Traverse City Record-Eagle

Sports

July 12, 2013

Young Wings defenders show their stuff in Traverse City

TRAVERSE CITY — The Detroit Red Wings selected forwards with their first five picks in the recent National Hockey League draft.

It wasn’t planned, general manager Ken Holland said. It just happened.

“You take the best player available,” he said.

Then again, there wasn’t a pressing need for a defenseman. The Wings put an emphasis on defense in previous drafts.

Several of those promising defenders are taking part in this week’s Development Camp at Centre ICE.

The group includes four of the top five defenders in the latest prospect rankings by the website Red Wings Central. The four, who could open the season with Detroit’s minor league affiliate in Grand Rapids, include Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet, Nick Jensen and Alexei Marchenko.

Sproul was the Ontario Hockey League’s Defenseman of the Year last season. Ouellet, who played in the world junior championships this year, was a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League first-team All-Star. Jensen, who played at St. Cloud State, was named the WCHA Defenseman of the Year. Marchenko played in the Russian elite KHL. One of his teammates during last year’s NHL lockout? Pavel Datsyuk.

“It’s certainly exciting that guys have been able to accumulate awards,” said Jiri Fischer, Detroit’s director of player development. “That’s a good sign. It means they’ve done a lot of things right. That they found ways to dominate at the levels they were at.”

Now comes the next challenge — professional hockey.

All four of the touted prospects got a sneak peak at what’s in store when they reported to the Grand Rapids Griffins late in the season. The Griffins went on to win the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup.

“Each guy was there for different periods, but they all were there for parts of our playoff run,” Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said. “To see the level of commitment, the sacrifices you have to make to be successful at a high level of pro hockey, was great for them to learn. Hopefully, it will jump start their pro careers.”

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