team. When you go over to the dining facilities over in Iraq or Afghanistan, if some (TV) is carrying the Red Wings, you will find the men and women who are standing in this room, trying to watch their home team win."

The Red Wings walked into a Selfridge hangar to applause from the 100 or so in attendance, Joe Louis Arena music blaring on loudspeakers. The players answered screened and authorized questions ranging from "Does the Cup feel light when you lift it after winning the final game?" to "What's your favorite place to play on the road?" (If you're curious, the Cup is very heavy after battling on the ice and Phoenix is always a nice winter destination.)

Then came meet-and-greets with the people in attendance, snap shots holding children and handshakes with adults.

"I like doing military bases, especially being American," said Lebda. "There's not too many of us (Americans) on the team. When we go in and bring the Cup, they're thanking us for bringing it. We should be thanking them for what they do."

"What these people do, go through day-in day-out is unbelievable," said Draper. "They're excited to see us and the Stanley Cup. But for us, it's truly an honor to meet these people."

Wings sign McCarty

One-year two-way contract for long-time Red Wing, Darren McCarty. From the Wings' PR staff ...

Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland announced today that the club has agreed to terms with forward Darren McCarty on a one-year contract. In keeping with team policy, additional terms of the deal were not disclosed.

McCarty, 36, re-joined the Red Wings organization in February of 2008 after spending two seasons with the Calgary Flames. A 15-year NHL veteran, he played in three games for Detroit last season registering 1 assist and 2 PIM. McCarty also appeared in 17 postseason games during the Red Wings’ 2008 Stanley Cup championship run. He finished the playoffs with 2 points (1 goal, 1 assist) and 19 PIM. McCarty spent the first 11 seasons of his NHL career in Detroit.

Pyett makes jump to pro game

TRAVERSE CITY -- Logan Pyett is short for a hockey player, listed at 5-foot-11 with the help of a generous tape measure. Pyett wasn't on most NHL team's draft radar when he was an 18-year-old.

But Logan Pyett is also a defenseman who's excellent at moving the puck, got a goal-scoring touch from the back end and has loads of international and big-stage hockey experience.

In other words, Logan Pyett is a Detroit Red Wing prospect.

"He benefits by the (post-lockout) rules and by our style of play," said Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill. "Those guys don't scare us. Some people don't like those players. It doesn't bother us."

From Steve Yzerman to Pavel Datsyuk to Henrik Zetterberg to Jiri Hudler to Brian Rafalski, the Red Wings have never shied away from adding players to their roster who were considered too small to play for other clubs.

Pyett, who took part in the Red Wings' prospects camp earlier this week, was acquired by Detroit as an 18-year-old junior in 2006 with the second-to-last selection in the draft (212th overall). (Red Wing Jonathan Ericsson, a 2002 draftee, gained notoriety last winter when he became the first player taken with the final draft pick to play in the NHL.)

Pyett, 20, has finished a five-year junior career that rates as outstanding, signing a three-year entry-level professional contract with the Red Wings in May.

"I'd like to say I'd step right in and be comfortable like I was in junior and make an impact, but I don't really know what to expect right now," said Pyett, who is tabbed to start his pro career in Grand Rapids. "I'm just going to work hard, make my defensive game better. I'll be playing with a lot better players up there which will hopefully make things easier. I just have to try to improve."

Pyett is a native of Saskatchewan and played his junior hockey in the provincial capital of Regina in the Western Hockey League. The year after being drafted by the Red Wings, Pyett finished fourth among WHL defensemen in scoring with 62 points in 71 games and was second on the Regina Pats with a plus-14.

Last winter, Pyett continued to develop finishing first on his team with a plus-24, second among WHL defensemen in goals (20) and fourth in points (54). That despite playing in just 62 games, missing time over the holidays to play for Canada's gold-medal winning team at the World Junior Championships.

Pyett was a plus-1 in that tournament, one won by Canada with an overtime goal in the title game with Sweden.

How popular is the World Junior Championships in the hockey community? On the day of the title game, the Red Wings played a game in Dallas, then hustled back to their locker room to watch overtime. The NHL's top players were shouting at the television set like fans.

