Training camp presents different objectives for different players. The mainstays use it as a way to fine-tune their game before the real games begin. Other players on the fringe of the roster use it as a way to fight for those precious roster spots. In the case of the Detroit Red Wings, it seemed like everyone was skating with something to prove.
“I’ve liked our hunger,” head coach Jeff Blashill said Monday. “I certainly think that we’re a hungry group, a group that wants to keep getting better, a group that doesn’t like, you know, what’s happened here and wants to get this organization to better days – and that’s not just the young guys, it’s the whole group.”
When you’ve got a motivated bunch of hockey players skating and practicing with each other, they’re all going to stand-out for their own reasons. Whether it’s because of personal improvement or how evident a player’s skill is, some players inevitably stand-out above the rest.
That’s what this article is about. The Red Wings’ 2020-21 training camp has played host to some hungry hockey players, which bodes well for the team’s effort level this season. As for which players really turned some heads, well, let’s just say that the team’s final roster decisions will not have been easy to make.
5. Thomas Greiss
The new goalie in town, Greiss signed with Detroit via free agency last fall and brings years of experience to the Red Wings’ locker room. Despite the fact that he turns 35 years old at the end of the month, he looks like he has minimal wear-and-tear on his body as the season is set to commence. This is crucial as Blashill will likely let him and Jonathan Bernier play every other game until one of them either gets injured or gets on a streak.
“Goaltending’s critical, it’s going to be critical this year like it is every year,” Blashill said Sunday following the team’s final scrimmage of training camp. “And I think having two guys gives you…it lessens the responsibility on one individual.”
During camp, Greiss has done a great job of getting square to the shooter and minimalizing his movements around the crease. He puts himself in great position to stop the puck, and has looked really good when going against the Red Wings’ top forwards. If it’s me making the call, he has earned the right to start in the first game of the season. We’ll see if Blashill agrees.
4. Mathias Bromé
Another free agent signing, though this one came from over in Sweden, Bromé is a 26-year-old winger that has posted some stellar scoring rates over in the SHL. During his first full week in Detroit, he has displayed strong offensive instincts and a shot that should yield more than a few goals as long as he is put in a position to use it. He has also exhibited a bit of chemistry with center Valtteri Filppula, which could lead to an assignment on the Red Wings’ third line.
For a team that severely lacked secondary scoring last season, Bromé represents a piece that could be part of the solution. He seems to have adapted well to the smaller North American ice surface, and by all accounts seems to enjoy practicing and working with his new teammates. It will be very interesting to see how he fares against NHL competition once he makes his regular season debut.
“What I would say is that he’s been stronger on his skates and more tenacious than I realized when I watched him on tape,” Blashill said. He continued, “I do think that he’s shown to be pretty trustworthy. He’s not a young kid, he understands hockey. He knows when to take his opportunities and when not to force it.”
Bromé may not crack the lineup right away – the statuses of Darren Helm and Bobby Ryan will play a big role in determining that – but you should absolutely expect him to stick with the Red Wings in some capacity.
3. Taro Hirose
In terms of the Red Wings’ prospect pool, Hirose has sort of fallen by the wayside as the organization has added more and more prospects over the last two drafts. For his part, the former Michigan State Spartan has done a good job staying productive. The 24-year-old winger recorded 27 points in 35 games in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins last season, and he looks to be making a serious push to stick in Detroit this season.
Hirose’s calling card is his playmaking ability, and it has been on full-display during training camp. He has shown a significant amount of chemistry alongside the Red Wings’ top pick of the 2017 draft, Michael Rasmussen, which led to some dominant shifts during the team’s Red & White scrimmages. He looks engaged on the ice and has been zipping all over the offensive zone when given an opportunity.
I mentioned this before in a previous article, but Hirose is probably a strong candidate for the team’s taxi squad given his age, production, and standing with the team. With 36 games of NHL experience, he’s been on the cusp of a full-time spot in the NHL since arriving near the end of the 2018-19 season. With general manager Steve Yzerman poised to add another sizable draft class at the conclusion of this season, the time is now for Hirose to lay claim to his spot in the Red Wings’ future. So far, it looks like he realizes it.
