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Notebook: New faces excited for start

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Now that the exhibition season is in the rearview mirror, there was a new focus at practice Tuesday morning as the Red Wings began preparation for the season-opener when they host the Ottawa Senators this Friday at Joe Louis Arena.

For the veterans, the grueling days of training camp and preseason games are gone. And for the new faces – like forward Fabian Brunnstrom and center Cory Emmerton – they can rest a little easier knowing that they’ve made the 23-man roster.

“I'm very happy. I love being on this team and in the organization. This couldn't be better,” said Brunnstrom, who will wear jersey No. 76. “You never know what's going to happen. All I knew was I had to work hard everyday and see what happens. Obviously when I got news I was really happy.”

Before last season, Brunnstrom had collected 40 points in 99 NHL games with the Dallas Stars. But somewhere along the line, the wheels came off his productive wagon. Brunnstrom and veteran center Ryan Johnson were invited to Wings’ camp on professional tryouts. Brunnstrom signed a one-year, twp-way contract Monday, and Johnson was cut.

Fortunately for the 26-year-old Swedish forward, the Wings have a proven track record of retrieving players off the proverbial junk heap and refurbishing their careers. And one only has to look to players like Danny Cleary, Mikael Samuelsson and Andreas Lilja as prime examples.

“We always have eyes on players that aren't good enough to make other clubs,” forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “When they come here and get another chance sometimes it works out. … He’s got a chance and made something out of it.”

While Brunnstrom skated on the fourth line Tuesday with Emmerton and forward Drew Miller, nothing is a given at this level.

“He’s got to earn a job here,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said, of Brunnstrom. “He’s made the team, but now he’s got to earn a job, and those are two different things. He knows that he’s in for a battle. But there are always injuries and things that go on, and he’s starting off as a Red Wing. He just has to keep battling.”

The difference between making this team over sitting out as a healthy scratch – or worse, being sent down to Grand Rapids, isn’t lost on Brunnstrom.

“Everyone on this team is so good,” he said. “I need to keep working everyday. Right now I'm really happy to be with the team and a part of this organization, and to be able to stay here.”

Emmerton too has his eye’s set on becoming an every day player with this organization. But he appreciates the difficulty associated with achieving that goal.

“It’s going to take a lot of work,” Emmerton said. “There are lot’s of guys in this room who can play, and I will have to be at my best at all times. There’s going to be a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m really enjoying myself right now. I can’t wait.”

Emmerton, 23, impressed the coaching staff with is consistency and work ethic, Babcock said.

“He skated good, competed harder then I’ve ever seen him compete. Won battles and really got stronger in the face-off circle and played better,” Babcock said. “I played him in four games in five nights to finish, just to figure it all out, to see what he’s made of. And I thought he responded real well, and played great in his final game.”

Even though Brunnstrom and Emmerton made the team, it wasn’t without challenges from others during the exhibition season, most notably high-touted prospect Gustav Nyquist, who finished the preseason with five points in five games.

“I think our third and fourth lines are as deep as they’ve been in a long time,” Babcock said. “We had some real hard decisions. Obviously, Nyquist really played well, and that gives us good depth. Ryan Johnson was fantastic, so those are hard, hard things, but that’s a good thing for us too as we move ahead here.

“We have good depth in the organization and we’ll continue to evaluate the growth of our team. … I’m excited about our group.”

HOMER’S EARLY EXIT: Tomas Holmstrom left practice early Tuesday with a sore knee. When asked if he’ll be ready to play in Friday’s opener, the power forward said, “That's the goal. Hopefully, I'll practice tomorrow.”

INJURY UPDATE: Pavel Datsyuk (sore back), Zetterberg (upper body), Cleary (upper body) were back at practice Tuesday. However, Mike Commodore (MCL) and Patrick Eaves (foot) did not skate.

“It’s amazing when you get rid of exhibition now who gets healthy fast,” Babcock said. “It’s like the Fountain of Youth.”

It’s likely that the only player who won’t be available against the Senators, will be Commodore, who was injured last week in Chicago.

NOTEBOOK: The five players that the Wings placed on waivers Monday – goalie Joey MacDonald, forward Chris Conner and defensemen Garnet Exelby, Logan Pyett and Doug Janik – all cleared Tuesday at noon. They’ve all been assigned to Grand Rapids (AHL).

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill
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