Yesterday the teams worked on some new drills: puck handling, protecting the puck, continued work on battling in a scrum, and going to the front of the net. The Wings are taking a little different approach to the training both on and off the ice, and I think I like it. The focus this year has been heavily on puck possession skills and net front presence. Off the ice, in addition to the traditional workouts, the Wings have incorporated a variety of other techniques and methods to help educate the athletes on how to take care of their bodies and to help them get the most out of themselves. For example, the prospects met with nutritionists who have educated them, and even had them cook their own meals. The trainers have incorporated yoga and other types of workouts to better condition the players. There are a lot more coaches involved this year as well and the whole approach is much more intense and geared towards training and preparing the players at a higher level than before.
- James DeHaas has been quietly solid so far. He's not flashy, but he skates well, moves the puck well, and plays smart. I didn't notice him much during the scrimmage, but for someone who's not expected to be exceedingly offensive and is more of a shut down defenseman, that's a good thing. DeHaas isn't projected to be a top pairing defenseman, most likely a 4/5 D man, and former Red Wings director of scouting Joe McDonnell said last year that James would be a long term project who has a lot of upside. At 6'4" 205 pounds, DeHaas still has some filling out to do and still needs to get stronger, but he's noticeably better than he was last year and he looks more composed and confident. He played junior A in British Columbia with the Pentiction Vees last season is heading to Clarkson University in the fall. James was drafted last year and didn't play in the OHL, the Wings will have 4 more years to let him develop in the NCAA and allow him to ripen.
- After barely noticing him the first day of camp, Anthony Mantha has gotten progressively better. I was initially underwhelmed from what I saw, but the last two days I've begun to understand why the Wings took him in the first round. Apparently not every player can be like Pavel Datsyuk and excel at pretty much everything, so putting the players through a such a wide range of drills and exercises helps to reveal both their strong and weak areas. While some of the drills and exercises up until this point may not have been Mantha's area of expertise, the puck possession exercises were definitely his strong suit. He's not a grinder, he's not the type of player who's going to be overly physical, he wants the puck and he knows what to do with it. The puck possession drills also gave him the opportunity to display more of his hockey smarts and creativity. I liked what i saw.
- Marek Tvrdon had looked slow, rusty, and hesitant in the first 3 days of camp. Yesterday he looked like he's starting to shake off the rust from missing most of last season after having emergency surgery to dissolve a blood clot in his vein that required the remove one of his first rib. This is the first time Tvrdon has played any substantial hockey since his surgery on November 12, 2012. His underwhelming performance and tentativeness were understandable given how much time he missed and the mental and emotional affect such a serious injury can have on a player. Yesterday he looked much sharper, faster, and more mentally engaged. His skating was much faster and sharper, and he showed off his shooting and scoring ability (what a shot he has!) that's garnered him comparisons to Tomas Jurco. I'm sure it will still take time for him to completely shake off the rust and get back to 100%, both physically and mentally, but the difference between day 1 and day 4 are very encouraging.
- Darren Helm not only skated yesterday, but he also participated in most of the drills (sans the ones that required hacking and whacking on the back) for the first time. I was excited to see that he felt well enough to increase his participation and exertion, so when he came back out with the second group and participated with them as well, it was even more exciting. Helm didn't play in the scrimmage, and until yesterday morning he had only participated in the skating drills with one group each day. It was great to see him out there on the ice with increased involvement. During one of the shooting drills with the shooter tutor, Helm was having *ahem* a tough time uh... putting the stuffing in the turkey (insert helm stone hands joke here). The rustiness from only playing 1 game since March 17, 2012 was a big factor I'm sure, so hearing Tomas Holmstrom whooping and mock cheering at him when he finally got a puck past the shooter tutor was priceless.
One of the things that makes development camp such a great experience, is that you get to see the personality of players and coaches that aren't on display during games. Yesterday I saw Jiri Fischer rub Martin Frk out along the boards while messing around. I got to see Tomas Holmstrom and Chris Chelios battle for the puck and harass each other. There was something else that happened however that elicited laughter, cheering, and stick taps from all the players and coaches. Towards the end of practice, if you were paying close attention, you would have seen Chris Chelios playfully adjust his son Dean's helmet and visor. It looked a little odd, but eh, maybe he's just giving him a hard time about something. The players gathered around center ice and Helm led them in a final round of stretches. But wait, what is that I see? It's Ryan Sproul skating towards the stretching players... with a... pie? He snuck up on Dean Chelios and shoved the pie onto his face, making sure to achieve full coverage. Thanks to his dad, Dean's face, from his hair to his chin, was completely covered. Why did he get a pie to the face? Because it was his birthday of course! Chris had an enormous, mischievous smile on his face afterwards. I'm not sure Dean thought it was quite as funny, but everyone else roared with laughter.
One more day of camp to go.