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Wings' youth movement is on the rise

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Anthony Mantha is healthy this year and hoping to play with the Red Wings at some point this season. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The Red Wings are in a position where they might be looking at a couple of the young forwards even more closely this training camp.

Pavel Datsyuk is out after offseason ankle surgery, not expected to return until late October or early November at the earliest.

Then on the first day of camp, Darren Helm was injured in a collision with camp invitee Jerome Verrier.

Helm suffered a concussion and a grade 1 slight shoulder separation, meaning he's both undergoing the concussion protocol and going to need 2-4 weeks to heal the shoulder.

Johan Franzen has been cleared for all activity but if his concussion symptoms get aggravated, he could miss some time.

Those injuries could open the door for a young player to make the team this preseason.

Before training camp started, coach Jeff Blashill named some forwards who caught his eye in the prospects tournament.

"I think there's a group of forwards in (Dylan) Larkin, (Anthony) Mantha, (Andreas) Athanasiou, (Tyler) Bertuzzi, (Tomas) Nosek that are all guys that bring different qualities, all guys that I think are edging toward becoming NHL players."

Athanasiou, Bertuzzi, Larkin and Mantha are all together on Team Howe in camp. Nosek is on Team Delvecchio.

Larkin and Bertuzzi both scored in camp's first scrimmage Friday.

Larkin also had an impressive prospects tournament, with one goal and four assists in four games.

"I want to be an NHL player, I want to be NHL-ready," Larkin said after the second day of camp. "Honestly, not just a player but a key player, a guy my team looks to, a dominant player. There’s a long way to go to go for that. I guess it’s a compliment as a young guy. I’m here working to be an NHL player."

While Larkin has most of the attention this year, last year it was Mantha until he broke his leg during the prospects tournament.

"Last year, I couldn’t practice with the guys; I couldn’t play the scrimmages," Mantha said. "This year, having the chance to do it is a big difference. Obviously we’re trying to have fun. It’s funny how when you have fun you perform your best."

Mantha had two goals in the prospects tournament.

"The one thing with Anthony, a player like him he’s got to score and that’s what he does, and that’s a confidence thing," Blashill said. "You come in with a ton of confidence. All of a sudden with the injury and what not, it was a little bit harder than he probably thought it was gonna be. The confidence erodes a little bit and now you have to build your confidence back up. I thought the prospects tournament was probably a step in the right direction in building that confidence. Hopefully he continues that here at main camp."

Athanasiou came on in the latter part of the prospects tournament, scoring two goals and three assists in the final three games.

"Keep doing what he does best and that’s use his speed, he’s got elite speed and skill set to go with it, he’s got to stop on pucks," Blashill said. "I thought he got way better at stopping on pucks. Battle for pucks, winning all those little puck battles. At the end you just have to outplay other guys or at least show you should be one of the first guys getting called up."

Nosek was slowed by an injury last year when he cut his hand while trying to open a package with a box cutter.

But in the prospects tournament, Nosek had three goals and two assists.

"Nosie is a really, really good two-way player," Blashill said. "He was one of our best players in Grand Rapids all year last year. He had an injury that made it a tough start but I thought he did a great job. I think Nosie just needs to continue to be that kind of two-way player and execute just a little better than other guys."

If the Wings need a forward to take with them into the season, it will come down to which of the five is able to separate himself from the others.

"They might have been a high-end scorer in college," Blashill said. "They might have to come here and find out how to be a little more of a checker. They have to find away to have a real good role within the team. Do something better than other people do on the team."

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