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Hudler's ready to 'fight for a spot'

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Jiri Hudler said he feels terrific after working out daily in Montreal this summer. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)
DETROIT – Since the end of last season, Jiri Hudler has done a fair amount of soul searching.

The 27-year-old forward admitted Wednesday that he was “terrible” last season, scoring 10 goals with 27 assists in 73 games. And while he’s not necessarily viewing the upcoming NHL campaign as a fresh start, he does understand the challenges that await him in training camp, which begins this weekend in Traverse City.

“There are certain guys who have a spot,” Hudler said. “Other then that, there are a lot of guys who have to fight for a spot, and I’m one of them. … Obviously, everyone wants to play, and if you want to play, you have to be in the best shape that you can be. That’s the way that it is.”

Hudler, who is in the last year of a two-year contract, will be pushed in camp and in the exhibition games, particularly by the presence of forwards Chris Conner, Cory Emmerton, Ryan Johnson and Fabian Brunnstrom, who are all fighting for a spot on the Wings’ roster. Johnson and Brunnstrom have been invited to the Wings’ camp on professional tryouts (PTO).

While Hudler understands that players will always have their detractors, but he doesn’t feel as though he’s under anymore scrutiny or pressure from the Wings’ organization.

“Things didn’t work out last year,” said Hudler, who returned to Detroit last season, following a year in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. “But I still feel that I could do more, obviously. I don’t feel like I’m under a microscope. I know that I’m going to be critiqued after I do some stuff, but that’s hockey. If everybody feels in different ways than I do, that’s fine with me.”

Still, Hudler believes that he prepared as much as he could over the summer, focusing on a regimented daily routine of mixed martial arts in the mornings, and time spent skating in the afternoons.

It was at the urging of his agent, Petr Svoboda, that Hudler worked out daily in Canada with trainer Jonathan Chaimberg, who specializes in MMA. Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang and Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek were also part of the workouts.

“He trains all of the UFC fighters,” said Hudler, of the Montreal-based trainer. “But obviously we didn’t fight. So don’t expect me to fight. You’ve got to understand, those guys are in unbelievable shape.

“I went there, I wasn’t sure, but I went there, because of how they work. It was unbelievable. There was no talking; sweating only. It was an hour, hour and a half every day, in the morning. … Then we went on the ice. So, we’ll see.”

In the past, Hudler has spent summers working with famed trainer T.R. Goodman in California. But this year, Hudler said that he was looking for a chance to reinvigorate his career.

“Time’s going to tell. I feel really good,” he said. “I’m not gonna say (anything) else after last year. Look what happened – my first goal was at Christmas.”

As a Wing, Hudler had his best pro season in 2008-09 – the year before he signed a two-year deal to play with Moscow Dynamo – netting career-highs in goals (23), assists (34) and points (57).

However, after a year in Russia, Hudler decided to return to the Wings, who still held his NHL rights for two more seasons. Coach Mike Babcock even proclaimed that Hudler would have a 70-point season in his first season back to the NHL.

But Babcock’ prediction didn’t come true, and many questions began to surface about Hudler’s performance.

“I had some goals,” said Hudler, of his own expectations last season. “The first thing I was thinking was this was terrible. I said, ‘OK, that’s behind me. Let’s put some work into it and do a lot better next year.’ ”

This week, Babcock said that the Wings need “to have bounce-back years” from Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula and Hudler. But as the team prepares for training camp, Hudler insists that he’s ready to claim a roster spot.

“This is my last year of (the) contract,” he said. “I’m not putting any pressure on me. I put all of the hard work into it all summer. You have to be confident, and that’s how I’m going to play.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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