"Everyone's watching back home," said Pyett. "There's so much pressure. I almost felt sick to my stomach when they (Sweden) tied it up in the third period. You're one mistake away from losing it. You almost didn't want to go on the ice. I wanted to be the guy who scores the goal, but not the guy who screws it up. It was pretty crazy."

And that's exactly the sort of pressure-filled, big-game experience that Nill and the Red Wings' front office loves to see their prospects tested under. Pyett's next test will be the pro game.

"It's a big adjustment turning pro, living on your own, playing against men," said Nill. We like him. He's a (Brian) Rafalski-like player. He's a puck-moving defenseman. He goes back and gets pucks quick. He's a good hockey player, just not a big hockey player."

Pyett started youth hockey as a forward, but was soon moved to the blue-line because of his skating ability.

"I would try to go end-to-end," said Pyett. "Since then, I've always liked the offensive part of the game. No one's ever tried to stop that."

It's a style that suits the Red Wings. And a style that he can see on display at this weekend's training camp. Brian Rafalski is the first player that Pyett lists when asked what Red Wings he's going to learn from in camp.

"They do play my style," said Pyett. "The Red Wings organization encourages the players to be right up on the play behind the forwards to be offensive. That's the way I like to play. If I can skate up and join the rush, I'm going to continue to do that. I consider myself a fairly good passer, puck-mover. I think I fit in well. I just have to improve on parts of my game like the defensive part and doing stuff quicker, tape-to-tape passes."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Larsson adjusts to North American style

TRAVERSE CITY -- Daniel Larsson is dealing with things like smaller ice surfaces and English colloquialisms this week at the Detroit Red Wings' prospects camp as he makes the move from Swedish hockey to the North American professional game.

But Daniel Larsson isn't about to fret.

"He's one of those guys who is always calm," said Hakan Andersson, the Red Wings' director of European scouting. "Nothing fazes him. If he was sleeping and a bomb went off, he'd stay down and just open one eye to see what the fuss was."

The fuss right now in Larsson's life is that he's making the jump from Sweden to the United States. The 22-year-old is playing his first hockey in North America this week, taking part in the Red Wings' prospects camp before the team's main camp begins, Friday.

Larsson was selected by the Red Wings in the fourth round in 2006 and is slated to start this season in Grand Rapids, partnered in net with Jimmy Howard.

"That first year, expectations aren't as high," said Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill. "We hope he comes in and lights it up. If he struggles, we're not going to be surprised. If he does well, we're not going to be surprised. But he's going to have to adjust to a different game. He's used to a bigger ice surface in Sweden. He has to adjust to living in a different country. It's the life change more than the hockey change."

Hockey changes have come smoothly for Larsson. He fits one Red Wing profile in that he's a late bloomer who was drafted late.

Passed over in two entire NHL drafts, Larsson started to gain some attention at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Vancouver.

Playing on a team with current Washington Capital Niklas Backstrom and Red Wing draft pics Mattias Ritola, Anton Axelsson and Johan Ryno, Larsson led the prestigious tournament with a 0.96 goals-against average and topped all netminders with a .952 save percentage.

Five months later in the same city as the World Juniors were held, Vancouver, Larsson was drafted by the Red Wings.

"He works with the best goalie coach in Sweden," said Andersson. "And he said that he's never had a goalie who's better at positioning, being in the right place, reading the play."

That skill helped Larsson evolve in the professional ranks of Sweden. He made the jump from the Allsvenskan (second division) to the Elitserien (Elite League) in 2006.
After one season as a No. 2 goalie at Djurgarden, Larsson became the starter there last winter. Playing 46 games, Larsson posted great numbers -- 2.29 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.

That performance led to Larsson being named the Swedish Elite League's top goalie for 2007-08 and top rookie.

By the end of the season, Larsson had a two-year entry-level contract from the Red Wings and a spot on the Grand Rapids Griffins' roster.

"He needs to get in 30, 35 games," said Nill. "That's going to be adequate. There's a chance he's going to play more. You don't know what the year's going to bring with injuries. If he goes down there and shows he can play, we'll adjust things."

On the ice, Larsson will have to adjust to rinks that are shrunk from the European size (100 feet wide) to North American size (85 feet).

The change in size is significant. When Red Wing prospect Jonathan Ericsson took part in his first practice on North American ice two years ago, he started a back-skating drill that ended abruptly when he backed into the boards.

