Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 14, 2013

Wings hope Griffins continue winning

By JAMES COOK
jcook@record-eagle.com

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The hope is the experience many Detroit Red Wings prospects gained in last year's Calder Cup-winning season by the Grand Rapids Griffins will pay off big-time at the NHL level.

"It's incredible," general manager Ken Holland said. "Think about all the adversity they faced, going to Game 5 with Houston and a Game 6 on the road in Toronto and losing a Game 6 against Oklahoma City when you're up and then bouncing back. Those are experiences that are important in the development of a player. I think Luke Glendening, (Tomas) Jurco, (Gustav) Nyquist, (Tomas) Tatar, (Danny) DeKeyser, (Petr) Mrazek — you can go on and on — it speeds up the process and hopefully one day when we're in some tough series in Detroit and we're facing adversity, they can fall back on those experiences to get them through."

For director of player development Jiri Fisher, the impressive thing about Grand Rapids' run is they did it without relying too heavily on first-round picks, especially on defense.

"None of them was a first-round pick," Fisher said. "You've got Xavier and Ryan who were second-rounders. It's just guys who find a way. That's what pro hockey is, finding a way. Every player needs to reinvent themselves every three to five years. Hockey changes. Guys who survive — the Steve Yzermans, the Nick Lidstroms — everybody has to reinvent themselves."

NHL Hall of Famer Chris Chelios — who helps coach up the Griffins' defensemen — says the Wings have done a good job of getting blueline players with the right physical tools and then developing their skills.

"We've got some size on the back end," Chelios said. "Sproul, he's got the big shot. He's obviously going to be part of Grand Rapids next year. We went from being not so big on the back end to having some really good size there."

The Griffins' head coach, Jeff Blashill, said this camp gives him a slight leg up on evaluating players he'll have in Grand Rapids this season.

"It gives you glimpses of guys," Blashill said. "For me, it's a starting point for some of the guys. And also a look at some of the guys who will probably come into Grand Rapids and have a chance to play."

RUSSIAN ATTACK: Alexei Marchenko was the only player to score twice in Friday's scrimmage shootout.

The young Russian defenseman — a 2011 seventh-round pick who played in the Kontinental Hockey League last year with NHL players such as Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Radulov, Igor Grigorenko and Slava Kozlov — was particularly impressive in that aspect, given how many participants in the shootout looked like they had never done one before. Of 37 shooters, just eight found the net.

"Just watching him last year when he came up last year at practice, he plays like a man," Chelios said of Marchenko. "He's strong, great shot, he's a skater. It just remains to be seen how quickly he catches on. He really engages ... and asks a lot of questions, which is a good thing."

A former defenseman himself, Fisher said the 21-year-old Russian's biggest adjustment will be to the NHL's smaller rinks.

"Small ice is small ice," Fisher said. "I know as a defenseman, coming to small ice and all of the sudden being forechecked a lot harder, having less time on the breakouts — because there's always somebody coming — it's always more hectic under pressure than it is in Europe, where it's a little more structured. Guy don't want to get caught, because the distance is a little bigger."

STUDYING UP: The training camp isn't all shooting pucks and lifting weights this year.

The team is adding elements to the camp each year in order to educate players, offering instruction on public relations, team-building exercises and nutrition in addition to conditioning and one-ice skill development.

"It starts the process of what it takes to be a player in the National Hockey League," Holland said. "The evaluation part really comes in September in the Prospects Tournament. It's more education this week."

New this year was a cooking class on the camp's first day, which taught the prospects how to cook healthy meals — such as chicken and fish — on their own.

But the camp's on-ice instruction is just as intense.

"We have eight coaches on the ice right now," Fisher said. "We have 13 players. There shouldn't be any excuse about having enough information."

Saturday's "day off" included a trip to Camp Grayling, where the team ran the obstacle courses on the military base.

ICE CHIPS: One player who has stood out — literally — all week has been Russian defenseman Ildar Telyakov. The blueliner, a client of former Red Wing center Igor Larionov, stands 6-foot-8 1/2. ... Swedish forward Hampus Melen, a 2013 seventh-round draft pick, missed the camp due to illness. ... Dane Walters, a teammate of defenseman Danny DeKeyser at Western Michigan University, scored Team Yzerman's only goal in Friday's scrimmage. ... Today's camp schedule changed slightly. See page 3