TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – They were drafted together, played in prospect tournaments together, and tonight, they will play in their first NHL preseason games … together.
Defensemen Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul have been outstanding at the Red Wings’ training camp, even catching the eye of coach Mike Babcock, who plans to play the pair together in tonight’s preseason game against the Blackhawks at Chicago’s United Center.
“Ouellet and Sproul look like they’re going to be ready for prime time pretty soon,” Babcock said.
Selected seven picks a part in the second round of the NHL draft two years ago, Ouellet and Sproul are among the young guys that gives the Red Wings hope of building a solid defense for years to come.
“We were commenting, Mike Babcock and I, how pleased we are with those two guys,” general manager Ken Holland said. “Sproul is the CHL defenseman of the year, OHL defenseman of the year, Ouellet played on Canada's World Junior team. They've been good prospects almost from the time we drafted them. They continue to improve and do the things you always hope is going to happen. … We hope they're going to be a big part of our future.”
It’s not only the coaches and front office staff that have been fascinated by the young guys.
“I played with Ouellet when the three teams were divided up,” Jonathan Ericsson said. “It’s really fun to see all the young guys coming up. You really don’t get a chance to see them before they come to camp. It’s hard to see any games in the AHL or wherever they play. It’s fun to see the guys getting drafted coming in here. The young D have been impressive.”
Specifically, Ouellet and Sproul play with a composure that most young players need time to develop, Ericsson said.
“They’re all really calm with the puck. They don’t rush to make plays,” he said. “They don’t want to just put it on the glass out, they want to make the play. They keep their heads up at all times and make good first passes. That’s what the coaches want.”
Sproul and Ouellet have contrasting styles on the ice. Sproul is more offensive-minded, while Ouellet is more defensive in his approach to the game. The two 20-year-olds, who’ve been paired together in each of the last three Wings’ prospect tournaments, will again be together tonight in their first NHL preseason game.
“I think we're two different players, that's why we're pretty good together,” Ouellet said. “He likes to go up with the puck and skate around. He has a pretty hard shot. I'm a little more defensive. Together we're doing a good job.
“We kind of know each other on the ice, so that helps. He's a good player, so it's not hard to play with him. We have good chemistry together.”
The two are a perfect righty/lefty defensive pairing with Sproul, who shoots right, and Ouellet, a left-hander.
“I'm sure that's definitely a factor that helps us out,” Sproul said. “Just the luck of the draw that we're lefty-righty and that's how they drafted us. That's all part of us having good chemistry.”
Ouellet, who was born in France, and Sproul will play for the Griffins this season. Sproul got a taste of what life is like in the AHL late last season when he played in a couple of games with the Griffins.
“I think it will be a big adjustment, but I'm OK with it,” Sproul said. “Having the two months that I was there last year at the end of the year and in the playoffs, that helps a lot, too. I look forward to it and I think I'll be ready.”
Besides Ouellet and Sproul, the Wings have also been impressed by young defensemen Richard Nedomlel and Adam Almquist. Both will play in Grand Rapids this season.
Almquist, who will play his second full season with the Griffins, garnered the attention of Detroit’s coaches in training camp, as well as Monday’s preseason opener. The seventh-round draft pick in 2010, Almquist scored two power-play goals with a plus-2 rating in a 4-1 win at Pittsburgh.
TONIGHT VS. CHICAGO: Johan Franzen was supposed to skate with his new linemates, center Stephen Weiss and winger Daniel Alfredsson, against the Blackhawks, however, the Mule is experiencing a sore hip flexor, which began to flare up on Monday.
The Red Wings will fly home after tonight's game and take Wednesday off before returning to Joe Louis Arena to begin more of a daily routine with two weeks before opening night on Oct. 2. Franzen hopes by resting the injury for the next two days that he’ll be ready to play in the next preseason game, Thursday at Boston.
Todd Bertuzzi will replace Franzen on the Weiss line tonight. The Wings will take 22 players to Chicago, including former Northern Michigan goalie Jared Coreau, who is expected to play in the third period. Here are the line combinations and defensive pairings for the Wings’ second preseason game:
Todd Bertuzzi - Stephen Weiss - Daniel Alfredsson
Gustav Nyquist - Riley Sheahan - Tomas Jurco
Drew Miller - Cory Emmerton - Patrick Eaves
Mitch Callahan - Andreas Athanasiou - Teemu Pulkkinen
Niklas Kronwall - Jonathan Ericsson
Xavier Ouellet - Ryan Sproul
Brian Lashoff - Nathan Paetsch
Max Nicastro - Richard Nedomlel
Jonas Gustavsson, Jared Coreau
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