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Babcock set to show Wings still among elite

by Mike G. Morreale / Detroit Red Wings
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Red Wings coach Mike Babcock never is at a loss for words, but he somehow managed to sum up his thoughts on the upcoming season to just two.

"We're back."

That was his message to Red Wings fans and the rest of the NHL. The reason for Babcock's optimism are both the new and familiar faces in and around the Red Wings' dressing room these days.

The veteran coach recently took the time to sit down with at the Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament to discuss the 2010-11 season.

NHL.COM: What players stood out in your eyes at this year's Prospects tournament?

BABCOCK: "The Joakim Andersson kid is strong and looks to be a safe player down the road. Tomas Tatar obviously has some real skill -- he reminds me of Jiri Hudler a little bit. He anticipates and makes plays, hangs on to the puck well. (Brendan) Smith is a high-end skill guy. His game has to evolve without the puck a little bit, but I like how powerful he is and how he skates. He sees and moves the puck pretty well. (Landon) Ferraro has a chance as well ... looks like he has some skill level there. I was also impressed with the size of (Brian) Lashoff (6-foot-3, 207 pounds), and I like goalie (Thomas) McCollum. So there's six kids and, when you think about it, it's hard to have six kids that you're already really excited about within the organization. There might be others, too, but those are the ones that popped out at me."

NHL.COM: Do you feel it's inspiring to a young goalie like Thomas McCollum to see the success Jimmy Howard achieved in the minors?

"I think it's real. Look, this is a man's league and it isn't easy at all. It's hard on everyone. A classic example is goalie (Steve) Mason in Columbus. In my opinion, Mason is a star. He was a star his first year and (coach Ken Hitchcock) did a great job with the team. But Mason struggles his second year and Hitch isn't the coach anymore. Mason will be back this year, but that's how hard it is to be good in the league. I know McCollum struggled a bit in the AHL, but that's good. You have to learn to fight through tough times; that's all a part of it. McCollum has a great work ethic and fought hard all summer (training with goalie coach Jim Bedard)."

NHL.COM: What did Jimmy Howard learn from last season?

"Obviously he thinks he's good and he was good. Now he has to be good this year and if he can put 18 good seasons together in a row, then you're like (Chris Osgood) ... the real ones. The real ones do it year after year and the message, just like in life, is really clear. Your ups have to be longer than your downs. That doesn't mean there won't be any downs, but you can let those things weigh heavy on you or you can have momentary downs and move on with it."
NHL.COM: What does it mean having Jiri Hudler back in a Red Wings jersey?

NHL.COM: What will Mike Modano bring to the Red Wings?

"He's been a good player for a long time. (Pavel Datsyuk) will center Z (Henrik Zetterberg) and on the right side I have Homer (Tomas Holmstrom), Bert (Todd Bertuzzi) and (Dan) Cleary. I don't know what line they're playing on, but I know I got Z with Pavel, (Johan) Franzen with Fil (Valtteri Filppula) and Hudler with Modano. So he's going to play with good players. If I'm the other team, my first defensive pair is playing against Pavel, the second against Fil and a third against Modano -- that's a heck of a third line. He can really skate and I like the fact it's a change for him. Change is exciting. I think we should all change our professions every 10 years. When you go to a new place, you're fired up, a little bit nervous and there's momentary doubt. Those things will help him and we think he still has a lot of hockey left in him. He's going to be happy being a Red Wing. He's going to like getting the puck on his tape from good players and he'll play on our second power-play unit."

NHL.COM: What makes Detroit General Manager Ken Holland so good at what he does?

"He's a passionate guy who loves hockey. He's 24/7, is a great numbers guy and very smart. He's got a philosophy and he doesn't deviate. I talk all the time about the 'success circle.' What that means is, you practice, then you execute. When you execute, you become reinforced and reinforcement leads to passion because you like it and it starts over again. When reinforced, your expectations get a little bit higher. So now you expect more success with the circle. Time after time, Ken's had success and has been steady on the rudder and patient and he knows what he's doing is right. You don't deviate as quickly as maybe someone who hasn't had the success. His knowledge and ability to treat people the right way really make him a fun person to be around. There are lots of things that go into it, but, to me, he's a guy who's been in the business forever and he's passionate about doing it and working hard every day."

NHL.COM: Are you excited to have Chris Chelios aboard?

"We're thrilled. I like having a guy who's an ultimate competitor, who just left playing. I was asking Cheli a bunch of questions recently while talking to some minor-league coaches and we were discussing practice. What does a player like? How long can the meeting be with a player? What's the best way to teach this? He's still thinking like a player, but seven years from now he's not going to be thinking like a player. Look at (Lightning GM Steve) Yzerman now, he's management. I'm a big believer in surrounding yourself with the best people and asking them questions. In the end, you have to make your decisions. He'll be a wealth of knowledge for us, if we tap that wealth. He just has to figure out his job. He's got to find his job, find his passion and figure out where he fits in. Is it helping (Brendan) Smith get better or working with (defenseman Jakub Kindl)? Is it helping coaches on the power play or penalty kill? Is it simply coming to me and asking, 'Hey, why are you not playing that guy?' I'm all ears."

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