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Russo has shot to ‘make a statement’ with Red Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Robbie Russo

Detroit – Robbie Russo didn’t know what to expect last season entering pro hockey.

The former Notre Dame defenseman was drafted by the New York Islanders in 2011 (fourth round), but never signed a contract, and eventually signed with the Red Wings the summer of 2015.

Would Russo be able to compete at the minor pro level?

Russo, 23, certainly didn’t look overwhelmed in the American League, dishing out 34 assists (with five goals) and impressing with his ability at both ends of the ice.

Entering his second camp with the Red Wings, Russo has a much better idea of what’s going on around him.

“You know what to expect,” Russo said Saturday. “Last year, I had never experienced it (training camp) before and it’s kind of eye-opening. Everything is buzzing by you and you’re trying to keep up.

“But now, I’m a little more comfortable and know what is going on and I’m trying to make a bigger impression.”

Russo is doing so, with his puck-moving ability, passing and positional defense.

“He’s a smart player, he manages the puck well,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “The big thing he has to get better at is his gap control. Every level you move up, it gets harder to give people space and he has to just continue to learn to trust his feet and gap up as  much as he can, and take away a lot more time and space.

“As he gets better at that, he puts himself in better position to be an NHL player.”

Much of the speculation this camp has been about the futures of defensemen Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul and Nick Jensen, all of whom are no longer waiver-exempt.

Howard shines in net as Wings fall to Bruins

But Russo (who can be sent back to Grand Rapids), with his play last season, certainly deserves to be in discussion for an NHL job, also, said Blashill, regardless of contract or waiver situations.

“He can make a statement he was right there with those other players,” Blashill said. “So coming into this camp we want to find out, regardless of contract, who is the best player.”

There were several teams interested in Russo coming out of Notre Dame but the Red Wings were an immediate fit.

“I liked the Red Wings best right off the bat,” Russo said. “I got to meet with Ryan Martin (assistant general manager) and I liked what he told me and went from there. It’s worked out.

“Hopefully I get some games up here and show them what I can do and contribute.”

Mrazek debut

Goaltender Petr Mrazek will make his exhibition season debut Sunday after having competed in the recent World Cup of Hockey.

Mrazek believes the experience will help him.

“When you play against the best players in the world, it’ll help your confidence and helps your game,” Mrazek said.

Mrazek took over the starting job from Jimmy Howard in January last season but slumped two months later and watched as Howard started the playoffs.

But Mrazek returned to the starter’s position in Game 3 of the series against Tampa Bay, a series the Lightning eventually won in five games.

“The season’s long and when you look at other goalies, sometimes they’re off their game,” said Mrazek of his late-season troubles. “That’s something I want to work on, to keep getting better.”

Blashill isn’t concerned about any carryover of Mrazek’s slump to this season.

“I know him real well and he’s a tough enough kid; I’ve seen him bounce back,” Blashill said. “I’m not worried about the past that way. What we want to make sure in the future is his fundamentals and technique are good, so you can refocus on the basics.

“There will be games when the puck goes in, and it eats away your confidence, but you can look back and reset yourself with your fundamentals and technique and that breeds consistency.”

Ice chips

Mike Green didn’t practice Saturday, Blashill calling it a “maintenance day.”

… Tomas Nosek (knee) will make his exhibition debut Sunday, after missing last week when he twisted his knee in the Red-White scrimmage in Traverse City.

… Among the World Cup returnees, Justin Abdelkader and Alexey Marchenko (who practiced for the first time Saturday) won’t play until early  next week, while Tomas Tatar, Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen likely will play in the final exhibition game against Toronto.

… The Red Wings assigned forward Dominic Turgeon and goalie Jake Paterson to Grand Rapids, while sending forward Givani Smith (Guelph) and defenseman Filip Hronek (Saginaw) to their junior teams.

Seven players (including Daniel Cleary) were released from their tryout contracts and will join the Griffins for training camp. Cleary has signed a contract for the upcoming season.

All the moves leave the Red Wings with 50 players on their current roster.

Blackhawks at Red Wings

When: Sunday, 6 p.m.

Where: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

TV / radio: NHL Network / WWJ 950

Notable: The Red Wings (2-0-1) begin a final stretch of five exhibition games in seven days.

Twitter @tkulfan