Today saw the second day of Detroit Red Wings Training Camp for the 2014-2015 season. Players suited up their sore bodies to embark on another day of high-paced drills, and in-depth analysis. At first glance, I noticed that Johan Franzen has started wearing a shield on his helmet. Thought he's wearing it "Kronwall" style, I think it's a good move on his part, considering all of the head injuries he's dealt with in the past.
"It won't protect from concussions, but I wear it for battles in the corners. It protects from the sides. I'm not looking through it, it's more for side protection."
"I don't think about the head injuries, and I am not going to start playing differently because of them."
"I'm feeling great, and I really like the guys on our team. It was a great summer, but I really missed hockey. I've been able to stay healthy, and I've been able to train a lot."
Franzen, who apparently put up astonishing results on a bike workout test earlier, said he feels like this is the best shape he has ever been in, and is ready to play hockey. He wants to move on from last season's first round exit and build off of it. He seems confident in players like Tatar and Nyquist to make a serious impact. Franzen also went on and spoke about his linemate Dan Cleary. He stated that Cleary looks as good as he ever has, and is excited to see him making a push. Daniel Cleary was available to the media today, so here are some of the quotes I got from him:
"First two days have been good, we had a scrimmage yesterday, and we did a lot of forechecking drills today. I feel good. The knee is as good as it's felt in a while, and I put in the work that I needed to get it to where it needs to be. Now I just need to be confident in my ability and go do it."
"There are a lot of things that you guys don't ever hear about, and yeah, the knee was bothering me last season. It wasn't where it needed it to be."
I'll hand it to the guys, and I know none of you want to hear this, but Daniel Cleary looks much better off this year than he did last year. He's skating a lot better, and is showing some promise playing with Mule and Hank.
I know that going into camp, I was extremely excited to see Gustav Nyquist play again. In the first two days, he hasn't gotten much of a chance to shine, but it doesn't look like he's lost a step in his game at all. I got a chance to speak with him.. He's been skating with Stephen Weiss and Justin Abdelkader and speaks very highly of both players:
"Weiss and Abby, that's a fun combination of players right there. It's only been two days, but they are great players, It's great to see Weisser back without pain. He looks better than he ever has even not being able to play in, sheesh I dunno how long."
Gustav, who coming off of an impressive season with 28 goals scored said that he spent his summer in Sweden training and spending time with family. He came back to the States about a month early to continue his training.. Says a big reason why he had success last season was because he had gotten the opportunity and did not want to let it slip from him. He says his plan is to show coach Babcock that he can be an every day special teams weapon and has devoted a lot of his training to it.
Speaking of youth, I think the biggest stand-out players so far have been young guys on defense. Looking at players like Danny DeKeyser, who had two assists in today's scrimmage, and the combination of Xavier Ouellet and Mattias Backman really show me that the core of the young blue-liners on this team is extremely bright. All I could think today while watching Backman was "Jeez, this kid is good." He moves the puck extremely well, and makes great defensive plays. When you pair that with Ouellet's ice-cold shut down style of play, and his damn-near elite skating, you have a really great duo of offensive and defensive capabilities.
Among the young defensemen in the system, Alexei Marchenko is finally skating with the team, and participating in every drill. Though it looks like his stance has widened a bit, he's still quite the bulldog on the blue-line. Watching him in the scrimmages show that his ankle injury that ended his season last year will not effect him this season going forward.
"Ankle pretty good, we done a good job. I do a lot of workout and lots of stuff with trainer. I skate, don't think about it, just play the game."
Marchenko went on to comment about how when he started skating a couple of months ago at the Joe, he could feel the weakness in his ankle, but now the weakness is gone. He's determined to play wherever the club wants him to play, whether it's Grand Rapids or Detroit. I asked Marchenko if he spoke to his fellow countryman Pavel Datsyuk often and he gave a pretty funny answer, though I don't think he was necessarily trying to be funny:
"We spend some time together, but I cannot be like, you know, he's not my father so I cannot be the whole time with him but, yes, sometimes he will invite me out for dinner or something like that."
