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Young players begin their Wings education

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings

Ken Holland, with Kris Draper behind him, spoke to Red Wings prospects and invitees before they skated for the first time at this week's development camp in Traverse City. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Traverse City is a beautiful place for tourists with sandy beaches, gorgeous sunsets, boating, fishing and shopping.

But for the Red Wings, it's a place for work and a place for some of their young kids to get their first taste of professional hockey in the team's annual development camp.

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland met with the players before they went on the ice and delivered a message.

"You want to play in the NHL you ultimately have to live and be like a pro," Holland said. "It’s 365 days a year. It’s decisions about what you eat. It’s decisions about how you’re training. You’ve got decisions to make and they’re at a real important stage in their life, a development stage. We’re just trying to give them as much education as we can and they obviously have to take that education and put it to use."

All seven players the Wings took in last month's entry draft were in camp, which includes defensemen Dennis Cholowski (first round), Filip Hronek (second round), Alfons Malmstrom (fourth round), and Jordan Sambrook (fifth round); forwards Givani Smith (second round) and Mattias Elfstrom (seventh round); and goaltender Filip Larsson (sixth round).

Also participating in camp are all six 2015 draftees, five 2014 draftees, three 2013 draftees, two 2012 draftees, two free-agent defensemen signees, Joe Hicketts and Dan Renouf, and a forward, Dylan Sadowy, that the Wings got in a trade with the San Jose Sharks in May.

Nine other players are camp invitees.

Tyler Bertuzzi, the Wings' second-round pick in the 2013 draft, is participating in his fourth development camp.

But that doesn't mean he can't still pick up a few things.

"It's big for life, not just hockey," Bertuzzi said. "Whether it's the cooking, learning what to eat, what not to eat, off-ice like media, just little things. They go through slide shows, they do everything. Especially the younger guys coming in, it's a big eye-opener. For me, it's my fourth year so I've had the experience, I still soak it all in because it's very important. This is a great camp for the young guys and for me just to learn as much as you can."

Grand Rapids Griffins coach Todd Nelson and his assistants run the camp.

For Nelson, having players like Bertuzzi around is helpful.

"They tend to take a leadership role," Nelson said. "Tyler played for me last year so a lot of the drills I'm running I did last year so it's familiar to him. He's a guy that can be the first guy in line and the rest of the guys can see what he's doing and execute the drill properly. It's always good to have those, I guess at this camp you can call Tyler Bertuzzi a veteran."

Smith played with Bertuzzi in Guelph so he had a friend when he arrived.

"It's nice," Smith said. "I first got to the airport I saw Bertuzzi and (Zach) Nastasiuk and it made me feel comfortable right away. Seeing Sadowy, all those guys I know, that I'm familiar with, it makes it a lot easier for me to adjust, get comfortable."

Cholowski hadn't met or played with anyone in camp before arriving but he enjoyed his first day.

"Coming here and getting to see all the players and just kind of the whole process," Cholowski said. "Getting out here and getting to compete with really good players is special."

The staff has made a few changes to the development camp with an eye toward the future for these players.

"With the scrimmage sessions, we’re going to tweak it where we see more 4-on-4 play and 3-on-3 as part of our game now," Nelson said. "That will certainly be entertaining. I think it will free up some of the guys. It will showcase what they’ll be able to do. Other than that, there’s some things with the programs. Some fun, competitive things that guys are doing off the ice. Ping-pong tournament, cooking competition. They’re having fun with it. Once again, every year you try to tweak it to make it better and I think we’re heading in the right direction."

It's also fun for Holland and his staff to envision the possibilities with some of these players making it to the Wings.

"This week and the first week of training camp are about the future," Holland said. "It’s looking at players you think might one day be Red Wings. It’s about hope for the franchise. The first week of September is about the future. It’s about hope. It’s wanting your young players to develop into NHL players."

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