Deep Thoughts: Pre-Season Player Eval Edition (NOW WITH MORE DIATRIBE!)

Don't you EVER call me Ville again. AP -- Chris Young

Now that the pre-season has come to a close and it’s time to gear up for games that matter, let’s take a peek at how each player fared — minus the guys that were returned to juniors fairly early on. We were all fairly positive what the opening day roster would look like, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any jockeying for position taking place — whether it’s the call-up order, or attempting to guarantee a spot in the every day lineup.

Including Summer Strength and Conditioning Camp, the Prospects Tournament, and Main Training Camp — the Red Wings hosted a total of 82 players — and 59 of them won’t be Red Wings as of Wednesday.

This got a little wordy, so I split it up into two days — the first 26 are below; and the remaining 25 go up tomorrow.

2 Brendan Smith [assigned to Grand Rapids, October 3]
The kid’s good, but he’s not NHL good (yet). There was a lot of chatter that maybe he could sneak his way onto the team, and while some of us knew better — the romantic deep within begun thinking “hey, wouldn’t it be awesome if that kid made the Red Wings, proving to the next generation that, yes, it is possible to play in Detroit without spending four years in Grand Rapids?” Alas, it wasn’t to be (sorry, Hancock), but he did show that he’s not terribly far off — and a year or two in the AHL isn’t a bad thing, we all know that. The team is showing a lot of confidence in him, giving him Fischer’s old digit and giving him every opportunity to excite Red Wings fans. He’s going to play in the NHL sooner rather than later.

4 Jakub Kindl
If you want my honest opinion (and I’m sure you don’t), you’d have to be a blind foreigner to think that Kindl didn’t play his way onto the top six, in lieu of Jonathan Ericsson. I’m not sure what being a foreigner has to do with it, but I think I’ve made my point. Kindl is going to be a Red Wing, as he’s out of minor league options, and — unlike Ritola — he’s good enough that he’s guaranteed a spot on the final roster, whether or not that means he plays every night. I’m certain Babcock would prefer to have a solid, permanent top six (one that includes Rig), but Kindl has made the likelihood of a three-man rotation for the bottom pairing a reality we’ll be living with throughout the season.

5 Nicklas Lidstrom
He’s Nicklas Lidstrom. I don’t buy, for a second, that he’s dropped off so drastically in a year or two that he’s no longer one of the three or four best defensemen in the game. Whether this is his last season or not remains to be seen, but if it is, I bet he goes out with a gigantic bang: winning the Norris, the Cup, and — somehow — the Calder retroactively.

8 Justin Abdelkader
I am falling in love with Justin Abdelkader. And I don’t mean “admire as a hockey player,” I mean full-on love. He’s not expected to score fifteen goals, he’s expected to make life difficult for everyone who isn’t in red and white, throw his body around, work the corners, and keep the puck deep. And, by God, he does every single one of those like a little Maltby. The off-season boxing lessons are coming in handy, also, and he’s not afraid to drop the mitts. I’m sure some fans would rather have someone like Aaron Downey or Brad May (for some reason) on the roster to take up that role, but too bad. The Wings don’t have the roster space — or patience — for someone who serves only one purpose. Abdelkader will never be a heavyweight, but he’ll definitely be useful in a variety of situations — on the kill, on the fourth line, and — when needed — telling Corey Perry what’s what.

11 Dan Cleary
Tell ya what — I’m excited. After reading what Cleary went through last season, essentially playing through a dislocated human  body, and knowing that he’s healthy now… woo baby. He’s going to be hungry, he’s going to be angry, he’s going to want to prove to every one of us that questioned his contract that his first couple seasons in Detroit weren’t flukes.

13 Pavel Datsyuk
I’ve always hated the term “it is what it is.” I feel like that’s a retarded thing to say, because of course it “is.” That’s why I said “it is.” But Pavel Datsyuk is the human version of that statement. He is what he is. And he’s fantastic. We all know it, we all know what we’re going to get, assuming he’s healthy and playing. He’s going to take the puck from you, he’s going to enjoy it, he’s going to find some way to do something that even after seven years makes you say “how the fuck…?”

14 Derek Meech [waived September 8, unclaimed]
Poor Dirk Mench. Homeboy knew he wasn’t going to be a member of the Red Wings this year, totally mailed in his effort in training camp, and then suffered a concussion in the pre-season — his only opportunity to make an impression on other teams before being forced to take a demotion to the Griffins. He’s beginning to skate on his own and will hopefully be healthy soon, but he has missed the chance to catch on elsewhere in the NHL. The Wings will likely not call him up and subject him to re-entry waivers (because they’re loathe to pay half the salary of a man not playing for them), so unless they can find a team willing to trade for Meech, he’ll likely spend the year in Grand Rapids.

15 Jordan Owens [assigned to Grand Rapids, October 3]
Young Mr. Owens had possibly the most successful camp of any of the folks under contract with the Wings. And by that, I don’t mean he was the best player on the team — because, obviously, he had a tall mountain to climb for that honor. But even Uncle Mike admitted to not knowing who he was prior to Traverse City before admitting that he “knows who he is now.” Owens got a few games in on the top line and probably climbed his way near the top of the call-up list. Will he get the nod before Tomas Tatar or Kirk Maltby? I don’t know, but he’s certainly in the conversation.

