TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – When he was the Grand Rapids Griffins coach, Jeff Blashill used to run the development camp. Now he's an interested observer.
With current Griffins coach Todd Nelson and director of player development Jiri Fischer in charge, Blashill is able to drop in when he wants.
Friday night Blashill came to the camp's first scrimmage.
"For me, especially some of the guys that just got drafted, it gives you a chance to see them," Blashill said. "But you got to take it with a grain of salt, it's the middle of the summer, some guys have skated a lot, some guys haven't. I know some guys on our team today that weren't very good in their development camp and they ended up being real good players and vice versa. I'll watch, it'll be good to see, a good starting point."
As he enters his second season as the Wings coach, Blashill is naturally looking for improvement in all areas.
"You got to be real good about learning from your experiences and I think I'm somebody who has always tried to take the approach, 'How can we be better? How can I do better in different things,’ ” Blashill said. "Certainly having gone through a season and learned, hopefully we can make some changes that will be more beneficial come next year."
Blashill was excited to talk about the Wings' free-agent signings.
The biggest signing was Frans Nielsen, the former New York Islanders center.
"I was personally happy with the way it went," Blashill said. "Frans Nielsen was somebody that we thought was real important, losing Pavel, to get a real quality centerman. He’s somebody that when I talk to the opposing coaches that they played against in the playoffs, they thought he did a great job against them. So that was I thought important."
The Wings also signed Thomas Vanek, bought out of the last year of his contract by the Minnesota Wild, to a one-year deal.
"I’ve known him since he was in the USHL and watched him in college and know guys who have coached him – he’s got a lot of talent, he’s a big body that can score goals, he’s a right (hand) shot," Blashill said. "So there could be a real good fit there."
One of the last signings the Wings made July 1 was veteran Steve Ott.
"Steve Ott I had a chance to meet with Ken (Holland) and (Kris Draper) and the crew two days before free agency and I just thought his energy level is awesome," Blashill said. "He’s going to bring accountability and energy to our locker room, which I think you can never have enough of that and he obviously brings a certain style of play that can be real beneficial for us."
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Development Camp Scrimmage
Blashill also brought up the re-signing of Darren Helm.
"Prior to free agency I thought the re-signing of Darren Helm was as important as any of them," Blashill said. "We really wanted Darren back. He brings great speed, great tenacity. He’s a winner. He’s the type of player I think you can win with. He can play on the power play, kill penalties, play up and down your lineup. So I was excited that we were able to sign him. "
Holland announced this past week that Teemu Pulkkinen underwent shoulder surgery and is expected to miss four to six months while Alexey Marchenko had a procedure on his wrist but is expected to be ready for the season.
"I talked to Teemu last week," Blashill said. "It’s just a recovery process."
Although the team has a lot of depth at forward, the Wings could use some assistance on the blue line.
There is always the possibility the team could trade some of their forwards for a defenseman, but Blashill isn't counting on that to happen.
"That part, it's hard to do for sure in the league," Blashill said. "There isn't lots of trades. I just would say this, I think it's always important to have more good players at any position. We've got lots of real good players at the forward position. We'll see how the rest of the summer shakes out."
Blashill said he has other concerns.
"I think one thing we didn't talk about is how important I believe the internal growth of our players is," Blashill said. "That, to me, is more important than anything in free agency is that our young guys continue to take steps, really all our players, continue to take steps forward and guys take steps towards becoming that elite, gifted difference-maker type player that you need to have."