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Prospects soak in camp's 'big league' atmosphere

by Michael Passman / Detroit Red Wings

Michigan State's Justin Abdelkader (right), the Red Wings' second-round pick in the 2005 draft, makes contact with a fellow camper during the first day of the Wings' 2007 prospects camp. (Photo by Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press)
DETROIT — As many metro-Detroiters enjoy a relaxing, extended Fourth of July weekend, the ice has returned to Joe Louis Arena, and preparation for the 2007-08 season is underway as the Red Wings opened their annual, seven-day prospects camp today.

The camp is a chance for the Wings’ brass to evaluate some of their more recent draft picks on the ice in a controlled setting, while acclimating some players to the big leagues.

This year’s first-round pick, Brendan Smith, and third-rounder, Joakim Andersson, are in town for the camp and got their first taste of Joe Louis Arena today.

“I was on Cloud Nine for the longest time, and I never really came down,” Smith said. “You’ve got great guys like (Jakub) Kindl, and (Darren) Helm — it’s an unreal experience. I looked up to these guys and used watch them play.”

Kindl, the team’s first-round pick in 2005, is one of the Wings’ top prospects in camp this week. Kindl played 54 games with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL last season, and joined the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Wings’ top minor league affiliate, for seven playoff games.

Justin Abdelkader, the team’s second-round pick in 2005, is also in for this week’s camp. Abdelkader is a junior forward at Michigan State, and helped the Spartans to last season’s national championship, scoring the title-clinching goal in the waning seconds.

While most of the prospects at this week’s camp are years away from debuting in the NHL,one player who is scheduled to participate in camp recently inked his first NHL deal.

The team’s second-round pick from 2001, Russian forward Igor Grigorenko, signed a one-year contract with the team in May. Immigration issues at the border prevented Grigorenko from attending the camp’s first day. In 49 games last season, Grigorenko scored 14 goals with 13 assists for HC Lada Togliatti of the Russian Super League.

Griffins assistant coach Jim Paek, who won two Stanley Cups as a defenseman with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and ’92, is overseeing the camp’s on-ice activities. Peak played fives season with Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Ottawa.

For most players, prospect camp is a time to get in shape for next season — wherever that may be — and demonstrate their skills.

“This is just the first step,” Smith said. “The door’s open, you’ve just got to walk through.”

The Wings’ camp runs through July 11 at Joe Louis Arena.

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