Blashill: Tatar, Nyquist ready for challenge

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Traverse City — They were an important duo last season, and continue to be this season in terms of the Red Wings being successful.

If Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist return to their typical goal-scoring ways, the Red Wings are likely going to be better in the standings.

If not, if their production is closer to last season — Tatar with 21 goals, Nyquist 17 — the Red Wings are going to struggle to make the playoffs.

Tatar is playing for Europe at the World Cup of Hockey and not in the Red Wings training camp.

Tatar, 25, slumped from scoring 29 goals in 2014-15 to last season’s 21.

Nyquist is in Traverse City, and anxious to get started.

“I’m just excited to get back at it and have a good bounceback year,” said Nyquist, 27, who fell from scoring 28 and 27 goals the previous two seasons to 17 last season. “I didn’t score enough goals last year and it’s something I want to improve.

“For sure, a part of my game is to score goals and hopefully I’ll be able to do that.”

Coach Jeff Blashill felt some of the criticism the two players received last season was unfair given the fact their ice time wasn’t as high as the year before.

Dylan Larkin earned significant playing time, taking some playing time away from Nyquist and/or Tatar.

“There are only so many minutes to go around,” Blashill said. “Both have been real good players in this league. I’m going to challenge them like I’ve challenged a lot of our young guys to take the next step and be an elite player where you can put a team or a line on your back every night.

“They’re both ready for the challenge.”

Jurco progressing

Tomas Jurco isn’t likely to see playing time until November after having back surgery in August.

Jurco was quick to point out the back had been troublesome for several years, which necessitated the surgery, rather than reports from this summer stating he injured the back during an off-ice workout.

“It’s disappointing but I’m happy it’s finally over with,” Jurco said. “It’s been bothering me for a few years and now it’s over with. It’s like a fresh start for me and even if it’s a little later in the season, I’m going to make sure I’m going to be ready and I’m going to feel good in November.”

Jurco said the pain returned during the second half of the summer — during his workouts — and an MRI confirmed surgery was a necessity.

‘Play great’

Much attention will be focused on forwards Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha, who can be returned to Grand Rapids (AHL) since both are still exempt from waivers.

Athanasiou played in 37 games with the Red Wings last season, scoring nine goals. He has the better chance of remaining in the NHL at the start, but could still be crowded out.

Blashill wants to see both excel against NHL competition during exhibition games.

“I have to make sure I get them out against the other teams’ best players as much as I can (exhibition games) so they’re challenged against NHLers and then they have to play great,” Blashill said. “AA did that lots last year in his opportunity. He’s got to continue to do that.

“It’s about pounding away every single day, saying ‘I’m going to make this team better.’ My message to our players is going to be, ‘Don’t play good enough to make the team. Play good enough to make the team better.’ That’s going to be the key for any of our young guys.”

Ice chips

Players took their physicals Thursday and will be on ice Friday for the first official practice of training camp.

… Drew Miller (knee) said he’s been skating during the summer and will be ready to take part in training camp.

… The Red Wings reached the finals of the prospects tournament last weekend before losing to Carolina.

Blashill said forward Tyler Bertuzzi was one of the better players in the tournament, along with forward Evgeny Svechnikov.

“He (Bertuzzi) continues to take strides in the right direction,” Blashill said. “Svechnikov took a real step from last year. He looks noticeably quicker.”

…Teemu Pulkkinen (shoulder) will be able to participate in controlled scrimmages, facing “manageable contact”, said Blashill.

… Defenseman Ryan Sproul, the last unsigned restricted free agent, will likely sign before Friday’s first practice. The two sides are looking at different lengths of contracts. @tkulfan