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Season of Change

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
When the leafs on the trees begin to turn colors and the north wind picks up, coach Mike Babcock is in his element, preparing for the start of a fresh new season. However, this fall was a bit different than the previous six autumns for the Red Wings’ bench boss.

“It’s exciting to have guys in the position to challenge for jobs,” Babcock said. “We think our depth is very good, and we think there will be some real competitive spots. I can tell you that the guys who player here, they’re not giving their jobs away.”

Since Babcock became Wings’ coach in 2005, the club hasn’t experienced a rebuilding, of sorts, and certainly nothing like the roster transformation it went through during this off-season. The summer was spent with filling voids, which were created by the departures of forwards Kris Draper and Mike Modano, defensemen Brian Rafalski and Ruslan Salei, and goalie Chris Osgood.

While the organization has a stockpile of talented players in Grand Rapids, general manager Ken Holland felt the need to head down the free agency road to sign some experienced players. He did so in a pair of right-handed shooting defensemen – Mike Commodore and Ian White – and he also invited two more skilled forwards – Fabian Brunnstrom and Ryan Johnson – to training camp on tryouts.

Still, the majority of the Wings’ depth will come up Interstate 96, with guys like Jan Mursak, Brendan Smith, Cory Emmerton, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and others.

“To me, the growth in our team has to come from the growth of (Justin) Abdelkader and (Darren) Helm, Mursak joining our team, then the growth of (Jakub) Kindl,” Babcock said. “I also think we have to have bounce-back years from (Johan) Franzen, (Valtteri) Filppula and (Jiri) Hudler. They’re high, high-end players; we need them to be high-end players. So that’s our growth potential.”

Signs of a bounce-back year were evident in the first full day of training camp when Franzen scored twice in an intra-squad scrimmage. And though it came against his teammates, goals are goals and it was good to see Franzen back after an ankle injury stymied his postseason last spring.

“Anytime you have a big time injury like the Mule it takes a long time,” Babcock said. “Mule’s going to be a great player for us this year. It’s unfortunate, because Mule got hurt in the playoffs, otherwise we’d be talking about what a great playoff (season) we had. That was a huge blow to our hockey club when Mule got hurt, because he’s such a good playoff performer. We just need him to be a 200-footer, who is a dominant player and he’s capable of doing that with and without the puck. We’re excited to have him fired-up and ready to go. By looking at him, he looks like he’s more than ready to go, so that’s important for us. You get a few guys like that having career-years and that makes a big difference in your hockey team.”

Change is often difficult. But the Wings believe that their off-season due diligence netted some quality pieces, which will make them very strong contenders – once again – for the Stanley Cup next spring.

Here is what Babcock had to say about some players and what he hopes for from them this season:

COMMODORE: “Commodore is a big, physical guy, who we need to just play hard and be a good penalty-killer for us, and be a good teammate. We believe that he’s capable of doing those things.”

WHITE: “He can shoot the puck. He’s a competitive guy. He’s not big. You don’t say that he’s a world-class skater. He’s just a hockey player. He knows how to play and he’s competitive. We’ve got to get him to be very good with the stick in the D zone and not as confrontational. And what I mean by that is, the smaller you are and the more you can play with your stick and the less you can play with your body, the better off you are. That will be one of our focal points. Just move the puck and get it going. And if you get in trouble pass it to Nick.”

KINDL: “He needs to take someone’s job, so how does he do that? The first think you do is you train. And he trained like crazy all summer long and stayed here a ton. He’s in great shape, and he’s way bigger and way stronger. The second thing is that you go out and play.”

NYQUIST: “He’s like Pav, in that he skates faster with the puck than he does without it. He creates space every time he’s on the ice. He looks like a hockey player. He’s an NHL player.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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