Pulkkinen to get his shot with Detroit

DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings may have gotten the best bargain this offseason.

The team announced Tuesday the signing of restricted free agent Teemu Pulkkinen to a one-year deal worth $735,000.

Pulkkinen, 23, split his time last season with the Wings and Grand Rapids and despite playing in just 46 games with the Griffins a year ago he led the American Hockey League in goals with 34, 10 of which came on the power play.
He also registered 27 assists, which put him second on the team with 61 points.

In 31 games a year ago in Detroit he had five goals, three assists and was a plus-5. Two of his goals were game winners.

After the Wings were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, Pulkkinen joined the Griffins and tallied 14 goals in 16 games to help lead Grand Rapids to the Western Conference finals. He also had four assists.

In his first year in Grand Rapids he had 31 goals and 28 assists and followed that with five goals and six assists in 10 playoff games.

Pulkkinen, who needs to make the roster out of training camp or would have to clear waivers to go back to Grand Rapids, will again be a restricted free agent next season. He had an average salary-cap hit of $698,333 on his first three-year, entry-level deal.

The right-handed shooting forward is known for one thing: his shot.

“I think the thing we like about Pulkkinen is he’s got a tremendous shot,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said in January. “He’s got a weapon. His shot is his weapon. He likes to use it and he seems like he knows how to get open.”

Pulkkinen equaled a Grand Rapids franchise record last season prior to being called up by registering a goal in eight consecutive games. The mark was set by Donald MacLean in the 2005-06 season.

“It’s amazing,” Riley Sheahan said of Pulkkinen’s shot last January. “It’s almost like every time he shoots the puck it’s either going in or the goalie’s not going to know where it’s going and it’ll hit off him and create another scoring chance. It’s hard. It’s accurate. He gets it off pretty quick. Not many guys have a shot like him.”

That right-handed booming shot, which is compared to that of Brett Hull, could come in helpful on the blue line as well.

“Obviously he has a real good shot,” Henrik Zetterberg said in January. “But also he’s good at finding the open ice to be able to receive passes. He doesn’t need much.

“It’s almost like Brett Hull in a way,” Zetterberg added. “He doesn’t need a lot of room to get a shot off. It’s going to be interesting to see what he can do. Obviously he’s done a real good job down in Grand Rapids and we’re looking forward to having him around with us.”

“I’ve heard them,” Pulkkinen laughed nervously when asked about the comparisons with Hull. “Since I was a little kid I had fun with my friends going out to shoot pucks, play different games. I enjoy shooting and I’ve been practicing that since I was a little kid.”

Pulkkinen slipped in the entry draft after injuring his shoulder and the Wings were able to get him in the fourth round, 111th overall, in 2010.

The year he was drafted he set a record for assists (36) by a rookie in the Finnish Elite League, breaking the mark set by Teemu Selanne.

Tomas Jurco is the lone restricted free agent the Wings need to sign.

Detroit has 24 players signed, 15 of which are forwards, at just over $72 million.

The salary cap this season is $71.4 million.

Teams can be 10-percent over the salary cap until the day before the season begins, which will give the Wings enough time to decide if Pavel Datsyuk (ankle surgery) and Johan Franzen (concussion) will be able to start the season or head to injured reserve.

Detroit could also free up cap space via a trade or by sending a player to Grand Rapids.

“We’ve got to get to camp, let it play itself out and pick a team,” Holland said earlier this offseason. “With the additions we made on July 1, we’re a little deeper than last year. We’re hoping for a competitive training camp.”

On the first day of free agency, the Wings added defenseman Mike Green and forward Brad Richards.

Osawa had her dream come true … competing at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Japan’s women’s hockey team

MOUNT CLEMENS >> Chiho Osawa had dreamt of being an Olympic athlete when she was 12 years old.

That dream came true.

Osawa played for Japan’s women’s ice hockey team in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“I was glad my dream came true,” said Osawa, who’s competing this summer in the four-team women’s division of the Eastside Elite Hockey League out of Mount Clemens Ice Arena. “I love all things about hockey, especially the speed of the game.”