2. Givani Smith
The 46th pick of the 2016 draft looks to be on the cusp of making the Red Wings’ roster in some fashion. After playing 21 games with Detroit last season, the physical winger seems to have learned some lessons and looks to be single-minded in his pursuit of a spot with the Red Wings.
The thing that Smith seems to realize is that he’s not just a fourth-line grinder. He has enough skill in his game to bring his physicality to a scoring line and create space for his line-mates. Together with Hirose and Rasmussen, the trio wreaked havoc during the first Red and White scrimmage. He showed the ability to move the puck effectively, create headaches for the opposing goaltender, and grind it out in the dirty areas of the ice. He also got some time in with one of the team’s power-play units.
With the Seattle Kraken expansion draft looming at the end of this season, Smith’s name will continue to pop up as Detroit’s offering to the NHL’s 32nd team. This season marks a good opportunity for the winger to make his case to stick in the NHL on a full-time basis – whether it’s with the Red Wings or another team. If his play during training camp is any indication, he’s well on his way to doing just that.
1. Anthony Mantha
It may be kind of a cop out to name the Red Wings’ top offensive player as the biggest stand-out of training camp, but this isn’t simply because Mantha is good at hockey – we knew that already. Instead, what I’ve been impressed by is his ability to make things happen at both ends of the ice. To that point, Blashill and assistant coach Doug Houda have begun experimenting with the idea of using the power forward on the penalty kill.
Playing on a PK-unit with Dylan Larkin, the team’s two best offensive players have shown the ability to break up a play and then carry the puck out, creating a shorthanded opportunity. Mantha hasn’t been perfect on the penalty-kill so far (and nobody should expect him to be at this point) but his moments of success do offer a glimpse into what could be the next step in his game. For those of you that subscribe to the notion that teams should use their best players as much as possible, this has got to be a positive development.
Blashill addressed this by pointing to Mantha’s growth as a player.
“I think Anthony Mantha has grown a lot as a player over his time here, and I think that he’s continuing to grow,” Blashill said. “He’s got a long stick, you know, Anthony ultimately generally does a pretty good job defensively.”
On top of that, Mantha’s instincts in the offensive zone reflect a player that looks ready to shatter his offensive records. He has created just as many chances for others as he has for himself, and he’s done it without really breaking a sweat. Once he’s going full-throttle this season, look out – this could be the year that he becomes a true household name around the league.
- Michael Rasmussen is well on his way to locking-down a spot with the Red Wings in some capacity. I think there’s a specific blueprint for him to have the kind of season he wants to have, and he’s showing the things he needs to show to begin down that path. He continues to look good as a net-front presence and seems to be working his way onto one of the power-play units because of it. The key for him will be to continue to show growth at even-strength, and potentially show that he can be a center at this level.
- Danny DeKeyser does not look like a player that has been inactive since the first month of last season. He is as mobile as ever (though he does seem to have either lost a gear, or he still has to find it again) and he hasn’t been afraid to get involved with the play in the offensive zone. The real test for him will be how he fares against players that aren’t his teammates once the season begins.
- Sam Gagner has looked surprisingly good in camp. Acquired as part of the Andreas Athanasiou deal, the veteran forward has maintained a solid pace during drills and scrimmages, and routinely finds himself in favorable positions. During the third and final Red and White scrimmage, he was in the right place at the right time on multiple occasions, but he could not bury the puck. While you’d of course like to see him score on those opportunities, it is encouraging to see him present himself as a viable offensive option for the Red Wings.
If there’s one thing that Blashill and Yzerman have made sure to make clear, it’s that the roster/taxi squad situation is going to be fluid; just because a player is on the roster on opening night does not mean that they will be there the next week. The Red Wings have more than enough bodies to ice a full roster, and plenty of NHL-caliber players will be assigned to either the taxi squad or the AHL. This means that competition for roster spots won’t stop just because training camp is over.
This is a
good great thing! After a training camp where so many players impressed in their own ways, it only seems fair that they all get an honest crack at securing a roster spot. While this season may look unlike any other we’ve seen before, the Red Wings have an opportunity to make the most of it by getting a good look at every player that wants to be a part of the turnaround in Detroit.
In other words, get ready for some maximum-effort hockey this season. There are jobs on the line, and everybody knows it. We’ll see over the course of the season who seizes the opportunity.
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I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.