Detroit – He’s small, very small by hockey standards, but Otto Kivenmaki is doing everything he can to keep his NHL dream alive.
He’s bulked up, for one thing. The 5-foot-8 Kivenmaki was at about 140 pounds when the Red Wings drafted him in the seventh round last year, but now he's up to 154.
Kivenmaki is also noticeably stronger, maybe a bit thicker. He doesn’t look like an eighth-grader, as he did last year.
When Kivenmaki was drafted last year, there was talk about his intriguing skill, and the fact he doesn’t back down.
He’s still a long shot, but Kivenmaki is doing everything he can to keep his dream alive.
“They said I’m getting better every day,” said Kivenmaki, of the feedback he’s getting from the Wings. “They saw me get bigger and stronger.”
Playing for Assat in the Finnish league, Kivenmaki had 16 points in 34 men’s league games and 35 points in 23 junior games.
In junior, Kivenmaki put together a streak of 11 points in 11 games and played some of the best hockey of his junior career.
“It just clicked, I guess,” Kivenmaki said.
Kivenmaki realizes if he has any dream of reaching the NHL, gaining strength will be necessary.
There is definitely room in the NHL, plenty of it, for a small player these days. Players such as Johnny Gaudreau, Patrick Kane and Mathew Barzal, among others, have demolished myths about smallish players not being to compete in the NHL.
But a smaller player needs to have a strong lower body, can’t be knocked off the puck, and needs to be physically strong.
“I got bigger and stronger, so that’s good,” Kivenmaki said. “I noticed this summer, being in the corners, I wouldn’t fall so easily. That helps a lot. I have to get bigger. I still don’t weigh much compared to the other guys. There’s still improvement.”
So what does Kivenmaki have to do to combat his lack of size?
“I just have to be smarter and quicker,” Kivenmaki said. “You have to know what you want to do before you get the puck. You can’t stand around. You have to move around and outsmart them.”
Shawn Horcoff, the Red Wings’ director of player development, likes the progress Kivenmaki has shown.
Horcoff and the Wings’ staff is intrigued with his skill level.
But it’s up to Kivenmaki to keep going on that path of progress physically.
“He definitely has natural smarts,” Horcoff said. “Is he going to be strong enough? Can he develop a stronger core of his lower body to protect the puck in traffic? He’s come a long way since last year. He really finished the season well.
“If you want to win you have to get into those hard areas, but the only way to do that is to be strong enough to take the pounding against the big guys in the league. It’s up to him to put the work in.
“He’s definitely a project and will take some time.”
Ethan Philllips, a fourth-round pick last weekend, is meeting up with old friend Filip Zadina this week at the development camp.
Phillip’s family hosted Zadina in junior hockey in Halifax, and the two became good friends.
“Fil called Kim (Brodie, the Wings’ executive assistant) and asked if we could room together,” Philllips said.
Zadina has been nursing a hamstring strain this week but was on the ice Thursday.
“You watch the way he takes care of himself – he’s got the hamstring tightness and he’s doing everything he can to make it better,” Philllips said. “You just kind of pick up on things like that. It really is a job and he’s doing what he can to get back.”
Filip Larsson is being talked about as the potential goaltender of the future on the Red Wings but he isn’t paying attention to the chatter.
“People have told me that but I haven’t really thought about Detroit,” Larsson said. “I’m looking at the next step, and it’s not the NHL. Right now it’s making the AHL team (Grand Rapids) and developing.”
Larsson, 20, turned pro after an outstanding season of college hockey in Denver. Larsson was 13-6-3 with a 1.95 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
“I played good at every level the last three years,” Larsson said. “To get that next step is just going to be fun. I’m ready to take that.”