As the Detroit Red Wings’ training camp got underway in Traverse City on Sunday, there were several unexpected faces of note. Sandy Moger, Randy Burridge, and Jeff Sharples were all late invites to camp, and along with a half dozen other hopefuls, they will battle in search of a Red Wing contract. Because the team does not have a dedicated minor league affiliate this year, the Red Wings’ are only expected to sign one or two players. The competition in Traverse City should reach a very high level as contract hopefuls try to get an edge.
The most noteable player in search of a contract is 30 year old Sandy Moger. At 6’3″ and 218 lb., Moger is ideal for the Wings’ fourth line with Darren McCarty holding out. Moger spent last season with the Los Angeles Kings, appearing in 42 games but notching only 5 points. Moger has good hands and an excellent release, and he plays a strong physical game. Although his skating is weak, he is strong on his skates and has good balance. With a solid training camp he could begin the season with Detroit.
Another interesting player in training camp is 5’9″ 185 lb. Randy Burridge. At 33 years of age, Burridge’s career is winding down, scoring 19 points in only 25 games with Las Vegas of the IHL. Burridge’s most recent success in the NHL came with the Buffalo Sabres in 1995-1996 when he fired home 25 goals and 58 points in 74 games. Burridge has struggled with serious knee injuries in the past, and he has been written off several times only to surprise the hockey world with an astounding comeback. Burridge posseses a powerful shot with an excellent release, and he can bury the puck if given the opportunity. Burridge could be signed for depth purposes in the AHL or IHL, but he is unlikely to crack the Detroit roster.
Jeff Sharples, who has been relinquished to the minor leagues for the past decade, is also in camp. Sharples, 6’1″ and 195 lb., once scored 10 goals and 35 points in 56 games with the Red Wings, but that was more then a dozen years ago. He has become a veteran minor league journeyman, and if signed it will be for depth purposes and he will be placed in the minor leagues.
Several lesser known junior players have been in Traverse City in search of contracts. These players have attended rookie camp and are now trying to impress the Red Wings’ staff at the main training camp.
Sean Avery is one of the top hopefuls who has performed well at both camps. Small at 5’9″ and 180 lb., Avery plays a feisty game with a great deal of grit, as his 24 penalty minutes in 4 round-robin games indicates. Avery also has a solid offensive game and he notched 84 points and 158 penalty minutes in 61 OHL games with Kingston and Owen Sound. If the Wings’ are looking at signing a young forward, Avery is certain to receive a long look.
Mike Hurley, a former fourth-round pick of the Dallas Stars has looked sharp at both camps and is hoping to earn a contract with Detroit. Hurley, a former WHL 50-goal scorer, has a natural scoring touch around the net and generates numerous scoring opportunities. At 6’1″ and 185 lb. Hurley may interest the Wings with his offensive talent.
Two other forwards who have merited some consideration from solid rookie camps are J.J. Hunter and Chris Stanley. Hunter, who is listed at 6’4″ but only 175 lb., produced 18 goals and 50 points in 66 WHL games with the Kelowna Rockets. The 6’1″, 207 lb. Stanley was a top offensive contributer in Belleville of the OHL last season, scoring 29 goals and adding 40 assists in only 51 games. Although not a physical player, Stanley is a hard worker and plays a solid offensive game. Both are longshots to be signed.
On the blue line and looking to earn contracts are 21 year olds Ryan Gaucher and Greg Labenski. Gaucher, 5’11” and 205 lb., spent last season with Saskatoon of the WHL and notched 14 goals and 46 points in 64 games. He was Saskatoon’s nominee for WHL player of the year and defenseman of the year. In North Bay, the 6’1″, 192 lb. Labenski scored 16 goals and added 40 assists in 68 OHL games. If the Wings’ require depth on the blue line, Gaucher and Labenski are the top candidates.
At this point it is uncertain which players the Red Wings’ are interested in signing. Sandy Moger is the most recognizable name, but players such as Sean Avery will merit a long looks due to excellent rookie camps. Although only one or two of these players may be signed, a great deal of hunger exists amongst the contract hopefuls. The intensity will be high, and as camp continues this week in Traverse City, players will continue to try to get the edge.