How Detroit Red Wings’ Jake Walman went from ‘risky and erratic’ to ‘really good’

Detroit Free Press

Jake Walman has shown in just a few games why the Detroit Red Wings were happy to welcome him to their lineup.

Walman debuted Nov. 15, scored Thursday, and has had a plus-rating all three games after missing camp and the start of the season recovering from shoulder surgery. He has helped the Wings to a three-game point streak, which next will be tested Wednesday when they host the Nashville Predators.

“He’s a phenomenal skater, pretty much can out-skate everyone in the league if he has to,” fellow defenseman Moritz Seider said. “He will be a big help on the blue line for sure.”

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Walman, 26, hasn’t played much hockey the past half year: Acquired by general manager Steve Yzerman from the St. Louis Blues as part of the Nick Leddy trade at the 2021 trade deadline, Walman played 19 games for the Wings last season, and underwent surgery in the summer that kept him from a training camp that was all the more valuable given the change in coaching staff. Walman took part in practices for a good month (during which he decided to change his number from 8 to 96) before playing and didn’t look like he had much rust to shake.

“That’s always been kind of my thing, prepare and be ready,” Walman said. “I’ve gone through something like that before, so I know it’s just preparation and doing the right things off the ice. It’s so nice to be back with the guys — I feel like I’m getting my routine back and I just love it.”

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Walman (6 feet 2, 215 pounds) adds skill to the back end, contributing to the 10 goals from defensemen the Wings have after 18 games this season (after getting 20 all of last season). He’s an excellent shooter, and if his shot doesn’t lead to a scoring opportunity right away, it can lead to chaos around the net, and the chance for forwards to retrieve the puck and create extended zone time.

That’s one thing that has impressed coach Derek Lalonde. But so is how quickly Walman has adapted to the emphasis on eliminating risky plays.

“His compete was good,” Lalonde said when asked what he has liked about Walman. “His skill set and the fact he’s a world-class skater and can shoot the puck. His goal, going bar down, which was a huge goal at the time. And then managing his game. His game can get risky and erratic at times, he’s had a couple turnovers, and I see him consciously thinking those through. I know even midway through the second period, he feels good about his game, then all of a sudden, there was a risky east-west neutral zone thing. We had a simple conversation and he didn’t do it again.

“It’s a tall ask for him. He hasn’t played a lot of hockey coming off an injury, to get thrown right in there, and he’s done a really good job.”

Good start, long way to go

Lalonde indicated he’s pleased overall with how the Wings have cut down on risky plays to improve team defense, saying, “it’s our commitment to our defense which has led us to a good start so far.”

The Wings are 9-5-4 and while that puts them in fourth place in the Atlantic Division and in a wild card spot in the playoff race, Lalonde said the Wings, “have a long ways to go. We’re there right now on sheer will and commitment. It’s a huge credit to our guys. We are willing our way to where we are right now. How sustainable is that? We’ll find out from this group.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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