Usually, fans of the Detroit Red Wings are loud and proud as they cheer on the red and white. However, there is an exception to this…sort of. Every year during training camp, the Red Wings hold a team scrimmage known as the Red vs. White game. It is usually one of the final events of training camp before the preseason starts, so it’s a good opportunity for players to get their game legs under them.
The event also offers an opportunity for fans and, more importantly, coaches to see how some of the newer faces on the team mesh with their teammates. If chemistry is forming on a line, this is an opportunity for them to start showing it. If a prospect wants to make a push for a roster spot, this scrimmage is an opportunity for them to really stand out. While the competition may not be as intense as it will be once the preseason starts up, this is the time for players to really start to show that they’re ready to start playing in real game situations.
In this year’s scrimmage, a number of players stood out for one reason or another. However, some shined brighter than others, and that should give them some momentum as training camp begins to wind down and the preseason looms on the horizon. Additionally, the two squads spent plenty of time working on special teams, though the results of that exercise are probably up for interpretation. Here are some of the most striking takeaways from this year’s scrimmage:
Heading into training camp and the preseason, the battle for the fourth line center role in Detroit seemed to come down to three players: Red Wings draftee Chase Pearson, and newcomers Carter Rowney and Mitchell Stephens. While Pearson stood out for good reasons during the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, it was Stephens that really shined during this scrimmage.
Acquired in the offseason from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Stephens carries some pedigree despite being a relative unknown to the casual fan. He was the 33rd selection in the 2015 draft after wearing the captain’s ‘C’ for Team Canada during the U-18 World Juniors Tournament (it’s also worth noting that he collected 10 points through seven games in the tournament.) After joining the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League (AHL) in 2017, he went on to post 83 points through 130 games, including eight points in four games last season. However, with just seven points through 45 games with the Lightning (while also averaging just over 10 minutes of ice-time) it was clear that he wasn’t going to get the opportunity to shine while playing for the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.
Now with the Red Wings, Stephens has a real chance to stick with the NHL club this season, and if his performance in this scrimmage is any indication, it looks like he’s ready to seize the opportunity. He scored two goals that came off of very different opportunities. His first goal was a product of his speed as he created a breakaway for himself off of a Bobby Ryan pass and then beat goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic clean on the glove side. His second goal came in-close on the goaltender as he was left alone and buried a cross-ice feed from Taro Hirose.
On top of his offensive production, Stephens also took some reps on the penalty kill where he looked solid as well. He was sound positionally, and he applied pressure on the offense at the right times. Realistically, he is going to have to continue to show that he can be successful on the penalty kill as the Red Wings’ last fourth line center, Luke Glendening, played a big role on that special teams unit. That he was able to showcase some offensive skill on top of his responsible defensive play is a promising sign, and it should give him an early lead in terms of who will slot in down the middle on the fourth line when the season begins.
Tyler Bertuzzi Looks Ready to Go
Given that Tyler Bertuzzi has not played a meaningful hockey game since Jan. 30 of this year, it probably wouldn’t have surprised many if the 26-year-old forward looked a bit rusty during training camp. Well, while you can’t be 100 percent sure until he plays against other teams that aren’t afraid to hit him, it looks like “Bert” is ready to go and has his eyes set on continuing the strong play he exhibited through nine games last season.
Bertuzzi was his usual self: chirping his teammates, working the puck along the corners and putting himself in a position for scoring opportunities. He scored a goal on a shot that beat goaltender Victor Brattström clean, but time had already expired (and defenseman Luke Witkowski playfully took Bertuzzi along the boards to have a word with him about shooting the puck after the buzzer went off.) In fact, the only thing missing from Bertuzzi’s game was having center Dylan Larkin there to play off of (Larkin did not partake in the scrimmage.)
Bertuzzi spent time down low on the power play, which included a quality chance down by the goal line that was denied by Brattström. At even-strength, he was set up for a one-timer that he fired wide from one knee. If it weren’t for Stephens, Bert might have been the most noticeable offensive player on the ice. The next step for him is to continue this play against other teams in the preseason and prove that his body is ready to withstand the grind of an 82-game season.
Thomas Greiss/Calvin Pickard Duo Confirmed
Okay not really, but both veteran goaltenders played very well during this scrimmage. Maybe there’s not a lot to be gleamed from their performances given that they were playing in a low stakes scrimmage, but if either of these guys looked out of sorts, it definitely would have been noteworthy.