"It's a lot different in a smaller rink," said Larsson. "They shoot from the corners. On big rinks, that's not a possibility to score from there. They might shoot once in a 100 from there. … Here I feel like I'm in the right spot, then you're wrong. You're almost one meter wrong from where you would be by instinct."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Brunnstrom … the one who got away from the Red Wings

TRAVERSE CITY -- Fabian Brunnstrom didn't recognize himself.

When he saw a sports section, he read accounts of the best, most-storied NHL franchises bidding against each other to sign him to a contract. When he went online, Brunnstrom saw commentaries about his hockey value and Youtube highlight reels that made him look like a hockey prodigy.

"Last year, it was too big this hype," said Brunnstrom. "I'm not as good as the papers wanted me to be. It's something that grew over the newspapers and internet. I'm just going to try to work hard."

Here's what Fabian Brunnstrom was last spring -- a free young player, a 23-year-old unrestricted free agent with NHL talent who would cost an NHL team no assets to sign. That was the key to Brunnstrom's appeal. An NHL team wouldn't have to give up one player, one draft pick or $1 to any other team to sign Brunnstrom, just be responsible for his contracted salary.

He became an anomaly in a world-wide system of hockey scouting where players' rights are often locked up at the age of 18 by NHL teams.

"This media frenzy gets so big that you wonder if Bobby Orr showed up if it would be good enough," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland last spring. "There's this hype that I think that people are thinking that he's going to show up next year and get 120 points and 50 goals. … How good is he? He's got good potential. He's got good skills. There's not a big track record to go back on. So how good is he going to be? He certainly looks like he'll be an NHL player."

Last Saturday, Brunnstrom made his North American debut, playing for the Dallas Stars at an eight-team NHL prospects tournament in Traverse City that concludes Wednesday. The tournament is hosted by the Detroit Red Wings, one of three teams that Brunnstrom visited last spring (Dallas and Montreal were the others) as finalists in the bidding for his NHL services.

All three teams offered Brunnstrom the maximum allowed for an entry-level NHL contract. Brunnstrom selected Dallas.

"There was a lot of thinking I had to do," said Brunnstrom. "They were all good teams. I liked Detroit. I liked Ken Holland. I liked Montreal as well. I thought a lot and tried to make a good decision. I'm sure all three of those teams would have been a good decision. I couldn't go wrong. I just felt Dallas was a good fit for me."

Meeting Brunnstrom is like meeting the Wizard of Oz, except he wasn't the one pulling the switches and levers. Brunnstrom was such an unknown commodity that an image was built of a Swedish wunderkind who was about to cross the Atlantic Ocean like the Beatles in 1964.

Brunnstrom is unassuming and friendly. He isn't arrogant and he doesn't have elusions of grandeur. Less than four years ago, Brunnstrom was a 20-year-old working at Burger King in the small Swedish town of Helsingborg, playing hockey after work in front of very few fans and no scouts.

Having just left the ice in Traverse City, playing for the Dallas Stars in front of dozens of top NHL executives, Brunnstrom grins like a high-schooler when he talks about working at Burger King, realizing how far he has risen in a short time.

"I worked from 11 (a.m.) to 2 (p.m.) so that I could skate before work and then play games at night," said Brunnstrom. "Being here, it feels like I'm in a dream."

Fabian Brunnstrom was a late-bloomer in hockey. At the age of 20, he was still playing in the fourth level of professional hockey in Sweden for Helsingborg, his hometown and that of Red Wing Andreas Lilja. (Detroit teammates teased Lilja last spring after Brunnstrom called him for information about the Red Wings and then chose to play for Dallas.)

Lilja described the lifestyle of a fourth-tier hockey player in Sweden as something akin to a North America semi-pro … players worked 9-to-5 jobs and played games at night. Practices were rare.

Although his abilities grew, Brunnstrom's reputation did not. Elite-level Swedish clubs rarely scout for prospects, often relying on word of mouth and making unseen signings.

Were it not for one lower-level game that he played in the home rink of an elite club, Brunnstrom would not likely have been seen by a top Swedish team.