Not only did she compete, but her teammates named her the captain, which still shocks her to this day.

“Our team has some player who’s (much) older than me, so I was worried about (pulling) our team together,” Osawa said.

Her teammate, Tricia MacLeod, on the EEHL team is amazed at how high a level Osawa’s game is at.

“She’s so fluid on her skates,” MacLeod said. “She’s such a good skater and play maker. She’s so smooth you almost don’t notice her. She’s so good on her edges and so good with the puck.

“I never ever thought I’d be playing with an Olympian, ever,” MacLeod added.

There was also a language barrier that needed to be overcome.

“I was curious how that would affect our game,” MacLeod said. “It doesn’t even matter. She sees the ice so well that she’s very easy to play with.”

Japan didn’t win a game in Sochi and got outscored 7-1 in Group B.

Then, they lost to Germany in the seventh-place game, 3-2, in the eight-team tournament.

“At the Olympics, my conditioning and mentality was the best,” Osawa said. “So I brought out my best. However, I felt the difference between Japan and other teams.”

Osawa, 23, added that the teams Japan played against were just more powerful, shot and passed the puck better and had better goalkeeping.

“No,” Osawa said when asked if it was discouraging to lose every game. “I feel that we have to (get) stronger. I think that Japan has a good chance of success.”

And things have turned around.

Japan beat the Czech Republic in the decisive game of the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship qualification series last November.

The win qualified Japan for the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Malmo, Sweden. It was the sixth time Japan had qualified for the tournament.

Japan won two straight games in the best-of-three relegation series with Germany to book its ticket to Kamloops, Canada in 2016.

It was a huge moment for Japan, which has only avoided being sent down once (2008) at the Women’s World Championships.

“Yes, I think so,” Osawa said when asked if she thought hockey was beginning to grow as a sport in her country. “Staying in the top division at the Women’s World Championships was big for us. I think that we growing up step-by-step.”

Osawa, who didn’t have a favorite hockey player she looked up to growing up, began skating at the age of three and started playing hockey at age six.

Osawa, who has a younger brother that also plays hockey, began playing hockey because her dad, Hirotoshi, did.

And she honors him by wearing his No. 6 when she plays for her club team in Japan.

Her national team number is 12, which was chosen by the head coach.

Osawa has been in the United States a month and will be here for a year of training at EXEDY Globalparts Corporation. She’ll also be playing for Victory Honda Women’s 19+ Hockey Club this fall.

In Japan, she worked at Dynax and was in charge of the sales department.

She was born in Tomakomia, Japan, which is coincidentally referred to as Hockeytown. And that’s why the team she’ll cheer for the most plays out of Hockeytown in Detroit.

Marian grad Madison Packer “never dreamed” of getting paid to play hockey

MOUNT CLEMENS >> Madison Packer had no idea she’d be getting paid to play the game she loved after college.

“Five years ago, being a female hockey player, I would have never dreamed I’d be getting paid to play this sport,” Packer said.

But that’s just what the Marian High School grad is going to be getting paid to do soon.

Packer has signed to play with the New York Riveters in the inaugural season of the National Women’s Hockey League.

“I think it’s going to go well,” Packer said. “Starting with four teams is perfect. We get paid a little bit, not a ton. It’s baby steps.”

The NWHL will consist of four teams all on the east coast – Boston (Pride), Buffalo (Beauts), Connecticut (Whale) and New York.

“They’re being cautious to not expand too quickly,” Packer said. “I think they’ll stick with four teams until it’s good competitive hockey and then slowly add more teams.”

The only other professional women’s hockey league in North America is the Canadian Women’s Hockey League which consists of five teams.

“I’m really excited,” said Packer, who graduated in December from the University of Wisconsin where she played four seasons. “I never thought a day like this would come where I’d be getting paid to play hockey.

“I’m not an NHL player making millions of dollars a year, but it’s a good opportunity, a start,” Packer added. “Probably people my age won’t make enough out of it to make a living without having to have another job. I think the hope is the longer it’s around and the bigger name you build the more opportunities it’ll create and that’s what it’s all about.”

