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Notebook: Russo, Mrazek, Sunday's game, Green

Lineup for Sunday's game against Chicago similar to last Wednesday in Boston

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - Not everyone can be an impact player in his first year of professional hockey, especially as a defenseman.

But Robbie Russo managed to be just that, going from Notre Dame to the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins and making the AHL All-Rookie Team and Second All-Star team.

Russo, 23, was originally drafted by the New York Islanders 95th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

But Russo opted for college and eventually signed a two-year entry level contract with the Red Wings in 2015.

"There were a couple (other teams) but I liked the Red Wings the best for some reason right off the bat," Russo said. "Then I got to meet with (assistant general manager) Ryan Martin. I liked what he told me and just kind of went from there and it's worked out."

Last year Russo had five goals and 34 assists in 71 games, finishing an impressive plus-40, the highest plus-minus in the league.

Russo is also humble about the success he had.

"Just playing my game, developing good habits, moving the puck good," Russo said. "We had a pretty good team, so that always helps, too."

With a year under his belt, Russo feels more comfortable in this year's camp.

"Last year coming in a college guy I never experienced anything before, so it's kind of eye-opening, everything's buzzing by you, you're just trying to keep up, but now I'm a little bit more comfortable, I know what's going on," Russo said. "Definitely trying to make a bigger impression."

Growing up, Russo said a number of players made an impression on him.

"Obviously you like Nick Lidstrom, how could you not," Russo said. "He didn't make any mistakes, so you like watching him play. When I was younger, Chris Pronger, More recently a guy like Drew Doughty, those are the guys I like watching."

There are three other young defensemen in camp that are fighting for a roster spot in Nick Jensen, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul.

Although those players are out of options and Russo remains waiver-exempt, Wings coach Jeff Blashill said he isn't ruling Russo out.

"He had a really really good year last year and he could make a statement he was right there with those other players," Blashill said. "So coming into this camp we want to find out regardless of contract, who's the best player. Obviously contracts always play a role but not if one guy is much better than another guy. That's where if you can create enough separation then contracts no longer matter in terms of whether you're waiver-exempt or not, so his job coming into camp is to show he's by far the best defenseman to be that other defenseman on our team. So we'll see as camp goes on if he can do that."

Despite his success, Russo said it was a difficult transition from college to professional hockey.

"It's a different lifestyle, less structure, the guys are better, obviously, so once you get used to that you kind of settle in and just play your game," Russo said. "You get more comfortable, you build confidence. Once you get that, you can really step it up."

Russo said veteran forward Daniel Cleary was a big help in getting acclimated.

"He's a little tough on you at first but he keeps you accountable and definitely it helped me out a ton and I thank him for where I'm at today," Russo said.

Blashill talked about what Russo needs to do to reach the the top level.

"Roos is a smart player. He manages the puck well," Blashill said. "The biggest thing Roos has to get better at is his gap control. Every level you move up it gets harder to give people space and he's got to just continue to learn to trust his feet and gap up as much as he can and take away a little more time and space. As he gets better at that I think it puts him in better position to be an NHL player."

Russo understands that it's unlikely he will make the Wings out of camp but hopes to get called up sometime this season.

MRAZEK'S MISSION: Goaltender Petr Mrazek, fresh off his time with Team Czech Republic in the World Cup, will make his preseason debut Sunday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Now that Mrazek is considered to be the Wings' No. 1 goaltender entering the season, expectations are high.

"We'd like him to become a top goaltender in the league," Blashill said. "Not just a good goaltender, but a top goaltender in the league. To do that, you have to be extraordinarily consistent in your fundamentals and technique."

Mrazek was one of the top goaltenders in the league before the All-Star break last year, going 18-9-4 with a 2.03 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

After the All-Star break, Mrazek was 9-7-2 with a 2.86 goals-against average and .899 save percentage.

"The season's long," Mrazek said. "When you look at the other goalies, I think some goalies always find some time that they're off of their game. That's something I want to work on, to be a better goalie and to keep the game better and better every game and every month."

Blashill said he wasn't concerned about the drop-off in the second half.

"His fundamentals and technique have to be great so that when you do end up in those games in a row when the puck goes in, and sometimes it goes in, and then it eats away at your confidence. You can look back and say OK, let's reset ourselves in fundamentals and technique and make sure they're great. I think that breeds consistency."

Mrazek will get to work again with new goaltending coach Jeff Salajko, the former Griffins goaltending coach.

"We did some new stuff that I really like," Mrazek said. "I did it during the World Cup as well with the goalie coach from Czech. We work on some stuff and I feel really well in those situations. I hope it's going to help me during the season."

Although he missed training camp and the first few games of the preseason, Mrazek feels the World Cup prepared him to jump in quickly.

"When you play against the best players in the world, it's always going to help your confidence and always help your game," Mrazek said.

SUNDAY'S GAME: Blashill said the lineup for Sunday's game will be very similar to the one that played in Boston Wednesday night with a few exceptions.

Tomas Nosek, who injured his right knee in the Red-White game last Monday, is expected to play.

CUTS: Among the 11 players who were sent Saturday to the AHL or the OHL or released from their tryout contracts were 2016 draft picks Givani Smith and Filip Hronek.

Hronek played in Friday's game and tied for the team lead in shots with four.

Smith played in two games and even had his first NHL bout Friday night.

"I thought Givani was good," Blashill said. "I thought last night was better than the first night. I thought he showed a presence around the net. He's a big, big body, he drags people to the net. He's got a pretty good skill set. He let a real good shot go in the second period. As he learns the systems, I think that'll allow him to be more physical. It's hard to be physical when you're thinking lots and I think he was still trying to grasp some of the stuff. Obviously he showed toughness, fighting. So I think he's got lots of elements that we need, it's just he's a young kid and it's a process."

GREEN: Veteran defenseman Mike Green did not practice Saturday for maintenance reasons, according to Blashill.

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