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Red Wings seeking balance of players in their system

Wings coach Jeff Blashill on losing Nosek and on opportunity for Bertuzzi, Frk and Svechnikov

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

CHICAGO - One thing that stood out, perhaps literally, from the Red Wings' 2017 draft class was how big the players were.

Long known as a team that would select smaller, skilled players, the Wings seem to be looking for a balance.

Only two of the 11 picks from this past weekend are listed under 6-feet, forwards Lane Zablocki at 5-foot-11 and Brady Gilmour at 5-foot-10.

The Wings took Zablocki with the second of their four third-round picks, 79th overall, and Gilmour with their seventh-round pick, 193rd overall.

The fourth-round pick, 100th overall, Malte Setkov, is 6-foot-6 and Hakan Andersson, the Wings' director of European scouting, said he is still growing.

Three of the Wings' picks are 6-foot-5 -- first-rounder Michael Rasmussen (ninth overall), third-rounder Keith Petruzzelli (88th overall) and sixth-rounder Jack Adams (162nd overall).

Reilly Webb, the sixth-round pick taken 164th overall, is 6-foot-3, second-rounder Gustav Lindstrom (38th overall), third-rounder Kasper Kotkansalo (71st overall) and fifth-rounder Cole Fraser (131st overall) are all 6-foot-2 and third-rounder Zach Gallant (83rd overall) is 6-foot-1.

"We wanted to get bigger but we wanted to get bigger and still kind of keep the identity of what we're known for and that's obviously skill and sense," said Tyler Wright, director of amateur scouting. "It's kind of like what I said (Friday) with adding a big piece in Rasmussen is that we got some young pieces in (Anthony) Mantha and (Tyler) Bertuzzi and (Evgeny) Svechnikov and Joey Hicketts, we've got some of those pieces. Not all of these kids are going to play. But if they do, they're going to bring an element that we lack and that's kind of why it's more kick at the cans type of scenario."

At last summer's development camp, there were only three players under 6-feet, defensemen Joe Hicketts and Vili Saarijarvi and forward Kyle Criscuolo.

"Obviously we have three smaller defensemen that we all believe in very much, Hicketts and Saarijarvi and (Filip) Hronek," Andersson said. "But can you play with a team full of guys at that size? Probably not. So we talked about it. But at the same time, I think the main thing is, are they good hockey players? Do they have a weapon? What's gonna be his thing when he gets to the NHL? That's why we drafted those small guys. They all have great hockey sense and creativity."

Hronek is 6-feet.

Wings coach Jeff Blashill was asked after the draft about the NHL trending more toward speed than size.

"The key there is balance," Blashill said. "I know there's lots of talk with the league going faster. Pittsburgh just won two Cups in a row. I also remember not very long ago about being big, heavy and strong when L.A. won it. I think what's important is players have to be great at what they are. Some guys are great by being big and strong and smart, some guys are great by being fast. If you look at our roster, especially up front, we needed some size. The only way to have some size is to draft that size.

"Everyone is working that balance. Ultimately the best teams I've been around have it all - speed, skill, size."

Mantha at 6-foot-5, Riley Sheahan at 6-foot-3 and Justin Abdelkader at 6-foot-2 are the Wings' biggest forwards.

Jonathan Ericsson and Ryan Sproul at 6-foot-4 and Danny DeKeyser at 6-foot-3 are their biggest defensemen.

NOSEK IN VEGAS: The Las Vegas Golden Knights opted to take center Tomas Nosek in the expansion draft last week.

Nosek, 24, would have been in the running to make the Wings this coming season at a nice cap hit of $612,500.

Nosek led the Grand Rapids Griffins in playoff scoring during their run to winning the Calder Cup.

"On a personal level I was disappointed," Blashill said. "Tomas was a good player for me. I liked Tomas a lot. I think he's going to be a good NHL player. He real versatile. I talked to him on the phone after he was drafted, he was just shocked a little bit, caught off guard, he wanted to be a Red Wing but he's excited about his new opportunity. But we were going to lose a good player.

"Rightfully so, we weren't going to give up future assets in order to protect players because we got to make sure we have as many kicks at this as we can. We knew we were going to lose a good player and we lost one in Tomas."

Some were surprised that goaltender Petr Mrazek was left unprotected.

"I have not talked to Petr or any of the other guys we left unprotected yet," Blashill said. "Kenny (Holland) talked to each guy before we exposed the list and I'm sure Kenny will talk to each guy. My conversations will probably be closer to camp."

BERTUZZI, FRK AND SVECHNIKOV: Although he can be sent back to Grand Rapids without being placed on waivers, Bertuzzi will be aiming at a Detroit roster spot this fall.

Bertuzzi was named AHL playoffs MVP after scoring nine goals (second to Nosek's 10) among 19 points during the Calder Cup playoffs.

"Bert looks to me like he's on the verge of becoming a good NHL player," Blashill said. "He brings a lot of qualities that we don't have. He's hard and has skill. We got a lot of guys with skill that might not be hard and we got some guys that are hard that might not have as much skill. He's got pretty good package as a fit on our team. I think the playoff he had certainly puts him in a position to grab a spot next year and make our team better."

Martin Frk, 23, who was waived and then reclaimed by the Wings last year, was fifth in playoff scoring with 15 points and fourth in regular-season scoring with 50 points.

"Marty Frk has done a great job scoring goals, he's a real good shooter," Blashill said. "He plays his best hockey when he's confident. Can he continue that confidence in the NHL? Just depends. He plays more minutes in the AHL than he will in the NHL when he gets his chance or if he gets that chance. The hard part is maintaining that confidence to play at the same level when you're not playing as many minutes."

Frk led the Griffins with 27 goals, 12 on the power play.

"For him to be a good NHL player he's going to have to be a great power play guy because of a shot that's a weapon," Blashill said. "When he's hitting the net, he's a good weapon on the power play. The other side of it is the last 20 games we were eighth in the league on the power play. I think we have a pretty good formula, how to have success on that. I'm not looking to switch around that formula much."

Then there's Svechnikov, who in his first season as a professional finished third on the Griffins in regular-season scoring with 51 points.

Just 20 years old, Svechnikov is still not a finished product. Blashill said whether he is ready to make the jump to the NHL would reveal itself during training camp and the preseason.

"I think ultimately for Svech to be a great hockey player he's going to have to - and he's already started this - continue to play at a high pace," Blashill said. "Sometimes he plays at higher pace than other (times). He's got to play at a high pace, got to keep working his speed. And then, he's got to continue to be as efficient a hockey player as possible. He's real talented. Sometimes you get caught up in making plays rather than doing the things it takes to get things done.

"Bert is a good example of that. It's not always pretty, but it's efficient. I think Svech took a good step. I think he had 50 points this year, that's a heck of a rookie year but it keeps getting harder when you try to take those next steps. So, he's got a big summer ahead of him. Hopefully he comes into camp and blows our doors off."

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