Greiss looked steady as ever, making a couple of quality stops during the first half of the scrimmage. He wasn’t asked to stand on his head, but he looked like the goaltender that led the Red Wings to three wins and two shutouts in his last four games of the season. It’s not like his teammates were looking to embarrass him, but his solid performance should inspire confidence that the 35-year-old goaltender is ready to go for his second season in Detroit.
Pickard is destined to join the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL as their go-to guy in net. Despite that, it was and is important for the 29-year-old veteran to get off to a good start. The Red Wings’ management team wants to ensure that the Griffins are a contender in the AHL, and making sure that the team has solid goaltending will go a long way towards realizing that goal. Furthermore, the veteran of 113 NHL games seems to be locked in as Detroit’s third-string goaltender, meaning that if an injury were to occur, he would be the one heading over to play back up to either Greiss or Nedeljkovic. Given that he has a .846 save-percentage through nine games with the Red Wings, it is important for him to build up some confidence for himself as well as the coaching staff.
During the second half of the scrimmage, Pickard made a couple of quality saves. Whether it was swatting away a shot from the high slot or just getting his pads down to close off the bottom of the net, the seven-year veteran looked locked in in the crease. That should make Ben Simon, head coach of the Griffins, very excited as he himself is lending a hand to the coaching staff in Detroit during training camp.
Tanguay’s Power Play Still A Work in Progress
The Red Wings’ power play was disappointing last season. It’s been said a million times before, so what’s one more time? After assistant coach Dan Bylsma left the organization, head coach Jeff Blashill and general manager Steve Yzerman brought in third-year coach Alex Tanguay to breathe some life into a special teams group that managed to convert on just 11.4 percent of their opportunities. That’s a tall task for anybody, let alone a coach that many probably didn’t even realize was a coach nowadays.
For what it’s worth, the power play definitely seems to have a different approach, at least through the early going. The ol’ “carry it through the neutral zone and then throw it back to the defender” approach doesn’t seem to be a part of Tanguay’s system, though that doesn’t mean the Red Wings won’t use that approach from time to time. Instead, the message seems to focused on carrying the puck in, getting set up as quickly as possible, and then moving the puck around quickly and with purpose. There has been some good puck movement around the perimeter of the offensive zone, but none of Detroit’s power play groupings were effective at moving the puck through the middle of the zone.
Some players that shined on the power play include Bertuzzi, Lucas Raymond, Nick Leddy and Jordan Oesterle. It’s also worth noting that Moritz Seider spent some time at the point on the power play. Considering how much time he has spent working on his one-timers, it shouldn’t be surprising if the Red Wings ultimately give him power play time throughout the season so that he can show off the fruits of his labor.
Pius Suter Makes His Mark
The most notable name the Red Wings added in free agency this offseason, Suter used this scrimmage as a stage to really announce himself as somebody to look out for on offense. His ability to move the puck was on display, and his overall instincts in the offensive zone led to a couple of quality chances as well as a goal. It’s still early, but it also appears that he is already establishing some chemistry with Robby Fabbri, his former teammate with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
There was one instance where Suter and a teammate were in alone on Pickard, but instead of shooting it or passing it to his teammate, he hesitated just long enough for a defender to get back and break up the cross-crease pass. While that indecisiveness isn’t going to hurt anyone in a game like this, it is something that the 25-year-old will want to watch back and learn from. The former Chicago Blackhawk managed 14 goals and 27 points last season, and if he can develop a real killer instinct on plays like this one, his scoring rate could see a boost this season.
Red Wings’ Preseason Begins on Wednesday
We’re now just two days away from the Red Wings taking on the Blackhawks in their first game of the preseason. The Red Wings are now set to bid farewell to Traverse City and start making preparations to head to Chicago on Wednesday. As great as it was (and always is) to watch and learn from this scrimmage, the real test begins when the opponents are not also teammates. Wednesday night’s game represents the first opportunity for players to either apply what they learned from the Red vs. White game, or build on what made them successful.
The takeaways from this year’s scrimmage should help the coaches as they put together lineups and practice plans over the next couple of weeks. But if there’s an overall takeaway from this year’s Red vs. White game, as well as any of the annual scrimmages, it is this:
Hockey season is back, folks.
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.