That game and his talent (Brunnstrom tallies 73 points and 37 goals in 41 games with third-tier Boras in 2006-07) led to Brunnstrom being signed by Farjestad of the 12-team Elitserien (Elite League) in 2007-08.

Brunnstrom had a solid rookie season in Sweden, compiling 37 points and nine goals in 54 games with fourth-place Farjestad.

Brunnstrom came over to Dallas this summer to get an apartment and take part in some workouts with Stars like Mike Modano. He's still trying to get comfortable with American roadways. ("It's hard to drive the highway," he said. "I know it's really simple, just straight to the practice facility, but to keep on the right road … I don't know.") And he apologizes for his English although he speaks fluently.
This week is Brunnstrom's beginning as an NHL player. He'll go from this prospects camp to the Stars' main training camp this weekend.

"I'm really glad I'm here," said Brunnstrom. "It's been my dream since I was a little kid. I'll work hard and maybe I can play for Dallas."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thoughts on prospects' Game 2

A 5-2 win over Tampa Bay which was tied 2-2 early in the third period and ended with two empty-net goals by Mattias Ritola and Sergei Kolosov. ...

-- Going 2-0-0 in two games is something that the Red Wings have never done in this prospects tournament.

-- The leader of this team is Justin Abdelkader. He's obviously well skilled, but he's also the best on the team at playing net-front. And if there was any doubt, midway through the third period, with Detroit leading 3-2, Abdelkader was down on his knees blocking a slap shot from the point.

-- To me, Abdelkader and Cory Emmerton have been the top forwards, followed by Ritola and Jan Mursak. The top four defensemen have been about even, which isn't great for Jakub Kindl, but is for Brian Lashoff, who has been impressive.

-- The Detroit goaltending has been excellent. Daniel Larsson has been the best netminder I've seen in this eight-team tournament. Thomas McCollum is in the running for second best, having allowed two goals in 90 minutes of play. Leading 3-2, McCollum made the best save of the game, robbing Tampa's James Wright from the slot with his glove. McCollum followed that with another good save.

-- Stephen Johnston came alive late in the second period of Game 2. Not a standout before that, Johnston scored on a nice forehand-to-backhand on a 2-on-1 pass from Francis Pare. After that goal, Johnston had a big hit and was much more noticeable.

No tryouts at Wings' main camp

Last year, the Red Wings brought veteran free agents Aaron Downey, Jassen Cullimore and Brent Sopel to training camp on tryouts. Next week, there will be no tryout invitees in Traverse City. The Red Wings feel they're deep enough.

"We don't have any tryouts," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "We really think that there's 28 to 32 players that depending on what direction we wanted to go could make our team. Now some of those players are young kids that the easy way out to keep our depth might be to put them in the American Hockey League. Some of those kids might make our team in a different set of circumstances, but given the depth that we've got … saying all that, if they come in here and over the next three weeks if they've clearly made the team, it's going to set us thinking about our 23-man roster."

With Kyle Quincey, Jonathan Ericsson, Justin Abdelkader, Cory Emmerton, Jimmy Howard and especially Darren Helm, the Red Wings have enough young talent to fill in any lineup holes that the season creates.

Stamkos should play

I'm not sure that I like the arguments why Steve Stamkos isn't playing at the prospects tournament for Tampa Bay. I've heard things ranging from it's the Lightning trying to protect Stamkos from a tournament where prospects try to prove themselves, including fighting. I've also heard that the Lightning didn't want Stamkos to miss any of their main camp which begins a day after this tournament ends.

First off, don't worry about Stamkos protecting himself. There are more fights in an average OHL game than at this prospects tournament and Stamkos has figured out how to thrive in the OHL. In fact, Stamkos has been a marked man for years now as his reputation has grown, but he's managed to stay healthy despite the potential cheap shots and challenges from fighters.

If the Lightning wanted to make sure Stamkos attended their main camp, then why not the same concern for the other prospects? If the team is sending prospects, then send prospects. Don't separate Stamkos and mark him as special.

The prospects tournament is a clean, hard hitting series of games. I understand not letting Stamkos take any risks that might sideline him for the NHL ... but only for non-hockey risks. Don't let the guy ride a motorcycle without a helmet. Heck, don't let him buy a motorcycle. But this is playing hockey. And playing hockey against pros is something that Stamkos needs to continue his development. Playing hockey isn't risky for Stamkos, he's an expert. So don't baby him.

