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Notes: Red Wings will hit the ground running in training camp

Teams are specifically broken down into Red Wings, Griffins and prospects

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner /

TRAVERSE CITY - Usually when the Red Wings begin training camp at Centre Ice Arena, they break up their roster up into three teams, with each team assigned a name of a Detroit hockey legend.

When camp begins Friday morning, you'll see Team Delvecchio, Team Howe and Team Lindsay on the ice.

But upon further inspection, you'll immediately notice Team Delvecchio is essentially the Wings current roster, Team Howe is basically the Grand Rapids Griffins and Team Lindsay is made up of Detroit's prospects.

In past camps, the teams were more of a crosssection of the Detroit organization. Each squad had a mix of grizzled veterans, younger pros and kids.

"As you guys know, you're limited on practice time until the first game of the year," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said, explaining why he is keeping the Red Wings together. "The first game of the year is critical and as I've gone through it and I've been through a number of training camps, I wanted to have the group as I see today as our group, give or take a few players; it gives us as much as possible a chance to work on specialty teams.

"When you split the guys up into different teams, it's hard to get that chemistry going right away. We wanted as much time to get that specialty team chemistry going as we can.

"I also have some of the young guys on Team Lindsay, they're going to scrimmage twice as opposed to once. For the young guys that might not see as many exhibition games it gives us a chance to see them another time in a scrimmage."

While it's apparent Blashill wants to build off the momentum the Wings showed late last season on their low-ranked power play, one key player is missing from the power play unit.

Forward Andreas Athanasiou is currently embroiled in a contract stalemate with Detroit. Though reports are circulating that he and the Wings are trying to hammer out a two-year deal, the speedy winger is not in camp with his peers.

"Right now, today all I know is we've got a group of guys here and we'll have a plan ready for Double-A and a plan if he's not here," Blashill said. "My job as the coach is to make sure I maximize the guys that are available to me. It's simple, as a coach you guys have heard me say this a hundred times, you worry about the players that are available to you.

"There's multiple reasons why players are not available to you - illness, injury and in this case a contract negotiation. None of those are really things I can worry about.

"All I can worry about is the guys who are available to us. When I see tomorrow exactly who's available to us, we'll execute the plan that's in place."

This year's camp is different in a number of ways. For the first time in 26 years the Wings are coming into camp as a non-playoff team, having missed the NHL playoffs last season after a run of making the postseason for 25 consecutive seasons.

Every member of the Wings organization is well aware of the streak and you can sense their disappointment now that the consecutive playoff streak is a part of NHL history.

"When things go bad, you kind of have two choices and this is exactly the message I'm going to give them," Blashill responded when asked how he'll address the team. "You can decide to feel sorry for yourself. you can place blame, you can do all those things or you can dig in and fight like hell. We're going to dig in and fight like hell."

LARKIN TO PLAY CENTER: It is no secret that if the Wings are going to be among the elite teams in the NHL, Dylan Larkin will need to develop into a top-notch center for the Wings.

Last season, Larkin experienced some growing pains when he began the year at center, eventually being moved to the wing, but during Detroit's last 20 games he moved back to his natural position at center and excelled.

"My plan is to have Larkin at center," Blashill said. "A lot's been played about Larkin's struggles at times last year and the reason I moved him out of center was maybe he wasn't ready for the center position. It is a lot of responsibility.

"There were certain habits that he had to change and changing habits is not easy. A lot of times the coach is on you and when the coach is on you, it takes away your confidence. I thought he really built his game back up in the last 20 games, I thought he was excellent. He was excellent in the world championships at center.

"His defensive instincts are way better at center. He's a guy that kind of anticipates where the puck's going like Pavel used to in the D zone and is able to steal it and get out of the zone and I think he's got a way better ability to make plays and be a playmaker than people give him credit for.

"He likes to hold onto the puck and skate with the puck. There's nothing wrong with that. I think he's got a way better ability to make plays. I would say right now Larkin will be a center for us."

MRAZEK IN A GOOD PLACE: As much as the Wings' fortunes are tied up in the development of Larkin, many observers believe if goalie Petr Mrazek can regain his form of two years ago, when he was among the NHL's goaltending leaders, Detroit could experience a quick turnaround.

It has been a turbulent offseason for Mrazek. After Detroit tried to trade him without success, he was left unprotected by the Wings in the expansion draft, where the Vegas Golden Knights passed on his services.

With one year remaining on his two-year, $8 million deal, it would appear this is a watershed year for the young netminder, which leaves many wondering, "What really is Mrazek's mindset coming into this season?"  

"I have talked to Petr. I think his mind's in a great spot," Blashill said. "I think he made some adjustments in his training methods both on and off the ice this summer that he feels real confident that it's really put him in a position to have success. So, I think that's a great thing."

Blashill also emphasized the Wings goaltending situation is not as cut and dried as some have anticipated, with veteran Jimmy Howard as Detroit's number one goalie and Mrazek as his backup.

"I think there's a battle at every position every day. As I said, this is a day by day business," Blashill said. "This is what I know for sure if you look around the league, I don't know too many teams that have gotten away with playing just one goalie.

"Both goalies on most teams have had an impact on people's seasons and I anticipate both goalies will have an impact on our season. We need elite goaltending.

"We can't have OK goaltending, we need elite goaltending. I think both guys can give us elite goaltending. Jimmy (Howard) certainly did when he was healthy last year, he certainly gave me elite goaltending in the world championships. We're going to need elite goaltending."

INJURY UPDATE: Blashill expects Tomas Tatar (shoulder surgery), Luke Glendening (left ankle surgery) and Ryan Sproul (knee/ACL surgery) to be ready to practice on Friday.

"I anticipate all three to be on the ice. Tats (Tomas Tatar) is basically full go, he's certainly in a good spot," Blashill said. "I think Glennie (Luke Glendening) is ready to go full go, but still catching up from a conditioning standpoint; he hasn't been able to train on the ice as much as he would have liked.

"Sproulie (Ryan Sproul) I have yet to talk to this morning, let's see how the physicals went. I anticipate him to be on the ice, I don't know if it'll be full contact or a little more restricted on him and it will take a little bit longer for him."

According to Blashill, forward Tyler Bertuzzi dealt with an illness issue in August, which kept him from training for a bit of time, but he's fine now and should be ready to compete for a roster spot on the Red Wings.

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