'Go time': Wings' Witkowski ready to battle for job in camp

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Red Wings right wing Luke Witkowski

Detroit — This isn’t going to be anything new for Luke Witkowski.

Training camp is still about six weeks away, but when you analyze the Red Wings’ roster there’s a surplus of forwards, especially with Michael Rasmussen and Filip Zadina both in the running for jobs.

That leaves a player like Witkowski, the team’s resident enforcer and a true team-first guy, on the bubble.

Witkowski, 28, is on a one-way contract and has one more year at a $750,000 salary cap hit ($800,000 actual salary) whether he’s with the Wings or minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins.

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“Nobody is guaranteed a spot, that’s just how it is,” Witkowski said of the battle for jobs. “It’s going to be competitive. Guys are worried about their jobs. Coaches, the organization, the Red Wings have a history of winning and we want to get back to the playoffs.

“That’s the number one goal. You look at that locker room, everyone is a competitor and we want to be in the playoffs. We were right there in so many games. We have the players, the ability to do so (make the playoffs).”

What may help Witkowski (6-foot-2, 217 pounds) in his attempt to the make the roster is not just his willingness to protect teammates but also his versatility.

The Holland, Mich., native, who played for coach Jeff Blashill at Western Michigan, is capable of manning a fourth-line forward spot along with playing defense.

In essence, Witkowski’s ability to play both spots saves them a roster spot in a way.

“I’m a guy, I’m not going to be complaining about not being in the lineup,” Witkowski said. “But I want to get back into the lineup so they have some options with me.”

Witkowski was at Little Caesars Arena Wednesday for the first day of the annual youth camp, which is being held at LCA for the first time. 

Being back at the arena and watching hundreds of kids playing hockey — not to mention seeing the calendar flip to August — had Witkowski wondering about hockey season.

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“It’s go time,” said Witkowski, with training camp beginning in mid-September. “Every day you know it’s right around the corner and you’re thinking about getting that email about (training) camp. There’s month and a half left in our summer, and those are key days to be ready for camp.

“Everybody is different. I take a long time off. Granted I wasn’t in the lineup as much as I’d like (last season), but I like to do something else so you’re ready to get back into it.”

Witkowski helped out at a youth camp in Holland earlier in the summer and enjoys working with kids.

“It’s cool to see kids right around the age when I started playing,” Witkowski said. “For me, to be on the Red Wings and having them look up to me, that’s pretty crazy. At the same time it shows them if you have a goal in mind and you work hard enough, you can achieve that goal.”

One of the more popular players on the roster because of his lengthy beard and ability to fight, the questions kids regularly ask Witkowski is no surprise.

“A lot of of it has to do with my beard,” Witkowski said. “Can I touch your beard? Is that beard real? Are you related to Santa Claus? A lot of beard questions.

“The other questions are how many fights have you been in? How many have you won or lost? Either beard or fighting questions. That’s it.”