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Notes: It's been a whirlwind week for new Wing Kuffner

Zadina to play in final game with Wings tonight; Larkin expected back Saturday

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- It's been a whirlwind of a week for Ryan Kuffner.

This past Saturday Kuffner was playing for the Princeton Tigers against the Brown Bears in an epic battle that was decided in Brown's favor in triple overtime.

On Tuesday, Kuffner signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Detroit Red Wings.

On Wednesday, Kuffner earned first-team All-Ivy League honors as Princeton's leading scorer and the country's leading scorer, averaging 1.42 points per game.

On Thursday morning, Kuffner was on the ice with the Wings for their morning skate at Little Caesars Arena.

"Yeah, it's been crazy," a grinning Kuffner said in the Wings' dressing room after the skate. "It was definitely heartbreaking losing to Brown on Saturday with the guys that I've been pretty much going to battle with for four years now. It's just been insane. But so happy to be here, that's the biggest thing, trying to settle in as quickly as possible, get to know everybody, all the faces and stuff, just trying to be comfortable here because this is an awesome place and I just want to do my best to get settled in as quickly as possible."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "It's just awesome. An incredible organization and obviously it's an honor to be a part of it. I'm just happy to be here."@ryan_kuffner21 | #LGRW

As it is his first day, Kuffner will not be thrown into the lineup against the league's best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Right now not tonight. A few practices and then we'll see," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I think it would be more likely next week than Saturday but let's wait and see what happens tonight."

Kuffner, an Ottawa native, was asked why he chose Detroit from the teams that were vying for his services.

"It's just an incredible organization. It's definitely at the very top," Kuffner said. "I'm just so happy to be here and obviously just a dream come true. Such a great team, great coaching staff and once I got to know them, it was an easy decision to make and I'm just really happy to be in this position right now. I'm so happy."

As a player who went undrafted in both the OHL and NHL, Kuffner fought to make himself into one of the best scorers in the country.

"I never got drafted to the OHL either and I think it's just about working as hard as possible and taking whatever opportunity I can get," Kuffner said. "I think that's the biggest thing. I'm going to try to keep with that because no matter where I am, I just want to work as hard as I can and literally give everything I have into it because this is what I want to do and this opportunity is awesome and I just want to try to settle in and work as hard as I can."

The Wings have scored the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference with 189.

Only four teams have fewer: the Arizona Coyotes with 187, the Dallas Stars with 174, the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks with 164 apiece.

"If he's gonna make us better, he's gonna be a scoring winger," Blashill said. "He's gonna be a guy who can score. He scored lots of goals in college. He's got 70-some goals in 100 games, or something like that. That's a lot of goals in college. I had a chance to watch some of his shifts, I had a chance to talk to him before he made his decision.

"The one thing that impressed me was I asked what was most important to him and he said timing. When you get an answer like that, that means you're a smart hockey player and you understand time and space and finding ways to get open and then when you get open you can use your assets. Some guys, the hockey doesn't start until they touch the puck. Good offensive players think a step ahead. That answer said to me he's always thinking a step ahead. That's great. Now he's gotta come in and prove it."

Kuffner, 22, had 75 goals in 132 games and became Princeton's all-time leading goal scorer.

"I think I try to be the most competitive guy out there," Kuffner said. "I think that's the biggest thing, just working as hard as you can to get in the spots that you try to be in. And then after that, try to execute. I think I want to use my shot as much as possible, just know where all the rest of the guys are out on the ice with me. I think that's the biggest thing when you get into space."

Kuffner's stall in the dressing room is next to the one reserved for Ted Lindsay, who passed last week and whose life has been celebrated around the league.

"It's obviously an honor," Kuffner said, glancing at the Lindsay jersey next to him. "Growing up, the Detroit Red Wings are the most storied franchise, and so you hear a ton about them, even though I'm from Ottawa. It's an honor to see these names in the same room as me. Everyone on the ceiling and around here, it's crazy the history that's behind it. It's awesome to be able to soak it in and a honor to be part of this organization and have all you guys and all the staff here."

Kuffner's great uncle, Edwin Gorman, played for the Ottawa Senators in the 1920s. Gorman played with former Wings coach Jack Adams.

"It's obviously incredible," Kuffner said. "To think back to my great uncle and just learning that story, the history with him and everybody he was able to play with. I still have people reaching out who were relatives who had guys play with him or against him, just to hear all the history. Obviously, this organization is incredible and has so much history, it's going to have connections everywhere. To have that one is really cool. I just have to learn even more about it."

Michigan State's Taro Hirose, the other college free agent the Wings signed, is expected to join the team for Friday's practice.

