TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. -- There are a lot of questions as to what the Red Wings will look like now that the heralded Mike Babcock has moved onto another challenge. Will they be better off? Worse? The same? While Jeff Blashill and Mike Babcock are arguably similar with hockey systematics, the driving factor in difference between the two coaches is mindset towards players, and development. This was immediately noticeable for players such as Tomas Jurco. After a season where he saw the majority of his time on the fourth line in a checking role, he had only 18 points through 63 games. For a guy with the skill that Jurco has, that's completely underwhelming by anyone's standards. Was it the player, or was it the role he was put in?
At the start of day two in training camp, Jurco was skating next to Tomas Tatar, and newcomer Brad Richards. While it's difficult to see what kind of effect that has on the 22-year-old Slovak, the chemistry was discernible. "[Jurco] was a point-per-game player in the league, and he was really starting to evolve into a go-to player," Blashill said. The new, but familiar bench boss notes that Jurco has all the assets such as speed, skill, and size, but it's on him to earn the ice time and keep playing like he has been in training camp.
Jeff Blashill's media scrum in it's entirety
Jurco certainly made a big impression in day two of camp. During the scrimmage, he saw time with a few different players including Brad Richards, Tomas Tatar, and Johan Franzen. At first there was speculation, as he wasn't skating with his regular group where he was on a line with Teemu Pulkkinen, and Dylan Larkin. Reason for the switch had mainly to do with Darren Helm and Jerome Verrier both going down with injuries after a collision during an on-ice drill. Jurco managed to score one goal, and two assists during the scrimmage, and showed a display of his three best assets (size, skill, speed) in an impressive, and dominant fashion.
While it's only one scrimmage, it seems that maybe, just maybe. if Tomas Jurco is put with players who can drive him to be better, then he will in fact become better. All I know is that I like what I'm seeing from Jurco, and hope that he can keep it up.
Not all of the questions are circling around the forwards. Any Red Wings fan knows that there have been concerns with the blue line, and what it's going to look like under a new coaching regime. The Red Wings managed to bolster their defense when they signed defenseman Mike Green to a three-year deal during the offseason. "The one thing with Mike, and I think we all knew this coming in is that he has elite skill. And for me, when you have a player with that type of skill set, I will take my chances with him, I think he can be a real big player for our team, but like the rest of the team, he has to go out there and prove that," said Blashill on Green.
Green made a huge impression on me during day two with his abilities to move the puck, and carry through all three zones. No doubt in my mind he will be a serious impact top-four defenseman for the Wings.
While the Red Wings have their top-four set, the bottom pair seems to be a bit of a logjam with players like Brendan Smith, Kyle Quincey, and Jakub Kindl all competing to stay out of the seventh spot. Young defensemen like Alexey Marchenko want to make a strong impression that they are ready for the NHL. "My job is to play, so I have to show my best. It's not about me, so we will see," said Marchenko. When asked if there would be disappointment if he did not make the final cut, the 23-year-old Russian-native made a comment along the lines of "if I play well, I will be."
Marchenko's scrum in it's entirety (sorry about the obnoxious buzzer at the beginning.)
The reality - Unless a player like Alexey Marchenko, Nick Jensen, or Xavier Ouellet completely blow every other roster defenseman out of the water, they will be starting the season in Grand Rapids. The only way the Red Wings can manage to add youth to their defensive core is to place a player, say, Jakub Kindl on waivers. My gut tells me that general manager Ken Holland isn't ready to let go of any players for nothing. With that being said, I don't imagine there being a change in defensive personnel aside from the Mike Green addition. Ideally, the Wings could shed Kindl, and move a guy like Quincey... But at this point, it just doesn't seem possible. Time will tell, but for now I'm comfortable with saying that it's better to have, than to have not.