Traverse City Record-Eagle

Sports

September 8, 2007

All eyes on NHL prospects

Many have used tourney as way into the league

TRAVERSE CITY -- The auditioning process begins today for the 120 or so players competing in the eight-team NHL Prospects Tournament at Centre ICE.

Four opening-round games are on tap, including the Detroit Red Wings-Atlanta Thrashers contest at 7:30 p.m.

A number of players have used the tournament as a launching pad to their professional careers.

"(Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg played in this tournament," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Thursday as he watched his team's prospects practice. "There have been great players every year at this tournament and it will continue to be that way."

Tournament rosters include a number of high draft picks -- 17 were selected in the first round.

Because of trades, the Wings have had only four No. 1 picks in the last 11 drafts, but they have made the most of their selections in the later rounds. Datsyuk was an eighth-round pick, Zetterberg a seventh.

"The big thing for us is drafting and developing," Babcock said. "That's so important. Jimmy Nill (assistant general manager) and his staff do a phenomenal job and that's what has to happen in a salary-cap world. You have to have good young players coming in and pushing all the time."

Five young prospects contributed in last season's march to the Western Conference finals.

"(Tomas) Kopecky, (Jiri) Hudler and (Valtteri) Filppula all played on our team last year for the first time and were important players," Babcock said. "Then (Kyle) Quincey came in and added, (Derek) Meech came in and added.

"Now we think we have some other guys knocking on the door. (Matt) Ellis is coming off a good year. (Jonathan) Ericsson is going to have an opportunity. (Darren) Helms, (Evan) McGrath, (Jan) Mursak ... we've got lots of good young players -- and we have to have good young players in order to be successful."

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