The league conducted a draft of only college players that will be seniors this year back in June so Packer had to tryout to make a team.

“There is still such a big gap in women’s hockey,” Packer said. “I think college hockey is getting better.

“Tryouts weren’t great, but they weren’t horrible,” Packer added. “I was impressed with the number of people confident enough to show up.”

Immediately after tryouts Packer met with league executives and was offered a contract.

“That was pretty cool, something totally unexpected,” Packer said. “I was going there thinking there was going to be a process afterwards and I’d have to wait it out.”

Packer, who also was a keeper on Marian’s lacrosse team, is home for the summer and is participating in the four-team women’s division of the Eastside Elite Hockey League, run by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Steve Oleksy.

It’s the fourth year Oleksy, a L’Anse Creuse North grad, has had a women’s division and it continues to grow.

“I skate anywhere I can basically,” said Packer, who’s participating in her first season in the EEHL. “I think it’s good for the high school kids out there, a challenge to play against college kids. For some of us college kids it probably would be better to get a few more of us out there.

I’m sure if you look at where this league was two or three years ago I’m sure it’s way different. It’s a process. Everything in women’s hockey is a process. As long as it’s around that’s what matters.”

Packer reports to training camp in September with games beginning in October.

In four seasons with the Badgers, Packer is tied for eighth for single season shots with 184 (2012-13) and is one of 19 players in school history to record 100 points. She also ranks third in school history in penalty minutes (217) and penalties (103).

In 146 games at Wisconsin, Packer had 46 goals, 58 assists and a plus-60. She also had 16 power play goals.

Packer competed for the girls U19 AAA Little Caesars hockey team in Detroit where she was a four-time Michigan State champion. She also won a silver medal in 2008 and bronze in 2007 at the USA Hockey National Tournament and tallied a career-high 98 goals and had 53 assists in 60 games in 2010.

Packer was also a member of the U.S. Women’s U-18 World Championships in 2008 and 2009, serving as alternate captain in 2009, along with being a two-time International Ice Hockey Federation World Women’s U18 Championship participant those same years.

With Babcock gone will more top free agents sign with Wings?

DETROIT >> Some say free agents didn’t see the Detroit Red Wings as a good destination because of their former coach, Mike Babcock.

Wings general manager Ken Holland disagrees.

“I don’t put any stock into that,” Holland said. “I just think a year ago … we targeted so few people. If you look at our team, we’d like to think we drafted well. A year ago we wanted a right-hand shot defenseman which there was two or three people.”

The first offseason after Babcock left Detroit for the Toronto Maple Leafs and became the highest paid NHL coach ($50 million over eight years) in the process, the Wings landed that right-handed shooting defenseman – Mike Green – and a two-time Stanley Cup champ – Brad Richards.

“I think everybody wants to play manager and come up with reasons why things don’t happen,” said Holland, who hired Jeff Blashill once Babcock decided to go elsewhere. “I just think there are 30 teams in the game, and the salary cap has made it almost a level playing field.

“We saw (on July 1) a bunch of different teams were getting players they wanted, it’s just the nature (of things),” Holland added. “Some summers you’re going to hit, some summers you’re not going to hit. The important thing is to draft and develop and continue to have a steady flow.”

Last season, the Wings struck out on blue liner Dan Boyle, their top priority, and Matt Niskanen, who both chose to sign with other teams within the Eastern Conference.

Boyle signed a two-year deal with the New York Rangers for $9 million instead of a better deal Detroit had on the table, three years at $12.5 million.

Boyle, who’ll turn 39 Sunday, was first being offered a two-year deal at around $11 million total.

Niskanen informed the Wings a couple hours into free agency that they were not on the list of teams he was considering to go to and finally chose the Washington Capitals, getting a seven-year deal worth $40.25 million.

Detroit was in the ballpark with its offer, seven years at $42 million, for the now 28-year old defenseman.

Then the second tier of right-handed defensemen began getting deals done with other teams – Tom Gilbert (two-year deal with Montreal worth $5.6 million), Stephane Robidas (three-year deal with Toronto worth $9 million) and Anton Stralman (five-year deal with Tampa Bay worth $22.5 million).

