By Dana Wakiji, DetroitRedWings.com
DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings will be a significantly different team than the one fans saw in 2017-18.
Coach Jeff Blashill made that clear during his most recent appearance on the Red and White Authority podcast with DetroitRedWings.com's Art Regner Tuesday.
Red and White Authority with Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill
There will be younger players likely to make the team but current players could also find themselves in different roles than in past seasons.
"We have a wide open opportunity to make our hockey team without question," Blashill said on the Red and White Authority. "I think there's less sure bets in terms of guys being cemented in certain spots in the lineup. Why? Because we haven't been good enough for two years. It's hard to be cemented in spots in the lineup when we haven't been good enough. Maybe you've played first or second line, it doesn't mean you're guaranteed to be first or second line next year. Maybe you've been a power play guy, it doesn't mean you're guaranteed to be a power play guy next year.
"That means if other guys come in and are better than the guys we have, they're going to play - more than ever before, and in greater numbers than ever before. Now you have to earn those spots, you have to come in and be great. I've told a lot of the young guys, I would love for that. But again, you got to do the work. So I think it's a wide open roster more than ever before."
With 16 goals (seven on the power play) among 33 points in just 14 playoff games with the WHL's Tri-City Americans, forward Michael Rasmussen is among those young players who will get a real shot to make the Wings.
"I don't want to miss anybody, but I think on D, you've (got Filip) Hronek, Libor Sulak had an excellent world championship, I thought he looked excellent, I think he comes in with a very good chance to make the team," Blashill said. "I think (Joe) Hicketts is somebody that's come up and had some success, he comes in with a chance to make the team. I think Dennis Cholowski comes in with a chance to make the team. So there's four guys right there that have a real chance to make our hockey team on a regular basis, not be a fill-in but on a regular basis.
"Up front, certainly (Evgeny) Svechnikov, Dom Turgeon, they've got chances to come in and certainly Rasmussen has a real good chance to make the team. So all these guys have chances to make the hockey team. Whoever we pick in that sixth spot, I hope has a chance to make the team. I'd love for him to be NHL-ready."
Blashill has consistently mentioned that the Wings will need to improve their special teams in order to be a better team overall.
He singled out two of those prospects who could have an impact on the power play if they do make the team this fall.
"Rasmussen, to me, when I went out and watched him, if he does what I think he can do and that's make our hockey team, he's got a real chance to make our power play better," Blashill said. "He's an excellent, and I mean excellent, net-front presence guy with his ability to tip pucks, his ability to score in tight areas, so we should be excited about that. He wants to do that, that's where he wants to be.
"I think Filip Hronek showed the ability to run a power play last year in Grand Rapids. Filip runs a power play similar to me to a guy I just coached (in the world championship) in Will Butcher, where he's a very, very good facilitator. He shoots when he should shoot, he passes when he should pass, it's not super flashy but it's extremely efficient. Will Butcher was an excellent addition for Jersey this year. One of the reasons Jersey climbed in the standings is because their power play got way better and one of the reasons it got way better is they added Will Butcher. I think when you add certain pieces, it can really help. Now both of those particular players have to make our team, both those particular players - and I've told both of them, I want you to make our team, 100 percent, because I think if you make our team, it means you've earned it and it means we're better. If they do that, they have a chance to make our power play better."
Another factor on the power play could be the new assistant coach who will replace John Torchetti.
Blashill said he's already interviewed several candidates.
"For sure whoever we hire we'd love to have a great grasp of the power play and we'd love to help make our power play better," Blashill said. "We'll not climb the standings if our specialty teams don't get better. Our specialty teams, both the power play and penalty kill, have to be better. There's a lot that goes into that. That's not just on a coach or just on a player. It's on all of us. We need players to execute at a high level, we need to have the right players in those spots, we need a good plan by our coaching staff and we need to practice it the right way. I think whoever we bring in, in one way or another, through coaching, through playing, will have a good grasp of the power play and have good ideas."
Blashill said he doesn't have a timeline on hiring an assistant but doesn't expect the process to drag out throughout the summer.
"I've interviewed a number of candidates, a number of them I feel real confident that I think I could pick any of those guys I've interviewed and I think they'd do an excellent job," Blashill said. "Now the job is to try to find the best fit and part of being the best fit is guys deciding that this is where they want to be and that this is the job that they want and that they're excited about it, not just today but in November and January and April, all the way through.
"We've got a tough task ahead of us. These aren't easy times. I want guys that are 100 percent on board here and want to turn this thing into where we want it to be and that's having more success than we've had the last two years. I think I've had some excellent conversations, we have some excellent candidates, I think I've interviewed guys that can all be successful. Now we just got to decide who's the best fit and that's a decision both from myself, from Ken Holland, but also from that particular person. They got to make sure they want to be here."
Blashill is also looking forward to working with Ben Simon, named Tuesday as the new head coach of the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.
"I've known Ben a long time, longer than he's been with Grand Rapids," Blashill said. "I've known him a long, long time. I've spent a lot of time with him at coaching seminars, specifically at Notre Dame, where we hold kind of a smaller coaching seminar every year. He played at Notre Dame. I think Ben's going to do an excellent job. So I think it was a real good hire. Ben and I will certainly get together here and start to make sure that we're on the same page with the development of our players, but that's in concert with (director of player development) Shawn Horcoff and (player development assistant) Dan Cleary, they're a huge part of that process."
Blashill said an organizational emphasis will be placed on creating more offense.
"We've got to find a way in our organization to increase offense, to increase offensive output," Blashill said. "We just had a meeting about different ways we can potentially do that and I'm a big believer that things are learned skills, nobody just is blessed with this and blessed with that. People that are great at things are great because they put work into it. A lot of times you put work in in a mundane type effort where you just do it over and over. It's like going to the driving range, hitting balls for an hour and a half. Most people just like going golfing. But that's why most people aren't good enough. That's the reality of it. I think one of the focuses for us between Horc, Ben and myself, let's make sure we have a real good streamlined process of our young players working on things through the summer to get better at specific skills to enhance them offensively and then lead that into our young players continuing that in Grand Rapids with specific skills and then lead that into here and us working on it."
Last year, the roster was more set and roles were more established, so Blashill took a different approach to training camp, setting up three teams - one mostly Wings, one mostly Griffins and one mostly younger prospects.
That will not be the case this year.
"I set the teams up last year at training camp a certain way because I knew who was going to be on the team so I wanted to hit the ground running," Blashill said. "I knew those were the guys and if the other guys wanted to be on the team, they were going to have to really outplay them. I'm not setting it up that way this year. I'm going to set it up probably with two fairly equal teams and there's going to be a lot more competition to make our hockey team."