Traverse City — For a young player like Riley Piercey, this couldn’t have gone any better.
Arriving to the NHL Prospects Tournament on an invitation, Piercey capitalized on his opportunity, scoring four goals Friday while leading the Red Wings to a 5-2 victory over Columbus at Traverse City’s Centre Ice Arena.
Piercey, a 6-foot-3 left wing, had 27 goals and 31 assists (58 points) in 59 games in Flint (OHL) last season. Piercey earned an invitation to the Wings’ development camp in July, and made a positive impression, earning another invite to the current tournament.
And Piercey, 20, certainly made another impression.
“It’s definitely a pretty crazy experience,” Piercey said. “Just coming in here in the last 48 hours and getting down here (Traverse City), coming together as a team, it was a pretty good performance, it’s everything you’d wish for.
“It was a good night.”
Drew Worrad collected a goal and two assists for the team of Wings’ draft picks and prospects. Cross Hanas, Pasquale Zito and Jeremie Biakabutuka each had two assists.
“We had one practice, didn’t even have a pregame skate because it was an earlier game, so for the situation, we played with a lack of preparation, there was a lot of good stuff to build off of,” said coach Ben Simon, the Grand Rapids Griffins’ coach who is running the Wings’ prospect team.
Certainly Piercey made an impact, being a big body and getting to the scoring spots and converting.
“He played pretty well,” Simon said. “Obviously a night like he had, you don’t get too often, so I’m happy for him. Hopefully that’ll breed some confidence and lead into training camp. Good for him having a good first game, and let’s see what that leads to.”
Piercey couldn’t remember ever having a four-goal game. So to have a memorable afternoon while invited to play on a team filled with Wings’ prospects was exciting.
“It was just one of those nights, the puck bounces were there and I capitalized on my opportunities when I had them,” Piercey said. “It’s just hockey, one of those games, and I did well tonight.
“It’s (the Prospects Tournament) is a highly known thing. There’s a lot of eyes. It’s a great experience, so I just come in and take it day by day and we’ll go from there.
“It’s the start everybody kind of hopes for and to get a start like that was good. But we got the big win and that’s always good.”
Friday’s game was the first test for forward Elmer Soderblom, who is making his North American debut.
The 6-foot-6 forward is likely going to begin the season in Grand Rapids. But after a 21-goal season in Frolunda (Sweden) last season, expectations have grown for the 2019 sixth-round draft pick.
“They’ve told me they want to see (here) what I did in Frolunda,” said Soderblom, who had an assist and one shot with a minus-two rating against Columbus. “Just keep playing my (game) and add some physicality, play with my size even more. That’s what I have to do to be able to take a spot.”
Soderblom’s big body (6-foot-6, 220-pounds) was evident in the offensive zone, hanging around the net and especially blocking the view of goaltenders while stationed net-front on the power play.
“I’m pretty much the tallest guy on the ice often,” Soderblom said. “I just have to use it to my advantage and do the best I can.”
Goaltenders Sebastian Cossa (17 saves) and Andrew Oke (seven saves) each gave up a goal, but both were key in the victory.
“They played very well,” Simon said. “There were some real good chances against that Sebastian stopped, and Oke came in and the first shot against was a three-on-one and he stopped it pretty nicely.”
…Another player on an invitation, defenseman Jeremie Biakabutuka had two assists and was plus-three for the Wings. Biakabutuka is the son of former Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka.
“He’s a big kid, has a pretty physical presence to him and he can skate pretty well,” Simon said.
…Defenseman Simon Edvinsson was held off the scoresheet was plus-two. Edvinsson, the 2021 first-round pick expected to challenge for a Wings’ roster spot, left an impact.
“He’s very confident with the puck, confident with who he is and how he wants to play,” Simon said. “He kind of floats on the ice. His skating is fantastic.”
…Hanas (2020 second-round), attempting to earn a roster spot in Grand Rapids, showed maturity and a bigger, stronger body.
“He’s put on some good, healthy weight and looks stronger,” Simon said .”You can tell he’s matured quite a bit.”