The Detroit Red Wings kick off their 2006-07 season with a prospects tournament at the Centre I.C.E. Arena in Traverse City, Mich. beginning today.
After having impressive regular season records, the Wings have fallen short in the playoffs the past two years. In the offseason, GM Ken Holland and his staff have tried to add some of the missing pieces with the addition of veteran goalie Dominik Hasek, rugged defenseman Danny Markov and checking center, Greg Johnson.
The plan is to build on the core players that are already in the lineup as well as adding some fresh blood from the farm in form of Jiri Hudler and Tomas Kopecky.
The goalie situation is pretty clear as Hasek is expected to be the starting goalie with Chris Osgood getting his fair share of the games. If either one would go down because of injury, the Red Wings will have plenty of options. First up is Jimmy Howard, the top goalie prospect in the organization. The 22-year-old had a very solid first pro season in the AHL and will get plenty of action with affiliate Grand Rapids this year, where he will be expected to perform again as one of the best in the league.
Next up is 25-year-old Stefan Liv who has spent his time after the draft in Sweden being one of the best in Europe. He has also been a member of the Swedish national team and has lots of experience of major games. He will most likely need a year or two at the AHL level before being a contender for a spot with the Wings. But as he’s on a one-year contract, he could get a few games in the NHL so that the Wings brass can evaluate his potential.
Also in the mix to be called up is former AHL All-Star, Joey MacDonald. The 26-year-old has been unfortunate with injuries but has clearly showed at the AHL level that he has NHL potential. He will have to stay healthy and fight for a spot on the farm. All three of these goalies could see some time in the NHL this season depending on injuries and the performance from the two veterans, Hasek and Osgood.
The defensive units won’t change much from the previous season. The same core is there with veterans Niklas Lidström, Mathieu Schneider and Chris Chelios. They will be supported with two stay-at home guys in Andreas Lilja and newcomer Danny Markov. And rounding out the defense will be two young players, Brett Lebda and Niklas Kronwall.
Lebda was a major surprise at last year’s camp, showcasing a very mature two-way game. He’s a bit on the small side, but makes up for that with hockey sense, mobility and puck skills. He signed a four-year contract this summer and will be in the Wings future plans, but his role this season will likely be as last year, meaning that he will split his time between Detroit and Grand Rapids.
Kronwall on the other hand will get yet another opportunity to step up a notch and make a name for himself in the NHL. He was sidelined for much of last season with injury.
Second-year pro Kyle Quincey had a very impressive rookie season with the Grand Rapids and even made his NHL debut. His size, grit and defensive play has made him the closest one to reaching the NHL. He will likely be a top-pairing defenseman for the Griffins this season before seriously contending for a spot with the Wings in 2007-08.
Up front, the Wings have 11 forwards that are safe bets to be in the opening night lineup, barring injuries. Key players such as Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Robert Lang will try to add the offensive punch. The supporting cast will be Jason Williams, Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Holmström. For the third and fourth lines the Wings have very good role players in Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Dan Cleary, Greg Johnson and Johan Franzén.
After these 11 players, there are five serious contenders for the final spot on the team. First up is scoring sensation, Jiri Hudler. Hudler has been up and down in his development since the draft, but last season was a definite step in the right direction. He has shown that he can score on all levels that he has played. His next step is to secure a spot on a scoring line with the Wings, and he has a very good chance of doing so. His natural ability and offensive game has never been questioned, but his defensive responsibilities have. He has improved in that area, but it remains to be seen if it was enough. Look for Hudler to make a solid contribution offensively.
Next up is Tomas Kopecky, who like Hudler has seen his development go up and down since the draft. Last season put him back in the Wings’ future plans and he now has a good chance of making the team out of training camp. Kopecky has a good combination of size, skill and grit that the Wings are seeking. He could spend time anywhere from the second line to being and extra forward this season.
Darryl Bootland and Krys Kolonos could challenge for ice time in the NHL, but will most likely go back to the minors.
Finally there is Valtteri Filppula, who probably is ready for NHL action but unfortunately won’t make the team this year because of the numbers. He’s the only player that can be sent down to the farm without clearing the waivers and therefore he will most likely spend another year in the minors. This doesn’t necessarily mean something bad, as Filppula was very successful in his first year in the league and would now compete for the scoring title as well as honing his defensive game. He could still see some ice time with the Wings before finally securing a spot for the 2007-08 season.
As usual, the Wings have invited several young free agents who will have a shot at getting a contract. Jamie Tardif, a former fourth round pick of the Calgary Flames is probably the one with the best chance of being signed. He has been a solid scorer in the OHL and has some grit. He could be a player ready for AHL action. Other potential signings are brothers Justin and Tyler Donati, who have been scoring at a good pace in the OHL and tough guy David Jarram from London.
Sept. 8-12: Traverse City Prospects Tournament
Sept. 14: Charity golf outing
Sept. 15: Main training camp opens
Sept. 20: Traverse City red-and-white game
Sept. 21 Thurs. COLORADO 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 22 Fri. TAMPA BAY 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 24 Sun. FLORIDA 7:00 p.m.
Sept. 25 Mon. at Colorado 9:00 p.m.
Sept. 27 Wed. MINNESOTA 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 28 Thurs. at Tampa Bay 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 Sat. TORONTO 7:00 p.m.
Oct. 1 Sun. at Toronto 7:30 p.m.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.