Some will claim it's Daniel Larsson
, the projected starter for Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids this season.
Then there's the threesome competing for job security and playing time at the Prospects Tournament this week at Center I.C.E. Arena.Thomas McCollum
, Detroit's first-round draft pick in 2008, will likely back up Larsson in Grand Rapids, but recent college graduates Jordan Pearce
(Notre Dame) and Chris Whitley (Lakehead University) are also determined to make some sort of lasting impression by the end of the tournament.
"I'm just looking to play well every game and give the team the best chance to win," McCollum told NHL.com. "I want to do the little things right by challenging and controlling my rebounds and showing good lateral movement."
McCollum is making his second straight appearance in Traverse City, so the odds are in his favor to make an even greater impression following an exceptional 2008-09 campaign (34-16-4, 2.11 GAA, .927 save percentage) with the Brampton Battalion of the OHL.
"Once you've been here before you know what to expect and, coming into rookie camp, I think Thomas was reaching another level," said Red Wings goalie coach Jim Bedard. "That greenness in him that we saw a little bit last year, is no longer there.
Right now, (McCollum) is slated to backup Daniel Larsson
in Grand Rapids, so he has to be better than Larsson to overtake him and that's just the way it works," Bedard continued. "Jimmy Howard
is finally getting a sniff after four years and, as we know, Kenny Holland likes his players over-ripe prior to coming up. It's that Red Wings University mentality where you spend 3-4 years working your way up."
Holland, Detroit's esteemed general manager, feels competition in goal certainly has its benefits.
"Anything is possible," Holland said. "I mean, can (McCollum) pass (Larsson)? Maybe, but we're hoping with Pearce, McCollum, Larsson and Jimmy Howard
, we now have depth with our young goalies. We're hoping that in 2-3 years that two or three of these guys are really established as pros and we have tough decisions to make."
We're hoping with Pearce, McCollum, Larsson and Jimmy Howard, we now have depth with our young goalies. We're hoping that in 2-3 years that two or three of these guys are really established as pros and we have tough decisions to make - Wings GM Ken Holland
Pearce led the Fighting Irish to a CCHA crown behind the second lowest goals-against average (1.72) in the league, a .929 save percentage and six shutouts. He was named All-American and was also a Hobey Baker Award candidate as a senior last season.
"He's lost 15 pounds since rookie camp and I noticed right away that he's quicker," Bedard said of Pearce, who was signed to an entry-level contract by the Wings in April. "He recovers more and his stamina is better -- I'm glad he was on a weight-loss program and worked at it. When a kid comes back less 15 pounds in over a 7-to-8 week span, he's figured it out. He looks good and he'll work his way up the ladder."
Pearce is looking forward to the challenge.
"This summer, I spent a lot more time doing cardio work and not worrying so much about strength and bulk up top," Pearce said. "I didn't go on an extreme diet, but was eating smarter and turning down sweets and that helped out a lot."
Whitley could shape up as one of the more intriguing stories at the Prospects Tournament.
He's the oldest player competing here at 26 and is a graduate of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., home to the Staal family of Eric, Marc and Jordan. The next oldest player participating this week in Traverse City is Columbus forward Kevin Harvey, who turns 25 on Sept. 14.
"For me, it's getting the experience and maybe creating a little exposure for myself, so we'll see what happens," Whitley told NHL.com. "I'm just looking to work hard every day and try to look good for the organization."
Former Red Wings defenseman Steve Duchesne, the co-owner of the Central Hockey League's Allen Americans, recommended the Wings give Whitley a tryout.
Whitley actually signed with the Americans just prior to getting the phone call from Red Wings assistant General Manager Jim Nill to accompany the team in Traverse City.
"We're used to having kids between 18- and 21-years-old, but Chris comes here with a great attitude and he's not taking it for granted," Bedard said. "He knows his situation and it'll be a good experience and good opportunity to get his feet wet in professional hockey."
Whitley has also enjoyed the company of fellow goalies McCollum and Pearce.
"They are two great guys," Whitley said. "Both of them have had great careers. We're all rooming together and I couldn't ask for better guys to stay with. No one is really at each other; we're just kind of hanging out and having fun."
All three goalies realize Traverse City is their open invitation to prove their worth and eventually make their professional mark.
"It's up to you to play your best -- I'm not competing against but competing with Thomas and Chris," Pearce said. "I can't worry about what their doing. I'll encourage them, but I want to focus on myself and my preparation and wherever the guys upstairs decide where I should go, that's where I'll wind up."