TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Newly drafted prospects Christoffer Ehn and Julius Vahatalo each scored second-half goals Saturday in the first of two planned intra-squad scrimmages at the Red Wings’ five-day development camp for team prospects and invitees.
Vahatalo, the Wings’ sixth-round pick in last week’s NHL draft, scored the game-winning goal in Team Yzerman’s 3-2 victory over Team Lidstrom before an announced crowd of 300 fans at Centre Ice Arena.
The camp, featuring 44 former draft picks, undrafted free agents, and invited junior and college players, concludes Tuesday with another scrimmage, which is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. EST.
The first period of Saturday’s scrimmage had some good pace to it with plenty of action as Team Yzerman – despite being out-shot 10-7 – built a 2-1 lead before halftime of the game that consisted of two 25-minute halves. Alex Globke, a center at Lake Superior State, and Joe Hicketts, a defenseman at WHL Victoria, scored for Team Yzerman, while free-agent forward Tomas Nosek tallied for Team Lidstrom.
Vahatalo gave Team Yzerman a two-goal lead in the second half when he knocked a rebound behind goalie Lucas Peressini, a camp invitee, who played for OHL Kingston last season.
Ehn finished the scoring when he converted a pass from OHL Mississauga defenseman Nick Zottl.
“It was a tight game played at a really high intensity,” Ehn said. “It felt pretty good. It’s much different than at home in Sweden with the intensity and everything. But I felt that it felt better and better the longer the scrimmage went.”
Though it amounts to a meaningless game, it was still good for a few of the new guys to gain the attention of the organization’s coaching staff.
“I thought all of our young draft picks did a good job. But I did think that our European draft picks seemed to assimilate to the smaller sheet real quickly in this game,” Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill said. “Now, this isn’t real hockey, this is still summer hockey, so it’s much looser than what you’re going to find as the year begins. But I thought they did a good job of assimilating and it resulted in goals for them.”
For Europeans like Ehn, who are used to playing on larger ice sheets, getting used to the lack of space is definitely something that they have to get used to.
“I realized on the first day that there are a lot of big guys and they know how to play physical,” said Ehn, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 181-pounds. “You have to be ready at all times, especially around the lines because the pressure is coming from all kinds of angles. You have to really know where you want to put the puck two and three steps ahead.”
Blashill was impressed by Nosek, a 21-year-old forward, who will likely begin the upcoming season in Grand Rapids. The Red Wings signed the 6-foot-2 Czech to a two-year entry level contract last month.
“I’m paying particular attention to him because he’ll be coming over here this fall, and he does a lot of really good little things,” Blashill said. “He puts pucks into space (and) when he’s under duress he finds a little pass in seams. Those are the things that when you get to real hockey that you need to be able to do and he did a real good job of that.”
FIRST-ROUNDERS: The Red Wings’ two most recent first-round picks – forward Anthony Mantha (No. 20 overall in 2013) and center Dylan Larkin (No. 15 overall in 2014) – skated together on a line for Team Yzerman on Saturday afternoon.
Though they didn’t figure in the scoring, Mantha was satisfied how their line, along with camp invitee Kyle Baun, performed together.
“I think it went pretty good. No goals but we still got a few chances,” Mantha said. “We were able to find each other on the ice so that was a positive thing. First half maybe it was a little bit more difficult to find my teammates on the ice, second half just we knew where the other guy was and the chemistry was coming and as the week goes on I think it's going to get better and better.”
Baun is a 22-year-old forward who is heading into his third season at Colgate University. He is also the grandson of former Toronto defenseman Bobby Baun, who famously scored an overtime goal after suffering a fractured ankle earlier in the game during the 1964 Stanley Cup finals against the Red Wings.
PLAN FOR DAY 3: There will be no rest for the weary when the young prospects return to the Centre Ice Arena Sunday morning for Day 3 of development camp.
Blashill said the camp’s coaching staff will introduce another core habit for the prospects to mentally process.
“This will be a tough day for the guys because you come in and you’re excited on the first day and then the next day is a scrimmage. Those are easy days,” Blashill said. “Now you have to come in a grind it a little bit.
“Purposely, we have practices designed to where they are about grinding and showing our guys that you just can’t show up for two days and then not be good the third day. You have to have a good mental attitude every day. Obviously, Mike Babcock says lots about being an every-dayer, so we’re going to have a 45-minute practice. We’re going to have a skills session and a skating session, so it’s going to be a hard day tomorrow and I think that’s going to be a good test for them mentally to learn to come every single day.”
ANOTHER HOMER: As if it’s not enough to have the same last name as a famous four-time Stanley Cup winning former Red Wing, Axel Holmstrom was assigned the jersey number once worn by the Demolition Man, who was a 10th round draft pick 20 years ago,
Oddly enough, the name and number aren’t the only things the two Holmstroms, who are not related to one another, share.
“Everything in the circle is kind of the same,” Axel Holmstrom said. “I was born in the same hospital. I was born in 1996, he wore 96. Both being Holmstroms from up north in Sweden from a little city called Pitea. Yeah, everything is kind of the same, and I was picked 196 too. It’s spooky but it’s fun.”
The young Holmstrom has never met the former Red Wing forward, who re-invented the net-front position. But winding up in the same organization is ideal.
“Of course, it was always Detroit, and maybe the Rangers because of (Henrik) Lundqvist,” Axel Holmstrom said. “I think overall they are the two most-famous teams in Sweden. But everyone is second to Detroit because of (Henrik) Zetterberg, (Nicklas) Lidstrom when he was playing, and of course Tomas Holmstrom was an icon when he was standing in front of the goalie. And all of them played on the national team too so overall in Sweden I think they are the most popular team in Sweden.
“Being drafted was awesome actually. It’s the most-Swedish team in the NHL so it’s an honor and it’s fun to be with so many Swedes here. My last name, Holmstrom, is famous and I don’t feel sorry.”
MARCHENKO UPDATE: Russian defenseman Alexey Marchenko is at development camp but not skating with the campers at Centre Ice Arena.
The 22-year-old Marchenko, who made his NHL debut with the Red Wings last January, is still recovering from season-ending ankle surgery, and only had the screws removed last week.
“He’d like to skate a little bit but we also know that it’s early in July and we certainly don’t want to have any type of setback,” Blashill said. “He just had his screws taken out last week so there are still issues with that. We expect that he’ll be fully ready come the fall. If anything he’s pushing to skate and we’re going to hold him back a little bit.”