On the eve of his third training camp in charge of the team he once captained, Steve Yzerman is excited.
Detroit Red Wings veterans, newcomers and prospects all have something to prove when practices begin Thursday at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City, where the Wings have held camp, save a few times, yearly since Scotty Bowman first took the defending Stanley Cup champions there in 1997.
Arguably no player carries more intrigue than Moritz Seider, the 6-foot-4 defenseman Yzerman grabbed in 2019, his first draft as general manager of the Wings. But there are others: Pius Suter, Nick Leddy, Jordan Oesterle and Alex Nedeljkovic, all off-season acquisitions, and prospects including Joe Veleno and Givani Smith.
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“I think it makes for a more interesting training camp,” Yzerman said Wednesday. “I expect and hope the players all recognize, whether it’s Bobby Ryan coming on in a PTO, Givani Smith, Moritz Seider — you name them, they have a lot to play for and to have a good training camp and then to have a good preseason, and then ultimately once the regular season starts, to either hold their role or play an increased role. I think that’s good for us, I think that shows some progress. I hope our record is better than last year, but time will tell.
“Ultimately we have to get on the ice and see how it all plays out, but I am looking forward to watching all the new faces and see how the players in our organization that have been here respond to the opportunity to get a bigger role and to compete with some of the younger players or some of the new faces for the spots.”
Last year the pandemic forced the Wings to hold camp at Little Caesars Arena, limited the season to 56 games and largely prevented fans from attending games. Thanks to vaccines, there’s much more normalcy as this season approaches. Yzerman said all Wings players have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine except for Tyler Bertuzzi, who has refused. Teams cannot mandate a player get the jab, but Bertuzzi will have to follow masking and social distancing protocols, and given that Bertuzzi cannot travel to Canada under current border restrictions, he can be suspended without pay the nine games the Wings play in Canada.
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Yzerman said Bertuzzi, who hasn’t played since January, when he was sidelined by a back injury that led to surgery in April, will be at camp. Neither he nor captain Dylan Larkin, who suffered a neck injury in April, are cleared for “full contact,” as Yzerman termed it, but can partake in practices. Jakub Vrana, another top-six forward, has been held up because of a visa issue but is expected to arrive any day.
Among the prospects, Jonatan Berggren has a mild upper-body injury and Jared McIsaac is in concussion protocol.
Seider, 20, comes to the Wings after spending last season with Rögle, where he played so well he was named the Swedish Hockey League defenseman of the year. Previously, he spent a season with the Grand Rapids Griffins and a season in the men’s league in his native Germany.
“Moritz will get every opportunity in the preseason to get as comfortable as he can be to potentially start the regular season,” Yzerman said. “He’s going to compete with not only the other three right shots, but the four left shots as well. Moritz has done well — playing in the men’s league in Germany, he did well. I was somewhat apprehensive his first year in Grand Rapids, as an 18 year old, and he did well. Then going into Sweden last year, he performed well. We are optimistic he’s up for the challenge. I would temper the excitement — it’s a huge step going from the AHL or the SHL to the NHL, the reality is the best players in the world are in the NHL. It is difficult to play in, more so for goalies and defensemen than it is for forwards.
“We expect there to be some learning, but I think he’s physically strong enough, he’s mature enough, and he has enough hockey sense to play. Can he adapt to the speed and excel in the league? Time will tell. He’s 20 years old.”
The Wings will bring 35 forwards, 20 defensemen and seven goaltenders to Traverse City. The highlight of the event is Sunday’s Red-White game. The Wings return to Detroit on Tuesday and begin an eight-game exhibition slate Sept. 29 at the Chicago Blackhawks.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.