Christian Ehrhoff was the head-scratcher, signing a one-year deal worth $4 million with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Detroit was told by Ehrhoff’s agent that he was seeking a five-year deal at roughly $5 million a season.

The Wings were never given a second chance by Ehrhoff, who was bought out of the final seven years of a 10-year deal with Buffalo, to better the Penguins’ offer.

“When you’ve got 29 other teams in the mix and there’s two or three (players) the odds of every team hitting (aren’t good),” Holland said. “The summer before, we wanted a second-line center so we got Stephen Weiss and we got Daniel Alfredsson.

“Unfortunately Stephen Weiss didn’t turn out the way we hoped,” Holland continued. “Certainly Daniel Alfredsson with what he accomplished in his career had some options and chose to come to Detroit.”

Also under Babcock’s watch, they got Brian Rafalski (2007) and Marian Hossa (2008).

“At the trade deadline we tried to make some moves, with the second-round pick for (Erik) Cole and the third-round pick for (Marek) Zidlicky, we thought we had a chance to go on a playoff run, thought they were two great additions,” Holland said. “You wake up at the start of the playoffs and (Justin) Abdelkader’s got a broken finger and Cole is out with his back. Game 7, Zidlicky has a concussion and (Niklas) Kronwall is suspended.

“We’ve got to keep at it, we think we’re close, we think we’re in the thick of things, we think the moves we made are going to make us a little deeper, a little better and at the same time the experience we’ve gone through in the Boston series and the Tampa Bay series for the players on the team that are 25 or younger – (Gustav) Nyquist, (Tomas) Tatar, (Riley) Sheahan, (Luke) Glendening, (Danny) DeKeyser and now (Petr) Mrazek – that they’re going to be a little more prepared for the upcoming season. I think it’s such a fine, fine line. There are so many teams in the game, some years you’re going to get your guys and some years you’re not.”

Wings lockup Nyquist, a player they’re “building around”, for four years at $19 million

DETROIT >> Gustav Nyquist is one of the players the Detroit Red Wings are building around.

On Friday, the restricted free agent forward cashed in because of that.

Nyquist avoided going to salary arbitration after agreeing to a four-year deal worth $19 million.

“He’s really coming into the prime of his career,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “I don’t even know if he’s in his prime yet.

“The next four years will be important years in Gustav Nyquist’s career,” Holland added. “He’s homegrown, developed by us, he’s a good person, he wants to be a Red Wing, wants to be in Detroit.”

The four-year deal, which buys two years of Nyquist’s unrestricted free agency, has an average salary-cap hit at $4.75 million. He will earn $4 million this season, $4.25 million in 2016-17, $5.25 million in 2017-18 and $5.5 million in 2018-19.

In the final two years of the deal, Nyquist, who turns 26 on Sept. 1, has a full no-trade clause.

Nyquist, who was selected by the Wings with the last pick in the fourth round (121st overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, is now the third-highest paid forward on the team behind Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

Nyquist burst onto the scene during the 2013-14 season.

After beginning the year in Grand Rapids because he didn’t have to clear waivers in order to be assigned there, Nyquist was recalled and promptly scored two goals in his first game.

He finished with 28 goals, six of which came on the power play, and 20 assists. He also was a plus-16.

Last season, in 82 games, Nyquist had 27 goals, 27 assists and was a minus-11. Fourteen of his goals were on the power play.

“It’s a league with I think less than 20 players scored 30 goals,” Holland said. “Gus had 28 goals in 57 games two years ago. To get 28 goals once is a nice accomplishment. To do it in back to back years in this league is tremendous.”

Just 15 players reached the 30-goal mark a year ago.

“When I look at what Gus has produced the last two years, you add in his age, and you look around the league, how hard it is to score,” Holland said. “In college and the American League he’s produced offense. We went back and forth and found a solution that got us two years of his unrestricted free agency. It’s a contract that’s fair for the player and the club.”

