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Notes: Wings expecting highly competitive training camp

Nothing new on Zetterberg yet; McIsaac will not be ready for start of camp

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

TRAVERSE CITY -- On the eve of Detroit Red Wings training camp in Traverse City, there is a different feel as the team is in the midst of transition.

That is reflected in the way that coach Jeff Blashill has divided the 72 players into three teams.

With more certainty last year, one group was comprised mostly of Wings, another group mostly of players expected to be with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins and a third group was players slated for the ECHL's Toledo Walleye or their junior teams.

"I divided it up basically completely equal, with some adjustment," Blashill said after the players took their physicals Thursday. "Some of the young kids we've got on the team that's going to scrimmage twice. Each team will scrimmage at least once and one team will scrimmage twice, with the way it's set up with the Red-White game on Sunday. So, I divided the teams up equal with the idea we want this to be a very competitive camp. I think there's tons of spots that are up for grabs."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: #DRWTC roster breakdowns 👇

With those spots up for grabs, Blashill paid close attention to the prospect tournament, in which the Wings lost in the championship game to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I thought some guys had some real good tournaments," Blashill said. "I know some guys really put a lot of work this summer. Dennis Cholowski put lots of work in. Vili Saarijarvi, I thought they had good camps. I thought Givani Smith had a good camp. I thought the line of (Joe) Veleno, (Michael) Rasmussen and (Filip) Zadina all showed moments of being very good.

"Overall, it was great to see some of our young guys look like they've taken some steps and (are) ready for this main camp."

Rasmussen, the Wings' first-round pick, ninth overall, in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, and Zadina, the Wings' first-round pick, sixth overall, in the 2018 draft, are two of the young forwards who have an excellent chance to make the Wings.

"I just got to keep going with my game and keep better every day and I think I did that here and I've got to keep doing it," Rasmussen said after the Columbus game.

Blashill said Zadina, who had to leave the game for a while with a sore wrist in the third period after taking a big hit from Blue Jackets defenseman Justin Wade, should be fine for camp.

"I'm just going there to show them my best, that I'm a good player and I'm trying to get to the first team," Zadina said after the Columbus game. "To be honest, I don't know what to expect, probably going to be some practice with the pro guys so it's going to be lots of experiences for myself, so excited about it. Hopefully the better days are coming."

Veleno, the Wings' first-round pick, 30th overall, in the 2018 draft, was tied for second in scoring with seven points in the prospect tournament.

Although Veleno is expected to return to his junior team, the QMJHL's Drummondville Volitgeurs, since the Wings do not have a ton of centers in the system, he could be fighting for a spot on the Wings as soon as this time next year.

"I just take it one step at a time," Veleno said after the Columbus game. "All I can control is the way I play on the ice, work hard and play my game. It's their decision. I think they know what's best for me and they know the best for my development. I'm going to take whatever I can here and see what they say."

For the immediate future, Veleno will remain with Rasmussen and Zadina.

"We'll start that young line together that finished (prospects tournament), with Veleno, Rasmussen and Zadina," Blashill said. "One of the things you do is try to get people in spots they're comfortable. They just spent four games together for the most part, so we'll keep them together."

Those three youngsters will find themselves tested early, before they even get into preseason games.

"In the scrimmage and probably the Red and White game, we'll have them go against (Dylan) Larkin, (Frans) Nielsen, (Andreas Athanasiou) and whoever is on those lines," Blashill said. "They get to be able to show where they stand without necessarily giving them any kind of crutch at all. It's a little bit if -- I don't want to say sink, because we're not going to let them sink, but it's a little bit of a sink or swim mentality where you got a chance to show you're better than these other players, so go show in those scrimmages. I think that'll make for a real competitive scrimmage.

"I may use them in a preseason game to go up against NHL players. Try to avoid giving them a crutch where someone's going to be carrying them along. I want them to carry themselves, because for them to help us be better this year they got to carry themselves."

Blashill cautioned that the lines that are together in camp might not be the ones that play in exhibition games.

"I wouldn't read too much into the lines to start," Blashill said. "When you divide guys up into three teams, it's a little bit difficult to put guys on lines you might foresee. I also tried to put them in spots where it's just going to be real competitive. Those three young guys together get a chance to show what they can do on their own rather than maybe just benefiting from playing with somebody who's been in the league a long time. It think it's a great opportunity for those guys. But just across the board I wouldn't read too much into the lines."

Whether it is Rasmussen, Zadina, Evgeny Svechnikov or young defensemen like Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek, Libor Sulak or Dennis Cholowski, the Wings will have a much younger team than in previous seasons.

There could be three or four players younger than 22-year-old Larkin, who has been the youngest since he joined the Wings at age 19.

"I think after two years after not being good enough, it's as wide open a camp as we've had here in a long, long time," Blashill said. "I think it has to be, based on the results we've had. I hope that a bunch of guys we've had on our team got better this summer and they come back way better. As a group then we'll be a better team. Then I hope a bunch if young guys are in position to really challenge and try to take other guys' jobs. They can't be given jobs. If they're given jobs then it means they're not necessarily better. When they earn jobs by taking them, it means they're better than the guys' jobs they're taking. So I think it'll be ultra-competitive in the sense that we're as open as we ever have been to the jobs being to given to whoever earns them."

LARKIN ASCENDS: Larkin, who led the Wings in scoring last year with 63 points in 82 games, was given a lot of responsibility last season.

With captain Henrik Zetterberg not available, at the very least for the first part of the season, the burden on Larkin will grow heavier.

"I think Larks spent lots of time last year as the No. 1 center," Blashill said. "It was 50-50 in terms of who was kind of getting those types of minutes. Larks certainly would have had as big a matchup as Z at any point. Larks would have had lots of power play time, Larks would have had lots of PK time so I think he's very prepared for it. I thought he had a real good year last year, I thought he took a huge step to being that two-way player that I think he can be where he's real good defensively and yet put up 60-some points. I'd like to see, I think he'd like to see, can he get up in that 70ish range or higher and continue to work at his defensive game. He's talked about making big plays in big moments, whether it's defensively or offensively, so I think he's in a good spot.

"These steps aren't easy. This will be another hard step for him. As you get up the pyramid, those steps get harder and harder and harder. So I hope he can take another one here this year. We're going to need him to."

INJURY UPDATES: Blashill said he didn't have any update on Zetterberg, who has said he will miss camp and the start of the season due to a nagging back injury, but there might be something new Friday.

Blashill also said that Jared McIsaac, the Wings' second-round pick, 36th overall, in the 2018 draft, will not be ready for the start of camp.

McIsaac suffered a shoulder injury in the third game of the prospect tournament against the New York Rangers and did not play in the championship game.

Others who might be limited include defenseman Brian Lashoff, forward Lane Zablocki and defenseman Mike Green.

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