DETROIT – Players don’t report to training camp for another week, but for Red Wings newcomers Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss, informal skates like the one that took place today at Joe Louis Arena are quite beneficial.
“I’m kind of like a deer walking in headlights, walking into Joe Louis Arena, seeing all the history and all the guys,” said Weiss, who signed a five-year contract during the offseason with Detroit. “It’s been fantastic. I feel very welcomed and at home. It’s been a great first day so far, looking forward to the rest of the week and moving on from here.”
Ever since the Florida Panthers drafted him fourth overall in 2001, all that has happened to Weiss in his hockey life has happened in Miami, where for a short time he was teammates with Tood Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson. Still, he’s not a complete stranger to the Red Wings’ organization. As a teenager, he played his junior hockey just up the road from downtown Detroit with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, which helped make the decision to sign with the Wings that much easier.
Weiss and Alfredsson were joined at Tuesday’s practice by 15 new teammates: forwards Bertuzzi, Samuelsson, Justin Abdelkader, Joakim Andersson, Patrick Eaves, Cory Emmerton, Johan Franzen, Drew Miller, Henrik Zetterberg; defensemen Danny DeKeyser, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Niklas Kronwall; and goalies Jonas Gustavsson and Jimmy Howard.
“To be honest this is one of the teams every player in the league would want to come and play for at some point in their career,” Weiss said. “Playing juniors here for three years, getting to come to some Wings games as a 16-year-old was pretty awesome, and watching some of the guys that are on the team here; just the tradition of winning here. I’ve had a chance to play with some guys that have played here before and just getting the feedback from them made it a pretty easy decision for me.”
Familiarity with the players and the team’s system and their commitment to excellence were also deciding factors for Alfredsson, who left behind a comfort zone, which he had established during a 17-season career in Ottawa.
“I’ve been in one spot for a long time,” said Alfredsson, who played in over 1,100 games with the Senators. “It’s exciting for me to come to a new organization, a new team, and try something else. I knew some of the guys from before, obviously, the Swedish guys, playing with them on national teams. I knew Patrick Eaves, Bertuzzi I would run into quite a few times. It’s amazing, a hockey locker room is pretty much the same anywhere in the world and you feel welcome right away, so that’s a good feeling for me.”
While Alfredsson and Weiss use the coming days and weeks to build bonds with their new teammates, coach Mike Babcock plans to use the time and the subsequence exhibition games to determine where the new players will best fit in the team’s plans.
Basically, Weiss will fill the role as No. 2 center created by the loss of Valtteri Filppula, who moved on to Tampa Bay during the offseason. It’s expected that Weiss will center a line with Franzen, while Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg are expected to begin the season together on the top line. Alfredsson will play right wing on one of the top two lines, and Abdelkader may fill a role on the first or second lines, or could play on the third line with a healthy Darren Helm.
“Weiss will play with Franzen. Zetterberg and Datsyuk together. That's all I can tell you,” Babcock said. “No idea where Abby is playing. Might play with Helm, might play with Datsyuk-Zetterberg or with Weiss.”
Weiss has averaged 39 points in 10 NHL seasons, though an injury held him to 17 games during the NHL lockout-shortened campaign last season. He has very productive seasons in the past, registering 61 points in 78 games in 2008-09.
Babcock’s hope is that Weiss can duplicate the 60-plus point season that Filppula had two seasons ago.
“We basically flipped Weiss and Fil,” Babcock said. “Fil was a really good player, did everything right every day. With the exception of the one year, got 40 points, one year he got 60.
“We're looking for a guy to generate more in the middle. So can Weiss generate 50 points playing in the middle on the second line? I'm going to watch and see.”
Weiss has a bit of a different view of his situation.
“I don’t want to feel like I’m coming in here replacing anyone. I’m going to come in and do what I’ve done over my career and take care of my play on the ice,” he said. “Hopefully that’s good enough. I don’t want to be Valtteri Filppula’s replacement. I want to be Stephen Weiss and do what I do. If I do that I think we’ll be OK.”
MIDDLE STRENGTH: Counting on a healthy Helm to start training camp, Babcock said the Red Wings will head to Traverse City next week with five centermen: Datsyuk, Weiss, Emmerton, Helm and Andersson.
“Things are going good for him,” Babcock said, of Helm, who is recovering from a lower back injury that sidelined him last season.
“It's going to take him some time to be Darren Helm just strength-wise,” Babcock said. “There's no way you can be who you are when you've been off this much. … The times I talked to him this summer he feels good and is getting better.”
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