LARKIN SOON: Detroit's leading scorer, Dylan Larkin, skated with the team Thursday morning and is expected to be back soon.

"Dylan is shooting for Saturday," Blashill said. "Again, it was just a matter of getting him to where he was pain-free and full range of motion. I think he's got that now. We want to make sure tonight. We don't want rush him into it and set him back. So let's let him skate today, let him skate tomorrow and hopefully play Saturday."

Larkin, who has missed the last four games with a neck strain, leads the Wings with 27 goals and 62 points.

TIME FLIES FOR ZADINA: After Thursday's game against the Lightning, Filip Zadina will have played his ninth and final game for the Red Wings this season.

Zadina, 19, Detroit's first choice, sixth overall, in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, made his NHL debut against the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 24 after spending most of the season with the Wings' AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins.

When he was called up, the plan was for Zadina to play nine games with the Wings and be sent back to the Griffins to get ready for what the organization hopes is a long playoff run for Grand Rapids.

With Zadina playing just nine games, the Wings do not burn off the first year of Zadina's three-year entry-level contract, nor do the Wings have to protect him in the Seattle expansion draft in June of 2021.

"It's gone pretty quick, I am so thankful I was able to play, to get those chances to play eight games already, it's an awesome feeling," Zadina said after Thursday's morning skate at Little Caesars Arena.

In eight games, Zadina has a goal, an assist and is minus-5 with an ice time average of 15:12 per game.

"I am the same player but a little more developed now, just a little more confident than I was before I came here," Zadina said. "So, the eight games helped me a lot and I am probably a better player."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "These 8 games really helped me a lot. I feel like I'm probably a better player," - Zadina, who will play in NHL game number 9 tonight.#TBLvsDET | #LGRW

Blashill agrees with Zadina. The Wings coach likes the progression in Zadina's game.

"I think that he's shown well. I think that's he gotten - after the first few games I thought he looked more dangerous. He's shown confidence with the puck. I think he's tried to make things happen," Blashill said. "The next step would be greater production. Now it's a heck of a lot to ask a 19-year-old. The great players find a way to ultimately carry their own lines. And I'm not saying he should've now. But come next fall, can he carry his own line? Can he make that line great, whatever line he's on.

"A lot of guys can play really good with a Dylan Larkin. Can certain guys make their own line better? That's what Larks does. The more players you have like that, the better team you are. It doesn't mean you can't mix them together, but the better team you are.

"It's been a great nine games. I think he's a way better player than he was at the beginning of the year. Credit to Ben Simon (Grand Rapids head coach) and his staff, (director of player development) Shawn Horcoff and his staff. He's a way better player than he was at the beginning of the year. Can he go back and have a great end of the year and then come into camp ready to produce at a high level?"

Ultimately Zadina wants to be in Detroit and starring for the Red Wings for many seasons, but he is also eager to reunite with his Griffins teammates as they try to capture the Calder Cup.

"Yeah, 100 percent, I am so excited because we're going to playoffs, it's going to be fun my first playoffs as a pro," Zadina said "Hopefully we'll make some good results in G.R. and hopefully we'll see, it's going to be a good time."

He has a better grasp of the NHL now and he knows what he needs to do during the offseason to make the Wings roster out of training camp next season.

"It's a pretty tough league to play in, obviously playing those teams, Tampa, Florida and San Jose, they've got (some of) the best players in the league, so it was a huge experience for me. I was so glad for the chance, it was perfect," Zadina said. "I think I just got to be stronger. I'm still 19 years old, I want to be stronger, probably a little bit quicker and then it's going to be way easier."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Happy #PiDay ������������

DOMINATING BOLTS: While the NHL in the salary cap era is a league of parity, there's one team that has taken it to another level this season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were the first team to clinch a playoff berth and lead the league with 110 points. The San Jose Sharks are the next closest team with 94 points.

"I'd say the one thing that they have a real advantage at this time is all the guys that are getting paid, all their best players are young enough that their salaries haven't outweighed their performance," Blashill said. "That's generally what happens, when teams get in trouble is when you pay them because they've been great for you and all of a sudden their salaries are bigger than their output. Tampa's still at a spot where they've got a number of guys that are at ages in their prime, a number of guys, or even maybe before their prime.

"I think the trade with (Ryan) McDonagh, being able to get McDonagh was a big one. That just gives them really two top, top-flight defensemen. That makes such a huge difference compared to the rest of the league. Very few teams in the league have the balance of both forwards and D. Most teams either have really good D or really good forwards and they've got both and then maybe one of the best goaltenders. So you put that all together, it's a heck of a record."

The Wings are looking to snap a 14-game losing streak against the Lightning.

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