Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill excited about level of competition at camp

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Traverse City — The message from coach Jeff Blashill to his team at the start of training camp was simple and direct.

As the Red Wings got down to work Thursday at Centre ICE Arena, they had Blashill's directive fresh in their minds, a message that is expected to last the season.

Head coach Jeff Blashill goes over plays with the team during Red Wings training camp.

"There are certain non-negotiables on our hockey team," Blashill said Thursday. "You have to make sure to work, compete and execute. Execute can show itself in practice and how you drill. We're trying to be as perfect as possible out there. 

"That was the message we talked about yesterday, and let's go and let's get's after it on day one and keep getting better every day."

As he begins his seventh season as Wings coach, Blashill has a revamped roster that is getting younger, and possibly more talented.

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The fight for playing time is expected to be intense, with more depth throughout the lineup.

"We'll see which guys, over the next few weeks, grab spots," Blashill said. "I'm interested to watch and see."

The defense will be an interesting area to watch.

General manager Steve Yzerman said Wednesday the plan is to keep eight defensemen on the opening night roster.

Blashill talked about the depth on defense, and the quality of NHL talent available.

"We have eight guys on the back end that have been, I'd say, pretty regular NHL players over the last number of years," Blashill said. "If I include (Gustav) Lindstrom in that mix, who started to show that last year, you have a lot of competition and depth back there."

The acquisition of defenseman Nick Leddy, who was paired with prospect Moritz Seider during Thursday's practice, adds to the talent level of the lineup.

"Leddy has been a top-four defensemen in this league for a long time," Blashill said. "Nick has been around a while and he's got a veteran presence to him. He's a real good skater, but he also comes from a team that does it right as much as anybody in the NHL  (the New York Islanders). Their attention to detail is great, and he brings some of that wisdom, not just on Seider, but on the other guys on our team."

Blashill is optimistic about defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who made progress last season returning from back surgery.

"(DeKeyser being) closer to where he was before the surgery is an important piece to it," Blashill said. "He looks and feels good. He's been a top-four defenseman for a long time."

Up front, Blashill sees a lot of competition for ice time and bigger roles. The need for more offense is paramount.

The Wings have had one of the weaker attacks in the NHL. But Blashill feels the talent to improve is present in this lineup.

"We have guys young and old who are vying for spots," Blashill said. "We haven't scored enough. That's not just on our forwards but it's partially on guys that need to step up and produce at a higher level."

Larkin on mend

Wings forward Dylan Larkin was last seen hunched over the bench April 20 in Dallas after getting crosschecked in the neck by the Stars' Jamie Benn.

It was the last game Larkin played. The pain in his neck and upper back got to the point where he spent several days in a hospital and couldn't work out for approximately two months.

Skating with teammates again Thursday for the start of training camp was enjoyable for Larkin.

"It was a difficult time," Larkin said of the rehab. "I mentioned the time in the hospital and I was in a gray area with what the diagnosis was for a long time. I didn't really do a whole lot for a couple of months, pretty much no activity, so it was hard. I was in a lot of pain.

"It was hard mentally as well. I'm just glad to be here at camp with the guys on the ice and it feels real good. I'm excited."

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Larkin is practicing but avoiding any hard contact. That will be the plan for at least the start of these practices.

"I feel great," Larkin said. "I didn't think much about it today, which is a great sign. I just think, for myself, why take the risk right now? I haven't had a hit since that last one, so I want to go into the season healthy like I am now. I don't want anything nagging. I want to make sure I'm ready."

Larkin is excited about the depth and promise of this roster.

"More so than any of my training camps in the past, we have more competition, and at every part of our lineup," Larkin said. "That's a great thing for training camp. Guys are fighting for special teams, roles on the team, spots on the team.

"There's a group that has to step up to become leaders on this team, and that's exciting."

Rasmussen grateful

Michael Rasmussen took a major step in his development last season, and the big forward believes hard lessons he learned early in his career helped spur his progress.

Rasmussen heads into this training camp with a more established role, and confidence stemming from last season's success.

"Just being a younger guy, it's different for everyone," Rasmussen said. "Everyone has their different battles and struggles. I'm grateful for all those ups and down because without those, if everything had come up easy for me, I don't think I'd be where I'm at. 

"Maybe it was just being a younger guy and learning and experience and learning how to dig in and get up when you're down. Growing up and learning it's hard sometimes. Life is hard."

Glad to be back

Blashill and players talked about how it appeared life was back to normal in the NHL with training camp and fans in the stands.

Being back in Traverse City made it feel right.

"You feel closer to that (normal)," Blashill said. "Obviously I'm on a Zoom call with you guys,, so there's some differences, but being up here has been great. I love coming to Traverse City. My family lives up here. It's a great experience when we come up here, and feeling closer to normal."

Being able to play to capacity crowds at Little Caesars Arena, and throughout the league, will be exciting for the Wings.

"When we get back to buildings where there's fans in the stands, which we didn't get to experience to the level some of the playoff teams did, that'll be an exciting and welcoming experience," Blashill said.

Waiting on Vrana

Blashill expects forward Jakub Vrana to arrive in Michigan on Friday, as visa issues continue to be ironed out.

Vrana is stuck in Europe waiting for clearance.

""He has to go through some process to get cleared to be able to participate," Blashill said. "We're hoping he gets here on a flight (Friday)."

Twitter: @tkulfan