Abdelkader travels unusual route to success

TRAVERSE CITY -- On the first day of classes at Muskegon Mona Shores High School two weeks ago, Justin Abdelkader stood on stage at an assembly with the Stanley Cup. He came back to the place where just six years ago he had decided to stay … a decision that helped carve a path in hockey for Abdelkader that led to a national championship at Michigan State and being with the Red Wings as a rookie during their Stanley Cup run last spring.

"They had a really awesome assembly for me," said Abdelkader. "Hopefully it's an inspiration for the kids."

Now 21, Abdelkader is taking part in the Red Wings' annual prospects tournament up the road from his Muskegon birthplace in Traverse City. More than that, Abdelkader is one of the Detroit organization's top prospects, being tabbed as a future hard-hitting, skilled NHL forward.

Of the 22 players on the Detroit roster at the prospects camp, Abdelkader is one of nine under contract with the Red Wings. And he's one of just three -- Jakub Kindl and Cory Emmerton are the others -- who were valued enough to be kept with the team during the playoff run last spring. Those three each wears an 'A' at the prospects tournament as alternate captains (there is no captain), tabbed as the leaders.

"I think being with us in the playoffs was huge for him … it's invaluable that kind of experience," said Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill. "He brings an element that we don't have a lot of. He's a Dallas Drake type of guy. He's in your face and he's got good skills to go with it and the size to go with it. He's a good combination of something we don't have."

But what Abdelkader didn't have when he was entering his sophomore year at Mona Shores High was this -- a lot of options.

He had played travel hockey as a youth, skating with the Muskegon Chiefs in AA hockey before graduating to the AAA West Michigan Warriors. But the AAA landscape changed when Detroit area teams formed their own league, leading to the Warriors' AAA club folding.

So Abdelkader went back to AA, playing one year of Bantam. His coach there, Shawn Zimmerman, was also the Mona Shores coach and as a sophomore, Abdelkader decided to make the jump to high school hockey.

High school competition includes the best athletes in most sports. Not in hockey. Because of overlapping seasons, hockey players have to choose between travel hockey and the high school game, and in Michigan, travel hockey is where the top players compete. (In the country's other two hockey hotbeds, Minnesota and Massachusetts, high school hockey is stronger than travel hockey.)

By playing for Mona Shores, Abdelkader took a step back that turned into two steps forward.

"I was back and forth …. Either stay back and mature and play high school or move away from home," said Abdelkader. "After a talk with my family, it was definitely the right move to stay home."

Abdelkader had a good sophomore season after which, he was invited by Honey Baked -- one of the elite youth programs in the country -- to play AAA hockey in the Detroit area. Once again, Abdelkader opted to stay home and play for his high school. He led Mona Shores to the Division 2 state championship game and was named Michigan's Mr. Hockey.

"That's amazing to come from high school to this level," said Nill. "I think we forget (that) sometimes the best development is to be the big fish in the small pond. You're better to be the guy who's got the puck all the time and developing your skills or are you better playing at a high level but on the fourth line and not playing as much? That's our philosophy with the Detroit Red Wings. Are you better being a young kid coming in, not in the lineup much and watching the games, or are you better being in Grand Rapids playing 20 minutes a night? How do you develop better?"

Nill now labels Abdelkader as "worldly" and "mature."

But of all the places in the world that Abdelkader could take the Stanley Cup on his one and only day with the trophy, he chose his old high school. A mature thing to do.
"I matured when I was there, kept my grades up, had a really good year as a junior," said Abdelkader. "It was definitely the right move for me (playing high school hockey), especially off the ice. I wasn't ready to move. Sometimes you see guys move too early and screw their career up."

Prospects lineup Sunday night

The lineup for tonight's game against the Tampa Bay prospects ...



McCollum (starts)

Looks like the Red Wings are going with a set lineup. The top two lines and top four D didn't change. Cepek is in for Ryan on the blue line. Thornton is in and Raedeke is out up front with Cameron centering his own line instead of playing third-line wing.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Thoughts on prospects' Game 1

-- Why doesn't the NHL Network show these games live? Is there a good reason to tape delay their coverage for a day or two?

