Training camp preview: Ten issues facing Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — As the Red Wings open training camp Friday, it’s hard to see much difference from last season.

But there is.

There are two additions on the ice — free agents Mike Green and Brad Richards.

But the biggest change is behind the bench as Jeff Blashill replaces Mike Babcock as coach after Babcock left for Toronto.

What makes this transition easier than most coaching changes is the fact Blashill has coached most of the Red Wings — in Detroit or Grand Rapids.

“We’re certainly ready to get going,” Blashill said. “We’ve gone over the same stuff over and over. Now it’s just time to get going.”

But just as quickly as the Red Wings — and the rest of the NHL — open camp, they’ll begin exhibitions. Detroit opens its slate Tuesday in Chicago.

“Training camp is fast,” Blashill said.

“I think back to my first training camp as an assistant, it was a bit of a blur.”

The key to camp is preparing for a rough and tumble Eastern Conference, and the hope the Red Wings can reach the postseason a 25th consecutive time.

With that in mind, there are lingering questions Blashill and Co. must answer during the four-day camp and eight exhibitions.

SET THE FOUNDATION

Camp lasts four days ... and then exhibitions begin.

What coach Jeff Blashill and his staff want to do is set the playing style, take a look at defensive pairings and lines, and put in a special teams plan.

“Building the foundation of how we play,” Blashill said. “It’s not much different than how they’ve played here in the past. It’s just building those principles, making sure we get our principles down.”

SORT OUT GOALTENDING

Jimmy Howard had an All-Star season before injuring his groin, allowing Petr Mrazek to enter the lineup and claim the starting job.

“Both Jimmy and Petr have built a resume,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Petr’s is smaller, it’s shorter at the NHL level, so he needs to continue to build upon that.”

Petr Mrazek, left, and Jimmy Howard.

FRANZEN’S HEALTH

Johan Franzen hasn’t played since Jan. 6, a concussion leaving his career in doubt.

But he has been cleared to participate in camp and exhibitions, and is looking to return Opening Night (Oct. 9).

A healthy, productive Franzen makes the Red Wings lineup stronger.

YOUTH MOVEMENT

The way the Red Wings roster is set, it’ll be difficult for a young player in Grand Rapids to break through and earn a spot.

But injuries happen, and positions will become available. And there’s an intriguing list of young players on the cusp:

Dylan Larkin (Waterford/Michigan) excelled in the Big Ten, World Championships, and American Hockey League playoffs.

Anthony Mantha appears ready to rebound from a disappointing rookie season in Grand Rapids.

Andreas Athanasiou, Tomas Nosek and Tyler Bertuzzi had solid performances during the Prospects Tournaments.

“(They) are edging towards becoming NHL players,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “That bodes well for us, not only in the future but right now.”

SET DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS

It appears the Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson pairing will remain, and newcomer Mike Green will play with Danny DeKeyser.

The third pairing appears to be Kyle Quincey with Brendan Smith or Jakub Kindl — both had rough stretches under former coach Mike Babcock, but get new life under Jeff Blashill.

Look out for Alexey Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul and Nick Jensen.

YOUNG DEFENSE

Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet have had short looks and shown they are close to claiming a roster spot.

But the way roster shapes up, the defense looks filled, and the Red Wings aren’t likely to keep a young defenseman to watch. So barring injury or trades, Marchenko, Ouellet, Ryan Sproul and Nick Jensen are likely headed to Grand Rapids.

ADJUSTMENT

Mike Green and Brad Richards signed July 1 as unrestricted free agents, and should be significant parts of the lineup.

Green is the right-handed shot on defense the Red Wings have coveted, and can create offense from a defensive unit largely lacking in that area last season.

Richards helps in a variety of ways.

With Pavel Datsyuk (ankle) likely unavailable to start the season, Richards takes his spot on a scoring line. The hope is he can duplicate his playoff success with the Blackhawks. He also adds a Stanley Cup-winning presence and knowledge to a young roster.

CLEARY’S STATUS

Signed to a one-year contract last month, Daniel Cleary could make the roster if Pavel Datsyuk (ankle) and Johan Franzen (concussion) aren’t ready Opening Night.

Cleary, 36, played in 17 games last season, and barring injuries likely wouldn’t play much more than that this year with the surplus of bodies ahead of him.

PULKKINEN’S FUTURE

Teemu Pulkkinen is out of minor league options, so it’s NHL or bust.

He has dominated at the American Hockey League level (34 goals, 46 games in 2014-15), but Pulkkinen hasn’t shown that ability during brief stretches in the NHL.

DATSYUK ON THE MEND

Pavel Datsyuk had surgery to repair ruptured tendons in his ankle in late June. And while he’s been walking around the Red Wings locker room the past couple of weeks and will be at camp (non-hockey activities), he isn’t expected to be ready for Opening Night.

The question is, when will Datsyuk return, and can he match some of his offensive capability (65 points, 63 games in 2014-15)?

Wings, Mrazek seek consistency from goaltender

Schedule

When: Friday-Monday, Centre Ice Arena, Traverse City

Details: (231) 933-7465 or centreice.org

Friday

9:25 a.m.: Team Delvecchio practice

12:10 p.m.: Team Lindsay vs. Team Howe scrimmage

Saturday

9:25 a.m.: Team Howe practice

12:10 p.m.: Team Delvecchio vs. Team Lindsay scrimmage

Sunday

9:25 a.m.: Team Lindsay practice

12:10 p.m.: Team Delvecchio vs. Team Howe scrimmage

Monday

Noon: Red & White Game