There has been a lot of question about Jimmy Howard, and his obvious statistical regression last season, and if he will be able to bounce back and restore himself. While it's pretty difficult to gauge how a goalie will do by watching him in training camp, I think Jimmy is doing a great job. He looks like he's lost a bit of weight, put on some muscle, and has adjusted himself accordingly. Though, he won't admit to changing his style or stance, I think he looks a lot more aggressive in the crease than he did last season. Jimmy was an absolute delight to interview. Great answers, honesty, and who can say no to that smile?
"Feelin' awesome. This time of the year is just about getting ready for October 9th."
"I haven't changed anything as far as technical-wise, it's all about polishing some things up and tweaking just a few things. I did a lot more body-specific movement training this offseason. I just try to pull my shoulders and hips back into place to put myself in better position. If you see me walking around in February or March, you'll see that my knees are inward, and my shoulders are forward."
"About last season, I just didn't like the inconsistency. It wasn't up to my standards. I set the bar there pretty high for myself, and the point is to meet that point and push it up a little bit more every time."
"This year, I'm very excited. This is the best I've felt in two or three seasons, so I'm just ready to get going."
It sounds like Jimmy is full of confidence right now, and that is HUGE for the Red Wings. Playing goalie is probably about 70% mental in my opinion, and to have your goalie in a good place mentally can go a lot further than you think. He helped setup a 4-0 shutout over the red team in the scrimmage today, he wasn't challenged much as the Helmer/Datsyuk/Tatar aka "Two Kids and a Goat" line pretty much dominated anything and everything in it's path.
I think my favorite quote of the day came from Mike Babcock. We all know, he's Mr. Serious and rightfully so. He'll crack little jokes with the media every now and then, but for the most part he is all business all the time. That's just him.. When he speaks, every one around him listens. Whether it's on the ice, or off the ice. That's just how it is. Today I asked him about if they have had the chance to look at or use advanced analytics and this is what he gave me:
Asked Babcock if they have discussed advanced analytics since camp started, he said "Enough to make you nauseated." pic.twitter.com/agixEJDxyn— Kyle (@KyleWIIM) September 20, 2014
Now for me, this is a great thing. It shows they are thinking progressively with the latest movements in the hockey world. Of course, they aren't going all-in on them, and I don't think they should. It's important to keep the same core philosophies as a coach and a team. However, using and applying these analytical concepts can seriously benefit the team as a whole, as well as the players individually.
A lot of today's drills were related to the forecheck. I saw a lot of coach dumping in the puck, and having players chase it down. They also worked on outlet passes and clearing the puck out of your own zone. The message was clear: Sweep the puck out of your zone efficiently with one pass.. Something Detroit hasn't been so good at doing since Nick Lidstrom left for retirement.
To wrap things up, I think there were a handful of young players who looked great today. I didn't mention it yesterday, but Teemu Pulkkinen looks to be in top-notch form. Skating well, positioning himself efficiently, and holy mother of god what a shot. At one point in the scrimmage, he ripped a shot from the point and it went off the crossbar and I swear you coulda heard the "PING" from the Mackinac Bridge. Another player who looks great is Marty Frk. He told me he spent his summer in Grand Rapids training with the team's personal trainer, working on his speed and strength. You can surely tell because he looks like a completely different player. He looks.. Confident. Confident is something he wasn't last season when he was having a difficult time adapting. He skated with Andreas Athanasiou and Marek Tvrdon. You don't need me to tell you, but Athanasiou is absolutely magical. At one point during drills, AA picked a feed from Tvrdon and broke through the zone to snipe the puck between Jonas Gustavsson's legs. Sometimes he moves so damn quick you just have to stop yourself and try to figure out just what the hell happened.
I am a bit concerned for Tomas Jurco.. He just doesn't look the same to me. He said he spent the summer working on getting stronger, and making himself bigger.. Which is a good thing, but I can't help but to cringe just a bit. He is a player who has so much potential to be an absolutely electric dynamo of a player, and I'm just not seeing it. Of course, this is just the second day of training camp after an extended summer.. I want to see more flashy skill from him. Even he said it himself when I spoke with him:
"I think I left my hands at home or at the airport."
Anyways, it was a great second day and I'm looking forward to the third day. Thanks for tuning in, folks. Cheers!