But like many of the younger Wings, Nyquist has struggled in the postseason.

“As I reflect back through the years on some of our players, it took a while to translate that regular season success into the playoffs,” Holland said. “Last year we had seven-game series, the year before five games, it’s hard to evaluate players on five games and seven games, that’s why you play an 82-game schedule. It gives players and opportunity to show what they can do. You get evaluated on a short body of work (in the playoffs). You need more games to get comfortable to do what you do.”

Nyquist has three goals, four assists and a plus-1 in 30 playoff games.

Pavel Datsyuk also struggled early in his career in the postseason, registering just three goals in his first 42 playoff games.

“Two years ago when we had a lot of people injured he was a key in helping us get into the playoffs,” Holland said. “He’s been through some playoff runs. He’s continued to develop as a player.”

Detroit has 23 players signed, 14 of which are forwards, at just over $71 million.

Once the Wings sign restricted free agent forwards Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen they’ll just be over the $71.4 million salary cap.

Teams can be 10-percent over the salary cap until the day before the season begins, which will give the Wings enough time to decide if Pavel Datsyuk (ankle surgery) and Johan Franzen (concussion) will be able to start the season or head to injured reserve.

Detroit could also free up cap space via a trade or sending a player to Grand Rapids.

“We’ve got to get to camp, let it play itself out and pick a team,” Holland said. “With the additions we made on July 1, we’re a little deeper than last year. We’re hoping for a competitive training camp.”

On the first day of free agency, the Wings added defenseman Mike Green and forward Brad Richards.

Blashill sees some untapped offensive potential in Smith

DETROIT >> When new Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill was asked if Brendan Smith had some untapped offensive potential his answer was quite clear.

“I think Brendan has that ability to do that,” Blashill said. “You have to see where the whole puzzle fits at camp. He’s somebody I know that’s done that in the past because he’s done that for me in the American (Hockey) League.”

Because of his offensive potential, Smith was selected by the Wings in the first round (27th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

Smith had 26 goals and 61 assists in three seasons at the University of Wisconsin, where he quarterbacked the Badgers’ power play.

In his final season, he totaled 15 goals and 37 assists.

Smith also had nice offensive numbers in roughly two and a half seasons in Grand Rapids, with 27 goals and 59 assists in 152 games. Eleven of those goals came on the power play.

But under former coach Mike Babcock, Smith was never viewed as an offensive defenseman and also never got power play time.

Most of that likely had to do with Smith’s defensive inadequacies which included poor decisions on when to pinch and his tendency to turn the puck over.

During the first two games of the Wings’ Western Conference semifinal series with Chicago in 2013, you saw the best and the worst of Smith and it prompted this quote from Henrik Zetterberg a day after their 4-1 win.

“He creates a lot of stuff, sometimes for both teams,” Zetterberg said with a slight grin. “He’s young, he’s still learning. He learns every game. It’s nice to see he had a bounce back game.”

Late that regular season Smith, who was called on to play a huge role after Nicklas Lidstrom retired and Brad Stuart was traded, found himself a healthy scratch for two straight games after Babcock wanted him to look after the puck better. Prior to his benching he had gone five consecutive games by registering a minus-1 rating.

Last season, Smith had another memorable blunder in the next-to-last game of last regular season. He batted a puck that was in play while on the bench.

Smith, 26, was benched by Babcock for the final regular season game and the first two of the playoffs.

Despite the addition of Mike Green and Brad Richards, Blashill still sees a possibility of Smith getting power play time on the blue line.

“I think Brendan’s best offensive ability is kind of roaming around below the tops of the circles,” Blashill said. “If he’s a weak-side guy on the power play, going to the net a lot, he can retrieve pucks because he’s quick, he’s strong, he’s competitive. He’s got good offensive instincts once he gets below the tops of circles.”

Smith has 10 goals and 37 assists in 195 career regular-season games with the Wings and two goals and three assists in 24 playoff games.

“I know at Wisconsin he was on his off-side hitting one timers,” Blashill said. “That’s something we’ll explore going into camp. I think the positive thing for us you’d rather have more guys that can do it than not enough. I think we have more guys today than we had yesterday. That’s a real positive from the competition standpoint and from the production standpoint.”

