Shawn Horcoff, Red Wings director of player development, on his young defensemen. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Traverse City — What went wrong?
Goaltender Matej Machovsky has asked himself that question so many times over the last four years.
Why didn’t an NHL team draft him after Machovsky completed his junior career? Nobody even took a flier on him as an undrafted free agent, no one brought him to a camp.
“Something went wrong, and I want to fix it,” Machovsky said of that period of time.
Machovsky, 23, signed a free-agent contract this spring with the Red Wings and will compete for a roster spot in Grand Rapids with Jared Coreau and Tom McCollum.
Both Coreau and McCollum have to clear waivers at the end of training camp, so there’s a chance one or both could be claimed by another team.
Machovsky isn’t looking that far ahead right now.
He’s simply working with the goaltending instructors in this camp and diligently looking forward to forging a pro career in North America.
“I spent the last four years in the Czech Republic, I played there, but it was also my goal to sign an NHL contract,” said Machovsky, who was 21-25-0 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .925 save percentage with HC Plzen in the Czech pro league last season. “I’m going to do my best here to get a spot and battle for a spot and one day get to the NHL.”
Machovsky had some highlight moments in his time in the OHL with Brampton and Guelph.
In his two full seasons with Brampton, Machovsky won 49 games and had a 2.44 GA and .906 SVS.
Machovsky was so highly regarded, that he represented the Czech Republic twice at the world junior championships.
But it still wasn’t enough at draft time to interest an NHL team.
“For three years I was a in the top five goaltenders in the OHL and I didn’t get drafted; nobody signed me,” Machovsky said. “I don’t know what happened, but I think I’ve figured it out a little bit and I’m back on the good road again.”
Machovsky did struggle in the playoffs during his time in the OHL, but reversed that trend in the Czech Republic with two real good springs.
The Red Wings believe confidence and mechanical issues that were there in junior hockey have been fixed.
Machovsky, for his part, is motivated to prove doubters wrong.
“If you’re 19 or 20 and you don’t get drafted, don’t get signed, you have to go back and think what am I going to do now,” Machovsky said. “I was lucky and I was able to sign back home and four great years with a great team and organization (in the Czech Republic). They helped me through it and now I’m back here.
“This team (the Red Wings) is one of the best.”
One thing defenseman Filip Hronek showed in Sunday’s intra-squad scrimmage was the ability, and inclination, to throw his body around.
Which says something about a 6-foot, 165-pounder who doesn’t seem afraid of much on the ice.
Coach Jeff Blashill noticed the physicality Hronek and Vili Saarijarvi, another smallish offensive defenseman, showed in the scrimmage.
“Neither Saarijarvi or Filip are afraid of the physical confrontation at all,” said Blashill, noting Hronek was involved in two or three scraps.
Hronek, 19, was a 2016 second-round draft pick, who had 61 points (14 goals) in 59 games with Saginaw (OHL) with 60 penalty minutes.
Hronek joined Grand Rapids late in the season and was with the Griffins during their championship run.
“It helped me a lot,” Hronek said of the experience gained in Grand Rapids. “I worked on a lot of skills with the coaches and players. I know what I need to work on, getting stronger and getting better in my skills.”
The difference between playing hockey in the Czech Republic, compared to North American pro hockey, has been stark.
“It’s different hockey,” said Hronek, who has improved his English considerably over two years. “In Czech, you have bigger ice and a lot more time for everything, like to make a pass. You go to the smaller rink (North America) and you have to play quicker and faster and make faster decisions.”
The Red Wings are emphasizing a lot of skill development in this camp, but there’s particular focus in two areas.
With the way the NHL is going, it’s not surprising foot speed and agility are areas where there’s been heavy concentration.
The NHL is getting faster, and organizations need to keep up.
“Can they do things at a fast pace, like moving the puck, shooting, because everything has to be at a fast pace,” Griffins coach Todd Nelson said. “The game is so quick now. These players have to do things at a high rate of speed and in combination.”