Wings defensive prospect Sproul makes his point

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Ryan Sproul has been an exciting offensive defenseman in junior hockey and for the last three seasons in Grand Rapids.

Defenseman Ryan Sproul  had 12 goals and 23 assists with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League last season.

But as Sproul entered the Red Wings lineup Friday against Nashville — replacing Xavier Ouellet — he understood a basic sports creed.

“Keep it simple,” said Sproul, after Friday’s morning skate. “I know I can skate and shoot the puck well, and they know that too. I need to keep it simple and play a simple game, and if offense comes like it has before, that’s a plus.”

Sproul, 23, is 6-foot-4, 206-pounds and had played in one NHL game, the season finale two seasons ago in St. Louis.

Sproul earned his first career point, an assist, on Justin Abdelkader’s power play goal. Sproul had two shots on net in 14:57 of ice time.

Sproul had career highs of 12 goals and 23 assists with the Griffins last season, and the Red Wings kept him on the roster two weeks ago to begin the season rather than losing him on waivers.

“I’ve been wanting to put Ryan in for a while here,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s hardly had an opportunity to play at the NHL level. He’s got a great skill set, a great skater, he can really shoot it. When he plays assertively with his feet on defense, he can be a real good defender.

“He has to go back and bring pucks out, defend well, beat people up the ice, and be dynamic on the power play.”

Blashill is confident the offense will come from Sproul, if he plays well enough to stay in the lineup.

“Just be on the ice, he’ll score if he’s on the ice,” Blashill said. “He has to make sure he plays good defensively and brings the puck out well.”

Sproul has had an opportunity to watch and learn the first four games and feels it has been a benefit.

“I’ve watched guys like Greener (Mike Green, who plays a similar style) and how poised he is with the puck,” Sproul said. “I just have to be simple. There’s no turnovers allowed. Get the puck out and get it to the forwards and let them do their work.

“It’s a chance I’ve been craving for the last three years now. I don’t feel pressure. I just want to come in and be excited and be ready to show the fans what you got.”

Ouellet had one assist and was plus-2 while averaging just under 15 minutes of playing time.

“Xavier had three real good games and not obviously good enough the other night against the Rangers, but he wasn’t alone,” Blashill said. “There were other guys as well. He did a real good job in three games. He just has to keep getting better and executing.”

Ott back in

Blashill also brought forward Steve Ott back into the lineup, replacing Andreas Athanasiou.

Ott played the season opener in Tampa, but was replaced by Athanasiou for the last three games.

The line of Ott, LukeGlendening and Drew Miller was arguably the team’s best during the exhibition season.

“They had real good chemistry, they weren’t bad against Tampa, they weren’t great, and it just gave me chance to get Double-A in,” Blashill said. “That line can have good chemistry and they can give you time in the offensive zone.

“We need more grind time and they’re a line that likes to do that. I’m hoping they can provide offensive zone time.”

Similar to Ouellet, Blashill wants Athanasiou to grab hold of his playing opportunity next time he’s in the lineup.

“He’s (Athanasiou) been fine, he just needs to make sure, the challenge for every young player is you have to grab hold when you get your opportunities,” Blashill said. “He has better in him, I know he has better in him.”

Larkin on wing

Based on Friday’s morning skate the Red Wings had Dylan Larkin playing a wing on Frans Nielsen’s line, switching Larkin temporarily from center.

Larkin had one assist (no goals) in five games, with a minus-5 rating.

“Certainly no issue with the way he’s played, he’s done a good job on faceoffs, he’s done pretty good job defensively,” Blashill said. “He is somebody who the offensive opportunities aren’t going for him as much right now and playing wing, it frees you up a little bit to create more offense.”

Ice chips

Blashill opened Friday morning’s media scrum by offering condolences to the family of Drew Sharp, the Free Press sports columnist who died earlier in the day.

… Drew Miller has goals in back-to-back games for the first time since a personal-best three-game goal streak from Jan. 13–Feb. 4, 2012. Miller has nine career goals against Nashville in 27 career games, the most against any NHL opponent.

… The Red Wings had a season-high 43 shots on net. Their previous high was 32.

… Goaltender Petr Mrazek improved to 4-0 all-time against Nashville.

… Tomas Tatar now has six goals in nine career games against the Predators.

… Predators captain Mike Fisher, on his team’s loss: “We played pretty hard, we made some mistakes that cost us. It was a close one. Guys were playing through stuff. It was frustrating to lose.”


Faceoff: 7 p.m., Joe Louis Arena

TV/radio: FSD, 97.1

Outlook:   The defending Western Conference champion Sharks are 3-2 and end a five-game road trip … San Jose’s penalty kill has struggled (27th, 69.2 percent) … D Brent Burns is off to a great start (3 goals, 6 assists).