TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Amongst the 44 different storylines at the Red Wings development camp it’s easy to lose sight of what some of these prospects have gone through just to be in northern Michigan this week.
A handful of prospects, most notably recent draft picks and free agents like Christoffer Ehn, Axel Holmstrom, Tomas Nosek and Julius Vahatalo, reaching this stage required them to travel great distances to attend the five-day orientation camp at Centre Ice Arena.
“You forget sometimes that everything is brand new to them,” said Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill, who is conducting the on-ice practices at camp this week. “If I could place myself in their shoes as a young guy, a 20-year-old, going over to a country where maybe I don’t speak their language great you have to really remember as a coach that there is more of an adjustment than just hockey.
“I found that even with a guy like (Calle) Jarnkrok last year that the adjustment period can be hard. Some of these guys have never been away from home, their parents’ home, and then to add another country to it is a difficult transition.”
While the first-year Europeans are still getting assimilated to the Wings’ cultures and the smaller ice surface, the prospects trudged through Saturday morning’s 45-minute practice, which had more of a morning-skate feel to it as the two equal groups prepared for an afternoon intra-squad scrimmage.
“Today was a combination of a pre-game skate and also another core habit,” Blashill said. “Each day we’re working on a core habit; today’s was puck management and valuing the puck. It’s important to take that extra second and never give the puck away. Mike Babcock talks all the time about who has the puck when you’re done with it, so we want to get those messages across now so come main camp it’s not new to them.”
For Nosek, who will turn 22 in September, attending the Wings’ camp is also the first time that the Czech free-agent forward has been to America. He is one of seven European players in camp. The others are defensemen Alexey Marchenko and Richard Nedomlel, both 2011 draft picks, and center Hampus Gustafsson, a camp invitee, who will be entering his sophomore season at Merrimack College near Boston, in the fall.
“This is my first time to the States,” said Nosek, who has some difficulty explaining himself in English. “I was one time in Canada with the World Junior Championship.”
It might be his first visit to the U.S., but Nosek has taken comfort in knowing Jiri Fischer, the Red Wings director of player development, as well as 2011 sixth-round draft pick Richard Nedomlel, whom he has known from the Czech national team.
“It’s now a different role in Detroit. (Fischer) knows me from World Juniors and I think he wanted to draft me after juniors but now I’m here and I’m very happy to be in this great organization,” Nosek said. “He called me and he get me some pointers. I think it’s very good to be here because he’s here and he can help me.”
Nosek was undrafted in 2010, his draft year, after missing most of his junior season with a shoulder injury. More injuries, including a MCL sprain, forced him to sit out much of the next two seasons. However, he managed to rebound last season to become the youngest scorer among the top 10 finishers in the Czech elite league by producing 19 goals and 44 points in 52 goals for HC Pardubice.
Having coached him on the Czech Republic’s national team that competed at the 2012 World Junior Championship, Fischer knows Nosek very well and has followed his up and down career. The Red Wings liked what they have seen in Nosek’s improved stock that last month they signed him to a two-year entry level contract.
“He is so fun to be around. He’s such a humble, polite, hard-working guy who goes at it with details in practice,” Fischer said. “He pushes and he does things right and that makes everybody around him better. I think he has a great future ahead of him. Now he’s going to have to do it on the ice.”
At training camp in September, Nosek will be given an opportunity to compete for a role on the Red Wings’ roster but he’ll have to beat out a more experienced player to do it.
“He seems to have a maturity to him which will help his transition,” Blashill said. “He seems to be real attentive with a real attention to detail. He’s got a serious demeanor to him, similar to maybe Alexey Marchenko. He has that similar demeanor and on the ice he seems like somebody who’s got a real good skill set and hopefully he can add lots of value to the organization.”
More than likely, Nosek will begin the upcoming season in AHL Grand Rapids, which is OK with him.
“I think everyone goes to Grand Rapids in Detroit, so I try to get to the Red Wings,” he said. “If I stay in Detroit, great, otherwise I will go to Grand Rapids.”