Summer in Northern Michigan never seems to last very long, yet three months without hockey seems like an eternity. Thankfully we have the Wings Development Camp, Prospects Tournament, and then Red Wings Training Camp to get us through the summer. Yesterday was day 1 of the Red Wings Development Camp, and because of that and the fact that the players all got to go through their physicals this morning, the on-ice workouts and drills were shorter and more basic than than they will be for the rest of camp. Every year I'm surprised that there aren't more people packing into Centre Ice to watch the prospects. I'm also, selfishly, kind of pleased because of the intimacy, freedom, and access I'm allowed because of it.
I absolutely love going to camp. There's so much going on everywhere that I would need at least three of me to be able to watch and process everything. It's common for there to be defenseman drills at one end of the ice, forward drills at the other, and another group of players doing off-ice workouts and drills upstairs in the hallway. General Managers, coaches, scouting staff, front office workers, and more, litter the arena watching and evaluating the players.
The first group on the ice today was Team Yzerman, comprised of the following players
The prospects skated a few laps around the ice to warm up, and there was Tomas Holmstrom skating and talking with Darren Helm. I was hit with a bit of nostalgia to see those two on the ice together again, skating and laughing. After a little warm up skate, things started off easy with some two person passing drills. The guys usually make them look easy, but having three sets of players doing drills at the same time could easily get confusing; especially if you don't already know the drills. When a player does mess up a drill, I like to watch their reaction and see if they give up on it, try to start over, or get right back in it.
Grand Rapids Griffins head Coach Jeff Blashill ran practice and after a couple more basic drills for 20 minutes, Helm led the group in on-ice stretches. There's something captivating about watching 19 players engage in synchronized stretches on the ice. It's like they're all synching up with each other and becoming one. Anywho... moving along.
Next up were the cross ice drills where the two goalie nets are set up on the East and West side of the rink, in line with the faceoff dots. The groups go back and forth, switching lines when the whistle blows, and if I were in this drill I'd probably be the player asking "where in the heck am I supposed to be again?" While this drill was going at one of the rink, Jared Coreau was in a corner at the other end doing a few movement drills by himself. In the other corner was Darren Helm, skating and stick handling all by himself. It was kind of sad to see him all alone, but he was skating and doing some of the passing drills with the other players and didn't seem to be in any pain or discomfort. He was clearly taking it easy (this was the first he's skated since he took the pre game skate in game 3 or 4 against Anaheim. Helm has said he's going to take things slowly and not push it too much. He's planning to continue participating in on-ice workouts, but won't play in the scrimmage Friday night. It was good to see him skating again. I think Homer was telling him jokes on the ice to make him laugh, no idea if Helm actually understood what Homer was saying or not, but he laughed regardless.
Here's where things get a bit tricky for me to report on. The forwards and defense split up, each group working with a goalie at opposite ends of the rink. Chellios and one of the other coaches (Spiros Anastas maybe?) worked with the defensemen, Homer worked mostly with the forwards, while keeping an eye on the D as well, and Jeff Blashil, Jiri Fischer, Jim Paek worked with the forwards. Chris Osgood wasn't in attendance as a goalie coach, because according to Holmstrom, he's on vacation.
It's often easy to spot the newcomers to camp on the first day, because the guys who have been here before are much more comfortable and familiar with the drills. A few of the newbie's (new draft picks, I believe) looked a little jittery at first, but they settled in more as practice went on.
A few things about this first group stuck out to me on day one
- Jake Paterson has quick reflexes, great mobility, and recovers quickly after the initial stop in order to stop rebounds. He's very athletic in his style and he's fun to watch. He's very active when the puck is near him, moving to stay in position, dropping to stop the puck, recovering quickly, and adjusting to be in position to stop the rebounds. His competitiveness and determination are excellent qualities. It's only the first day, but I like what I see so far.
- Andrew D'Agostini was noticeably slower to react to shots than Paterson. He wasn't afraid to come out of the crease and challenge the shooter. Something that seemed a little odd to me about his style, was after the skater shot the puck, D'Agostini would try to make the save, but even if the shot went wide, hit the post, or even go into the net, he would freeze in place for a second (though it felt much longer than that). He wasn't very quick to recover and go after rebounds or stop second chances.
- Alexi Marchenko has a huge windup for his slapshots. It reminds me a lot of Kronwall when he's winding up.
- Ildar Telykov is big... really big. I kept trying to get a picture of him standing next to the other players for reference, but he spent much of the time bent over or hunching. At 6'9" 216 lbs, he was as tall as some of the other player when he was bent over. He did well I the drills, and definitely has a size advantage over just about everyone. I didn't get to see a lot from him today, but I'll be watching him throughout camp.
