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Bags are packed as Wings head north

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Rookie forward Tomas Jurco has a chance to make the Red Wings' opening-night roster. Though he can be sent down to Grand Rapids without having to clear waivers. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – The voluntary practices at Joe Louis Arena have concluded and their bags are packed for Traverse City, where the Red Wings will spend the next six days at training camp.

“I think camp is always important,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It’s a chance to bond and get to know each other. Get the system down and prepare yourself for the season. That’s where it starts. Have a good camp and it’s a lot easier to hit the ground running than having to make up ground.”

Coming off an unprecedented number of injuries last season, health will be a linchpin for the Red Wings moving forward. The coaching staff was forced to deploy a cavalcade of young talent to fill roles, but in hindsight, the experience that the youngsters gained should benefit the team this season.

“That’s the silver lining with the way things were last year,” Kronwall said. “Younger guys got a taste of really the game up here, probably sooner than they would have been given the chance otherwise. … It was fun to see those guys come in and have no fear. They played really well for us. Let’s be honest, it’s because of them that we did make the playoffs.”

The Red Wings feel they are healthier now than they were five months ago when – without Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk playing at 100 percent – they lost a first-round playoff series to Boston in five games. With the exception of veteran forward Daniel Alfredsson, who reinjured his lower back while participating in voluntary practices two weeks ago, Detroit’s lineup is relatively healthy.

The 41-year-old Alfredsson will not report to camp, however, the Red Wings plan to take a wait-and-see approach to the star forward’s progress. If healthy, the Wings would like to bring Alfredsson back for one more season. After all, he led the Wings’ forwards with 49 points last season.

Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson is still recovering from season-ending hand surgery and likely won’t have full range of motion of his left middle finger when the season starts Oct. 9.

Also, prospect Anthony Mantha, who is expected to get a legitimate shot to make the big club’s opening-night roster, suffered a knee injury Monday in the NHL Prospects Tournament at Centre ICE Arena. He did not play in Tuesday’s final prospect game and his availability Friday – when the Wings begin on-ice workouts – is uncertain.

With so many significant injuries last season, it was necessary to called up nine different prospects throughout the year from Grand Rapids. All of them made their NHL debuts in Red Wings’ jerseys, including Luke Glendening, Tomas Jurco, Xavier Ouellet, Landon Ferraro, Teemu Pulkkinen, Ryan Sproul, Alexey Marchenko and Mitch Callahan.

A couple more rookies – center Riley Sheahan and defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who this week signed a two-year contract worth more than $4.3 million – played major roles in helping the Red Wings remain competitive last season.

“The young guys took a huge step for us last year and they got a good taste of what the playoffs are like,” Kronwall said. “They gained a lot of experience that way. With them taking another step and the health of our big guys, Hank, Pav and E, hopefully he can stay healthy too. I think it’s looking good. We’re very familiar with all the players. We know the system so I think we should be in good shape.”

The Red Wings open the exhibition season in Pittsburgh on Monday. One night later they will travel to Chicago before opening the home portion of the preseason next Thursday against the Blackhawks.

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