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Notes: Athanasiou, Sproul, Ouellet on roster

Minnesota Wild claim Pulkkinen; Zetterberg, Smith miss practice

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - More was better for Andreas Athanasiou.

Athanasiou made the Red Wings' 23-man roster coming out of camp because he played in 37 games with Detroit last season, compared to Anthony Mantha's 10.

"The job he did last year put him in a spot coming into camp where he was more established as a player," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I thought they had almost even camps. I thought in Chicago they needed to be better. In Pittsburgh, they were good. Against Toronto, they were OK. They had their little moments going into the third. When I said going into camp that you've got to make us better and you've got to knock other guys out of the box. In the end I thought they played the same so the edge goes to Double-A."

Athanasiou, 22, had nine goals and five assists in those 37 games. 

Mantha had two goals and one assist in 10 games.

"I'm happy, of course," Athanasiou said after Tuesday's practice at Joe Louis Arena. "You always want to be able to start in the National Hockey League. It's kind of Step 1 right now."

It's a little bittersweet for Athanasiou as he and Mantha are very good friends who were together on the golf course a couple of days ago.

"He's happy for me and obviously I was a little disappointed for him," Athanasiou said. "We're really good buddies, we tell each other pretty much everything. We can talk about it, kind of put the game aside and talk about it friend to friend. We'll still keep in touch obviously, like I said, I wouldn't be surprised if he's back up here soon."

Another factor in Athanasiou's favor is the type of player he is. 

Athanasiou's game is speed-based and he doesn't need a lot of minutes to get going.

"Double-A's killed penalties for us in the past," Blashill said. "He's killed penalties in the preseason. He can play on that fourth line. I actually think Double-A's defensive abilities are fine. The thing I've talked to Double-A about is he's got to win puck battles. Ted Lindsay said to me two weeks ago when we were preparing for preseason, 'Tell those guys if they go into the corner with another guy and they don't come out with the puck, they're not a great hockey player'. But he used a different word. That's the reality of it. I think with Double-A when he goes and wins puck battles he's a really good player. If he doesn't win puck battles it's hard to be a good player. So that's going to be his focus."

Blashill recognized all the work Mantha put in over the summer and encouraged him to stay ready in case he gets the call to come up.

"He's come a long way," Blashill said. "He's going to continue to improve and get better. He's made these decisions more difficult. I was with Gus Nyquist when he got sent down and what Gus did was he went down and I think he was fifth in the AHL in scoring when he got called back up. He came up and scored in his first game and I think he scored 27 in 50-some games. I said to Anthony Mantha, 'That's the decision you've got to choose. You don't get to choose when the window opens but you get to choose how ready you are to jump through that window.'"

SPROUL, OUELLET ON ROSTER; KRONWALL CLOSE: Both Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet were out of options this year.

With Niklas Kronwall dealing with knee issues and going on injured reserve Tuesday, the Wings elected to carry eight defensemen in the early going so both players are on the roster.

"It's obviously a great feeling," Sproul said. "It's been a long time coming, it feels like. I'm very happy to have finally made a spot on this team."

Sproul has played in one NHL game while Ouellet has 30 NHL games under his belt.

Kronwall has continued practicing with the team. Because he did not play in the preseason, the Wings were able to make his injured reserve date retroactive to Sept. 22, so he will be able to play as soon as he's ready.

Blashill confirmed that Kronwall will not play in the season opener Thursday in Tampa.

WINGS LOSE PULKKINEN: The Minnesota Wild claimed Teemu Pulkkinen off of waivers Tuesday.

"Obviously we've got an abundance of especially wingers in the organization so in two days we've lost two wingers that obviously we didn't have in our top 13, otherwise they'd still be here," Blashill said. "Every organization has different needs. For me personally, Teemu's done an unreal job of working for me over the course of I guess it's four years now. He's done nothing but work hard whenever I've asked him to, so I wish him the best."

The Carolina Hurricanes claimed Martin Frk off of waivers Sunday.

"Those are two good players and it's kind of tough to see them go but I'm happy that they're going to get a chance and an opportunity in another place," Athanasiou said. "It's kind of a fresh start for them and hopefully they do really well with it. I hope the best for both of them."

ZETTERBERG, SMITH MISS PRACTICE: Captain Henrik Zetterberg and defenseman Brendan Smith both missed practice Tuesday.

In Zetterberg's case, it was by design for maintenance.

"It's a fine balance between if you don't skate at all, it's hard to have your legs going," Blashill said. "But we're grinding out there today. We're out there for almost an hour. That's a long practice. He's taken lots of wear and tear over his time. I want him as fresh and as ready on Thursday as possible. That will be something we'll monitor over the course of the season. We did at times last season as well."

In Smith's case, Blashill said it was a mid-body injury that isn't considered serious.

"I think Smitty's going to fine but from a precautionary standpoint, he had to sit out today," Blashill said. "But as of right this moment I expect him to play Thursday."

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