Detroit – Sure, there’s all those young defensemen opposite him in the locker room, and nobody expected all four of them to be in the lineup on Opening Night.
But injuries played a role in that.
Still, the biggest surprise of all may have been seeing forward Christoffer Ehn sitting by his stall after Thursday’s morning skate, hours before the season opener against Columbus.
“Of course it’s always been my dream to make the NHL, but I wasn’t thinking about it too much,” Ehn said. “I was just wanting to come out here and try my best and see where it goes – just give myself the best opportunity as possible.”
A 2014 fourth-round draft choice who had never played a pro game in North America before Thursday, the feeling was Ehn would need seasoning in Grand Rapids. But Ehn’s play during the exhibition season dictated something else entirely.
“He’s really shown he knows how to play the right way,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He knows how to manage his game. He went up against some of the best players in the world, one-on-one handled (Pittsburgh’s Evgeni) Malkin pretty good.
“It’s an everyday league and we’ll see. But so far, he’s made a real good impression.”
Ehn, 22, came into training camp with no far-flung expectations, other to make sure he played to the best of his ability.
“It’s a possibility but I didn’t think of it much,” said Ehn, of whether he entertained the notion of making the Wings’ roster from the start. “Of course, it’s been a pleasant surprise so far and I hope I can keep it going.”
Ehn was supposed to play in Grand Rapids during the AHL playoffs in April, but was hampered with mononucleosis and had to return to Sweden.
Having played three seasons in the Swedish Elite League, against some top-end competition, gave Ehn a good base heading into this camp.
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“It was a really good time for me in Sweden,” Ehn said. “I had real good coaches throughout my four years and I learned a lot. For me, staying that last year helped me a lot. I got stronger, faster, and just being used to being a pro.”
Still, there has been an adjustment getting used to the NHL.
“Less space and time,” said Ehn, repeating a mantra all young players talk about in regard to the NHL. “But I feel like I’ve been playing at a high level for a while, so it’s a big change, but at the same time I’ve been playing against men for a long time and I’m used to bigger, stronger guys.
“I just have to be a little bit quicker in the head and make quicker decisions.”
Forward Thomas Vanek brought a lot of positives to the lineup during his first tour with the Wings two seasons ago.
Having an opportunity to bring Vanek aboard again has already turned out to be a treat for Blashill.
“I don’t know if I can state clearly enough the impact he has on our younger players,” Blashill said. “One of the reasons we brought him back is how much he makes the other guys better. He’s such a smart offensive mind."
Blashill used an example from Thursday morning. Vanek went to the coaches' room to borrow a teaching pad to diagram face-off plays to his linemates.
“He’s a smart hockey mind,” Blashill said. “Playing with Double-A (Andreas Athanasiou), that chemistry has a chance to be real great.”
Dylan Larkin was honored to be chosen as an alternate captain, along with Frans Nielsen, joining Justin Abdelkader and Niklas Kronwall in that role.
“It does mean something for me,” Larkin said. “It’s a great honor I’m proud of and I want to represent the city and the team and my teammates and fans.”
… Defenseman Nick Jensen was a healthy scratch, while Dennis Cholowski, Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek and Libor Sulak joined Danny DeKeyser and Trevor Daley on the defensive unit.
Kronwall (undisclosed), Jonathan Ericsson (upper body) and Mike Green (infection) were all out.
… Martin Frk and Luke Witkowski were the healthy scratches among the forwards.
… Larkin said there are no video game problems with the Wings like in Vancouver, where Fortnite and other video games were banned on the road.
“I don’t think it’s as big a problem,” Larkin said. “Not a lot of guys are into it too much."
Larkin added: “I don’t play that much. I’ve played before but I don’t play that much.”