-- Cory Emmerton was the first star of the game (4-0 win over Rangers) with two goals and an assist. He outraced a New York defenseman to a loose puck in the Rangers' zone with enough speed that the defender fell. That led to a centering pass and a Zack Torquato slam for a 3-0 lead late in the second period.

-- Justin Abdelkader and Sergei Kolosov were teh two most physical players on the ice. Both had at least two big hits.

-- Goalie Daniel Larsson looked very good in his North American debut. Very quick and in control.

-- Here's my new favorite player ... Jordan Foreman. When a Rangers player was bent over the boards along the Wings' bench, Foreman delayed the opponent's return to the action by subtly holding the Rangers' sleeve. Love that Slap Shot stuff.

-- Thomas McCollum had a couple of sparkling saves in relief of Larsson.

-- Mattias Ritola looks more confident and sharper than he did at camp last fall.

Larsson lifted because of dehydration

UPDATE: Larsson told me after the game that dehydration is only a problem for him after flying to or from Europe. He arrived in America Wednesday and is still feeling some effects. Larsson said that he felt fine after about five days when he came to rookie camp this past summer. For Larsson's sake, hopefully the NHL won't expand to Europe.


Goalie Daniel Larsson looked marvelous in his first North American action, starting the Red Wings' first prospects game tonight against the Rangers. He was confident, in position and didn't overextend.

But with 10:52 left in the second period, Larsson left the game in favor of Thomas McCollum. Although goalies often share time in tournaments like this, Larsson was slated to play the entire game. He was pulled because he was dehydrated. He was dehydrated as well at this summer's rookie camp at Joe Louis Arena. It's a correctable problem though.

Prospects lineup Saturday night

The Red Wings' lineup for tonight's game against the New York Rangers ...



Larsson (starts)

Kolosov back on Red Wings' radar

TRAVERSE CITY -- Curt Fraser liked what he saw … a big (6-foot-4, 190 pounds) defenseman who had good tools and performed well in a big-time situation, the World Championships of Hockey.

Fraser, the one-time head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers, was coaching the Belarus national team, working with a 22-year-old player named Sergei Kolosov.

"At the World Championships, he made a significant impact on our defense," said Fraser. "We weren't very deep and he stood up as a young kid and did a great job against some of the best players in the world."

That tournament finished in early May. One month later, Fraser was named the new head coach of the Detroit Red Wings' top farm team, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Less than two weeks after that, Kolosov was signed to a two-year entry-level contract with the Red Wings.

This weekend, Kolosov is taking part in the Red Wings' prospects tournament, which features the top young players from eight NHL organizations. It's the start to a season in which Kolosov should fight for a spot on the Grand Rapids roster.

"Can't say he was high on our radar, on our list," said Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill of Kolosov. "Curt called and made a recommendation. He said, 'You know what? There's something there. If you don't sign him, you might lose. It's his time to come over.' Curt had a good feel for him."

The Red Wings once had a good feel about Kolosov. Drafted in 2004 (Detroit's third pick and the 151st overall), Kolosov was a long-range prospect for the blue line, blessed with size (6-foot-4, 190 pounds) and skill, but not mature enough in hockey to be a sure thing.

Two years in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, of the USHL, however, didn't show much development in Kolosov's game. The big blue-liner had fallen into the background of the Detroit organization, passed by more recent draftees, Jakub Kindl, Logan Pyett and Brendan Smith.

Kolosov headed back to Belarus and played professional hockey. He had been scouted by Fraser in Cedar Rapids when the coach was looking to stock the Belarus national team. Now that he was back in Europe, Fraser used him in a few tournaments before naming him to the World Championships squad.

"He was a big, young guy," said Fraser. "Over in Belarus, they don't have a lot of kids with size."

An American working in a nation that was once part of the Soviet Union, Fraser had his moments of adjustment. (There was the time during a game that Fraser called for a player named Strakov by yelling "Strak". Strakov didn't move, but half of the players on the bench turned and glared at Fraser, who soon found out that strak is a derogatory term in Belarus.)

But Fraser saw something in Kolosov that he thought would translate well in North American arenas.

"He's a young guy that's got good tools," said Fraser. "Now he has to develop them, like all these guys out here. If he expects to make the jump or even stay at this level, he's got to improve his play every day."

