First, let me preface this by saying that I know Jeff Blashill is not the coach of the Detroit Red Wings – yet. Second, I understand there is a difference between the AHL and NHL in terms of skill, pace and space – success at the AHL level does not necessarily translate over to the NHL.
With that out-of-the-way, I would like to discuss some of the young, inexperienced players in the Red Wings’ system who I think could benefit the most from having Blashill behind the bench. While I believe that other players with more experience – Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl – could have much better seasons under Blashill, I would like to focus on players who have spent little to no time playing in the NHL.
Mitchell Callahan/Landon Ferraro
On a personal level, I have a soft spot for both players. If the room were there, I would want each guy to find a place on the Red Wings roster. In an ideal world, both players could rotate in and out of that fourth-line, right-wing position for Detroit. In reality, the possible re-signing of Joakim Andersson and/or a healthy Johan Franzen could derail that scenario.
Under Blashill, Callahan went from a feisty, rugged winger who racked up too many penalty minutes to a player who can complement a scoring line. Before going down with an ACL tear in his right knee, Callahan was experiencing his best offensive season with the Griffins to date. On a line with Teemu Pulkkinen and Andy Miele, Callahan produced 16 goals and 22 assists through 48 games. Blashill is familiar with what Callahan can bring to a team. Even if his future with the Red Wings organization is in question, the history between coach and player may benefit Callahan.
On the flip side, we know what Ferraro can bring at the NHL for sure – speed, tenacity and a strong forecheck. Much like Callahan, Ferraro experienced his most potent offensive campaign in Grand Rapids last year as well. While his 42 points in 70 games might not knock you back, 27 of those points were goals. Under Blashill, it’s entirely possible that he could play on the fourth line and refine his game in the NHL to a greater extent. Again, the relationship between player and coach could benefit Ferraro in this situation.
After posting 15 points through 36 games in the 2013-14 season, most Wings fans were looking for Tomas Jurco to break out during the 2014-15 season. Unfortunately, his season was full of ups and downs, offensively and throughout the Red Wings lineup. Jurco often found himself on the fourth line, or as a healthy scratch. It got to the point where I suggested that perhaps Jurco would be best served by going back down to Grand Rapids, if only to find his confidence again.
From an mLive article by Brendan Savage, Jurco had this to say about Blashill:
“Yeah, he’s a really good talker and that’s one of the best things about him,” Jurco said. “Every time he showed me something it was like ‘You are right. I can do it differently.’ He just understands it so well. He knows what the players can do a little differently.”
Perhaps that is just the remedy for Jurco – attention to detail. Not to say that was not part of Babcock’s coaching strategy – it was probably one of his strongest attributes as a coach. Maybe it’s getting Jurco to buy in to those changes, something that Blashill’s had success with according to Jurco himself.
The young player I think could benefit the most under Blashill, though, is Pulkkinen. In the AHL, Teemu was an elite goal scorer for the Griffins. In just 46 games with Grand Rapids, he scored 34 goals. Despite playing in 30 fewer games than most other AHL players, Pulkkinen’s goal total held up as the highest in the league. His ability to score goals has continued to shine during the AHL postseason as well, where he currently sits with 13 goals through 10 games.
That’s the AHL though, and Teemu is on his way to Detroit next season. Under Babcock, Pulkkinen played in 31 games for the Red Wings this year, scoring just five goals. Young players usually struggle making the transition from the AHL to the NHL, but I think that Pulkkinen will need to refine certain aspects of his game in order to find the back of the net as a member of the Red Wings. If those refinements are coming from a coach whom Teemu feels comfortable with, who he feels has his best interests in mind, I believe that Pulkkinen will make the necessary changes to his game. While Callahan/Ferraro and Jurco will certainly get better, I feel as if Pulkkinen could improve the most under Blashill.
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