Smith, who was a restricted free agent, recently signed a two-year deal with an average salary-cap hit of $2.75 million a season.

His last two-year deal had an average cap hit of $1,262,500.

Smith’s name was floated at last year’s trade deadline when the Wings had talked about obtaining Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf.

Larkin could make Wings’ roster if Blashill wants him

DETROIT >> Dylan Larkin will make the Detroit Red Wings’ roster out of training camp on one condition: if new coach Jeff Blashill wants him in the lineup.

“My take on Larkin would be he’s got to be in our top 12,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “Coach Blashill’s got to say to me, ‘I want him in the lineup.’ He’s not going to be our 13th, 14th forward. Realistically, just to put him on the fourth line and play eight minutes, I think he’s a real good young player with a lot of potential.

“He’s going to be real important to our franchise as we go forward,” Holland continued. “We want to make sure we do what’s right for him and us. If he comes and is a legitimate top-nine forward we’re going to find a way to get him in the lineup. If he’s less than that then we’ll sit down as an organization and decide.”
All the speculation began when the Waterford native decided to leave the University of Michigan after one season and sign a three-year entry level contract with the Wings.

After signing the deal he joined the Grand Rapids Griffins, playing on an amateur tryout contract, just in time for their Western Conference finals series with Utica.

In six games he had three goals and two assists under the watchful eye of Blashill.

“I thought he did a great job,” Blashill said of Larkin’s stint with the Griffins. “I think sometimes with a young player you look at them and get excited about what they could be and you see that potential. With him I thought he stepped right in our lineup and helped us win hockey games at the toughest moment with only three teams left in the American Hockey League. There were lots of guys that will play in the NHL on that ice so I thought he did a great job.

“It’s a tiny sample size,” Blashill continued. “He’s seemed to have passed all the tests in terms of small sample sizes, the World Championships, World Juniors, his freshman year at Michigan. He’s going to be a real good player, we’ll see when.”

Larkin, who slipped to Detroit at 15th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, is regarded as the Wings’ top prospect, even ahead of Anthony Mantha, who struggled his first year as a pro in Grand Rapids.

“I still have a lot of work to do and still have a lot of hockey to play so I’m just trying to focus on the development camp and get better for the training camp,” Larkin said. “I think I want to make the jump. I signed for a chance to play in the NHL and after my time in Grand Rapids, I’m more than comfortable spending time there. The coaches they brought in and the players we have we’re going to have a good team again.”

Larkin, who’s a two-way center, was the unanimous winner of the Big Ten’s freshman of the year award, leading the conference’s first-year players in goals (15), assists (32) and points (47) in 35 games with the Wolverines. He also was a plus-18.

He also led Michigan with 15 power play points (six goals) and with 151 shots on goal.

At the World Juniors, he led Team USA in goals (five), points (seven) and tied in plus-minus (plus-seven) in five games, which helped Larkin earn a spot on the U.S. World Championship roster, where he had an assist in 10 games.

“We’ll see in camp how ready he is to make an impact,” Blashill said. “Like Ken said, can you make an impact? If you can make an impact and make our team better that’s great. If we’re not convinced of that then let’s let him continue to grow as a player so when he does come here he can make an impact right away. I think everybody saw that happen with Gustav Nyquist. That’s a great example of a guy, people said he should have been up early, I don’t know, all I know is when he came up he made an immediate impact and continues to so I think that’s the right formula.”

Larkin, who is very competitive and plays a 200-foot game, back checks hard and is conscientious defensively, won’t be disappointed if the team decides to have him play a full season with the Griffins.

“I think Grand Rapids, if I’m there for the whole year or most of the year or however long, I’ll develop better with the younger group of guys and the new coach that I’ve heard great things about,” said Larkin, who doesn’t turn 19 until July 30. “I think I need to get stronger. I think every player can always get stronger in the weight room and physically stronger. You can always be better in the defensive zone. That’s something I’m working on, faceoffs and little details.”