Kolosov was partnered with Pyett on the blue line, Saturday night, in the Red Wings' opening game of the prospects tournament. It's an event that Kolosov had taken part in two times before. His stock had fallen enough, however, that he wasn't in Traverse City last fall.

"It's a surprise to be back here," said Kolosov.

"These kids are 19, 20 years old and we're making decisions on them," said Nill. "It's not fair to say, 'Hey, he's no good at 20.' If we would have done that, Pavel Datsyuk wouldn't be here right now. You've got to be careful. You've got to be patient."

Early notes from prospects camp

Day 1 of the tournament is today. The eight teams practiced this morning in preparation for tonight's games. A couple of quick notes from this morning ...

-- Good to see that Jiri Fischer is on the ice working with the Red Wings' prospects alongside Grand Rapids coaches Curt Fraser and Jim Paek.

-- Tampa Bay's top draft pick, Steve Stamkos, isn't here. I'm not sure whose decision that was, but it's never a good sign when a player is put in a different category than his peers. Stamkos was the top pick in this year's draft, but Zach Bogosian (third overall by Atlanta) is here. So is Alex Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick by St. Louis. Columbus' Nikita Filatov (sixth overall) was slated to be here, but an injury sidelined him. (Drew Doughty, the second overall pick, is with Los Angeles, a team that doesn't participate in this tournament.) I'm sure that Stamkos will be just fine without this tournament, but make him into something set-apart. Alex Ovechkin played in this tournament. So did Erik Johnson and Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovachuk.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Europe in a decade?

The story out of Toronto that the NHL is aiming for expansion in Europe within a decade is, to me, good news

I don't understand the thinking that the NHL has to be more popular in North America before adding Europe to its base. The market's there. Take it.

In fact, I'd argue that no sport is more balanced in popularity and talent in Europe and North America than is hockey. And it's been that way for 30 years. (I know I'm opening myself up for an education in the global balance of bocce ball or marbles.)

The only downside is that hockey's European base isn't in western Europe, it's in the east and Scandanavia, but so be it. Other sports would kill to have hockey's popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. Soccer wants it, but doesn't have it in North America. Basketball wants it, but doesn't come near hockey's talent pool in Europe.

Eve of prospects camp

On the night before the prospects camp (this will be my fourth), here are a few of the names that I'm very interested in seeing on the ice over the next few days.

-- Zach Bogosian, Atlanta defenseman, third overall pick in 2008

-- Angelo Esposito, Atlanta forward, 20th overall pick in 2007, dealt by Pittsburgh as part of the package for Marian Hossa

-- Chad Denny, Atlanta defenseman, no reason other than he's fun to watch, hitting and shooting

-- Jakub Voracek, Columbus forward, seventh overall pick in 2007

-- Fabian Brunnstrom, Dallas forward, the man who said no thanks to the Red Wings

-- Ivan Vishnevskiy, Dallas defenseman, 27th overall pick in 2006

-- Colton Gillies, Minnesota forward, 16th overall in 2007

-- Bobby Sanguinetti, Rangers defenseman, 21st overall in 2006, can he follow Marc Staal's footsteps

-- Micahel Del Zotto, Rangers defenseman, 20th overall in 2008

-- Patrick Berglund, St. Louis forward, 25th overall in 2006, my pick as best forward at last year's prospects tournament

-- Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis defenseman, fourth overall in 2008

-- Jake Allen, St. Louis goalie, 34th overall in 2008

-- Jeff May, Tampa Bay defenseman, 151st overall in 2005, former Red Wing draft pick

Unfortunately, Columbus' Nikita Filatov (sixth overall in 2008) won't participate in the tournament because of a leg injury.

Then there's the Red Wings who have many players of interest in Traverse City right now. Top draft pick Thomas McCollum is here, but seeing how good Swedish goalie Daniel Larsson is draws more of my interest. Defenseman Sergei Kolosov is back after a year in Belarus. Jakub Kindl needs to be a top blue-liner. And how can't you be interested in watching a forward named Hat Trick Dick Axelsson.

The tournament games are being shown on tape delay on the NHL Network and definitely worth watching. This is a treasure of young hockey talent, names you hear about at the draft or in juniors or Europe that you can see competing against their peers.