- Phillippe Hudon was at camp last year and showed a bit of potential. I noticed during the skating and passing drills at the beginning, that his skating has improved quite a bit from last year. He wasn't a poor skated by any means, which makes his improvement ever better. He's got a hard shot, decent size (6'0" 190) and his smoother, quicker skating allows him to use his other assets more efficiently.
The second group on the ice was Team Lidstrom, comprised of the following players:
Jake Patterson (free agent try out, not to be confused with Jake Paterson our Draft Pick)
These guys ran through pretty much the same drills and routines, though this group was a little more laid back as far as structure of the drills went. For the first group, I was on the glass near center ice, but I wanted to try to get a better view of the whole rink, so for this group I moved up to the Mezzanine seats at the end of the rink. It meant watching through the netting, but gave me a much different perspective and I could hear what was being said on the ice. You get so much more input when you can hear what the players and coaches are saying.
Tomas Holmstrom was much more involved with this group, engaging players in front of the net, hassling them, and challenging them. From my perch, I could hear Jiri Fischer and Tomas Holmstrom discussing the forward drills, joking, and laughing. At one point, Fischer told Homer that he's supposed to give the players more of a chance. During a little break in the drills, Eskelinen was still in the net and Homer got a puck, skated in on the goalie alone, and scored 5-hole on him. Everyone cheered and clapped and I'm pretty sure I saw a "yup, I've still got it" look on Homer's face.
Things got a bit interesting when I saw something I've never seen at development camp before... A fight. Nick Jensen had Tyler Bertuzzi tied up to the side of the net during the cross ice drills and Little Bertuzzi didn't like it, so he crosschecked Jensen in the back with more aggression than was necessary, and sent him down on top of the goalie (Eskelinen) who was to my right. The next time their lines were up for the cross ice drill, Tyler went after Jensen again, this time they tussled a little bit near the other goalie (Patterson) who was to my left, and Tyler almost knocked Nick's helmet off. Nick had some choice words for him and they separated. It was obvious there was still tension between them though, and about thirty seconds later they came together near center ice, dropped the gloves, threw punches, and had it out. The coaches let the players go until the fight was over. Jensen got the worst of it, but I'd say no real physical damage was done. I probably wouldn't put those two next to each other at dinner right away though. Jensen got the worst of the fight, and did go off the ice for medical attention. I don't know specifically what it was for, but he's fine and Sarah Lindenau later tweeted
My initial reaction was surprise because I've never seen nor heard of a fight at DC. Then I was pissed at BerTwozzi for instigating (especially with a player I really like). I'll hold back judgment on him for now though, because camp is an interesting dynamic. Technically the players are sort of on the same team, but they're also each competing to get noticed and try to eventually make the Red Wings; some sooner than others. We already know little Bert is an agitator and a pest, so maybe he was just nervous, or anxious to come in to camp and make his mark or get noticed.
In my notes for the Lidstrom group, a few players kept appearing over and over again.
- Jaimen Yakubowski is here as a free agent tryout. He's played two seasons in the WHL with the Lethbridge and I was really impressed with what I saw from him. He's tenacious, keeping after the puck even after he and his partner messed up one of the drills. He didn't quit or give up, instead he grabbed another puck, finished the drill on his own, and didn't stop until he got a shot on goal. He has good hockey sense and from what little I saw today, is pretty good at reading plays. He plays with confidence and when he skated in on the goalie, there was no hesitation, he shoots he scores. I didn't keep tally, but I think he scored more than any other player during the drills. I'd say he has the potential to be a good sniper.
- Andreas Athanasiou was noticeably good. He has very good puck handling skills, a great shot, a great skater, and he's fast. He's improved since camp last year. Definitely keep an eye out for this guy.
- Nick Jensen looked very good, and much improved over last year. Last year at camp, his skating was amazing; he would make skating drills look eloquent and easy, while other players would trip over themselves. He's smooth, fast, and very mobile, however last year his defensive skills needed some work. This year he's bigger and stronger, as well as heavier on the puck (as Babcock would say), and appears to have improved his overall skill and execution. I'm very excited to see what he can do through the rest of the week, but so far it appears that he's significantly improved on the areas he was weak in last year. Earlier this year the Wings signed him to a 2 year entry level contract, and he was on the Griffins roster for the playoffs (though he didn't get the chance to see any ice time). I look forward to seeing him in action with the Griffins next year.
Today (day 2) will be 2 hours of on ice workouts and drills for each team. 4 hours at the rink watching prospects do drills and workouts? I must have done something right to deserve this.