17 Patrick Eaves
It’s unfortunate he bruised his ankle/foot blocking a shot, because that means that he had a shorter pre-season that the Wings would have liked. He’s clearly on the team, but the fourth line guys (of which there are about seventeen) were battling for the right to be everyday players. If you asked me last season if I thought he needed such a battle, I would have said no. Just like I do now. He and Helm are permanent fixtures as far as I’m concerned. At least… that’s what I’ll tell Babbles when he phones me up later today. Phones me. Yup. I’m British.

18 Kirk Maltby
I love Kirk Maltby. I get the feeling that he may retire. He’s been a fantastic soldier, and — at one point during camp — I thought he might actually sneak his way onto the team. I’ll say this: I bet he has a better shot of making the squad than Mattias Ritola does. But anyway, his quotes in the media have made it sound like “I haven’t decided what I’ll do when” he’s waived and assigned to Grand Rapids. Methinks he hangs up the boots.

20 Drew Miller
What an insane boost of confidence Miller must have gotten when Babcock said that he wasn’t battling for a spot on the lineup. As far as the Miller vs. Ritola fight for the final forward position, it’s a no-brainer. Drew Miller is very clearly an NHLer, and the same is yet to be seen about Ritz.

21 Tomas Tatar [assigned to Grand Rapids, October 3]
Kid’s got gusto. He’ll be a Red Wing. Count on it. So much energy, so much hustle, so much flow. That movie was terrible. Also, the men who make up Three 6 Mafia have Oscars. And I don’t. More on that on another day. Looooots more.

22 Logan Pyett [assigned to Grand Rapids, October 3]
I have nothing to say about Pyett except this: giving him a regular number (even if it was Lebda’s) shows that the team hopes he takes another step forward in his development — a development that has been a tiny bit slow, when compared to other guys that eventually make an impression in the NHL.

23 Brad Stuart
Interested to see how the new pairings work. Stuart and Rafalski make sense, but Stuart has expressed concern with switching sides. Having played hockey — granted, not at this level — all I can say is “BFD. Man up.”

24 Ruslan Salei
By all accounts, he’s a gamer — and he solidifies that third pairing. Ya know…the one that features the 6 foot 5 shitbox. To hear Malik tell it, he’s got all of the upside of Andreas Lilja, with very little of the downside. For me, though, please don’t call him Rusty.

25 Brian Lashoff [assigned to Grand Rapids, October 3]
The de-facto captain of the Prospects Tournament didn’t get his big boy pre-season started off the way he would have liked, going -153 in the game against Pittsburgh. The Wings certainly like him, and have given him plenty of chances to grow as a prospect since his signing as an undrafted free agent. Keeping him around until very late in pre-season was, in my opinion, an attempt to foster some confidence in a kid that may have lost some of it. He’ll be a hell of a guy in Grand Rapids and may very well be a Red Wing one day.

26 Jiri Hudler
His return from Russia has been highly touted, and everyone seems to think that this off-season addition will be the one that’s most notable. Hide your hookers!

27 Travis Ehrhardt [assigned to Grand Rapids, September 29]
I have absolutely nothing to say about Travis Ehrhardt. He was there. The training camp roster told me so.

28 Brian Rafalski
Is anyone else worried about all the maintenance days he’s had to take this pre-season? No? Alright…

29 Jamie Tardif [assigned to Grand Rapids, October 3]
The Griffins captain looks intense when they show him on the bench. He may never play a game in the NHL, and he’s certainly down the depth chart a bit, but he’s clearly another great character guy in the organization.

30 Chris Osgood
Another dude that didn’t make it all the way through camp unscathed. After taking a hit from known behemoth Patrick Kane, Osgood missed some scheduled starts with a charley horse. He’s had a rough go of it (to say the least) the last few seasons, so I’m sure he would have liked to have had more prep time leading up to real games. He says he’s more prepared and feels better than he has in a few Octobers, and we’ll just have to trust that and hope he bounces back quickly.

31 Joey MacDonald
He’ll have to clear waivers to be sent down to Grand Rapids, and something tells me we won’t have to worry about that.

32 Aaron Downey [released from tryout, September 29]
We all knew it was a longshot (wait ’til you hear the TP:60 outro), but it was nice having Downey in camp. Shortly after getting the shit kicked out of him and suffering a concussion as a result, he was released from his tryout and the dream was over. BUT WAIT! There’s a Red Wings-like twist. He was offered a job as a strength and conditioning coach for the Grand Rapids Griffins — another reason that the Wings are building a family, and not just a system of teams.

33 Kris Draper
If this were a report card, it’d say “Inc.” After suffering a slight groin tear, he didn’t get any action. Which I’m sure stings a bit, given that he’s embroiled in a battle for fourth line minutes. He’s got a no-trade clause (hear that, crazies?), so he’ll be a Red Wing, like it or not. I like it. He’s one of the best drawmen in the game, and he’s a calming influence with four rings. Ritola can eat a groin when compared to that.

35 Jimmy Howard
He’s your starter, and I will absolutely toss my hat into the ring of people worries about a sophomore slump — but only because he has such an insanely high bar to reach based on his stellar play last year. Like Osgood, he hasn’t impressed the hell out of me, and the goaltending has been lacking — to say the least — so here’s hoping he can play like he did last year.

36 Jordan Pearce [assigned to Grand Rapids, September 30]
He’s a smart kid, with a bright future as a doctor. Best of luck, dude.

…. see you tomorrow.