Detroit — Watching defenseman Jake Walman on the ice before the Red Wings went on holiday break, watching him spark the Wings in recent games, you can’t help but wonder if something specifically triggered the recent surge.
Walman, with his consistent quick wit, says there is.
“Sitting too long,” said Walman, who didn’t enter the lineup until Nov. 15 after offseason shoulder surgery.
Sitting and watching definitely will spur a player on. It was sitting and watching Dec. 8 in Florida as a healthy scratch which was the prelude to this recent string of Walman raising his performance.
“I’m just trying to play my game, trying to help the team in whatever that is,” Walman said. “I’m really trying to establish myself. It’s time I take a step in my development and game.”
Walman has one goal and one assist in 16 games, but his plus-minus rating of plus-14 is second to only Filip Hronek (plus-15), with whom Walman is seeing more time with lately as a defensive pairing.
Walman, 26, acquired last trade deadline (along with Oskar Sundqvist and draft picks) from St. Louis in exchange for defenseman Nick Leddy, had flourishes of eye-opening play with the Blues, but then, not enough. The consistency was an issue.
Walman feels he’s at the point of his career where he becomes a regular and dependable NHL player.
“It’s that time where I really prove I can be a big part of the team,” Walman said. “If I can help the team with minutes (played), that’s great. If I can help the team on the scoreboard, great. Any way I can help the team.”
Another mark against Walman has been he’s an offensive defenseman whose lack of enough attention defensively cuts into his effectiveness and ice time.
Walman feels he can do a better job balancing the two parts of the ice.
“I can be an offensive player but at the same time, my position is defenseman and that’s where I will help the team,” Walman said. “Playing tenaciously on defense, that stuff will add up, (and) taking the risk out of my game.
“I have that flash in my game. I can do it, but it’s just picking the right time to do it. First and foremost, it’s getting the trust (from coaches) and getting put out there, is where I want to be. I want to be on the ice and eliminating the risk and doing that stuff in the offensive zone is great, but most important is being tenacious in the defensive zone, and that’s what I’m working on.”
Walman, coach Derek Lalonde said, has earned the increased playing time and confidence of the coaching staff.
“Very encouraged,” Lalonde said of Walman’s play. “He had that flash early on you saw the same thing we did, his skating and competing, he wasn’t turning pucks over. We challenged him for some consistency in that, and he has (responded). When Olli (Maatta) went down (with mononucleosis) and being out of the lineup, a little bit getting increased minutes and he (Walman) took advantage of it. Boughs (assistant coach Bob Boughner, defense) gave him those minutes and rightfully so.”
Lalonde feels Walman’s performance gets better when Walman is engaged physically. Lalonde noted the Minnesota game in which Hronek was walloped by Ryan Reaves in an open-ice hit, and it was Walman who quickly came to Hronek’s defense.
“He’s a real good teammate,” Lalonde said. “He earned that (healthy) scratch, and he took it personal with letting his group down and that says something about him to bounce back and play.
“The other thing with him, when he gets physically engaged, you go back to that Minny game, it was a little play but after that hit he was the one that stuck up for his teammate, and that getting involved physically led to quality five-on-five play.
“It’s exciting with Jake. It’s a small sample size, his battle with consistency and we’ll push him for consistency, but he’s been good.”
Elmer Soderblom has two goals in three games since returning from a lower-body injury, blocking a shot in early November.
Soderblom missed a month, but feels he is regaining his timing and conditioning as he plays more games.
“When you’re playing games, you’re in it,” said Soderblom, adding conditioning isn’t an issue. “Coming back from injury, it’s always hard. But it’s getting better and I’m starting to feel good. It helps to play games, and you need to play a lot of games and be on top of it.”
The one thing Soderblom has noticed in his first NHL season is the difference in playing style in North America compared to Europe.
“The smaller ice (surface) here, you get less time, and you need to make decisions faster (with the puck),” Soderblom said. “Then, add the physical game. Guys are up close at you. If you want to go the net, there’s a lot of guys (to get through). You just have to make faster decisions and be careful with the puck.”
The Wings return from a four-day holiday break Tuesday with an afternoon practice. They’ll play back to back games in Pittsburgh (Wednesday) and Buffalo (Thursday).
… Andrew Copp echoed many Wings’ thoughts that the holiday break came at a good time.
“Since training camp, it’s been pretty much a sprint for the past three or four months,” Copp said. “These built-in breaks, you need to be able to get away and reset the body.”