I was at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, ON tonight to catch a very big game with a lot of playoff implications between the Soo Greyhounds and Windsor Spitfires.
The Greyhounds won 2-1 in overtime on a goal by Brett Findlay, with Detroit prospect Ryan Sproul drawing one of the assists.
I had the chance to chat with the Red Wings general manager Ken Holland prior to and after the game and got his opinion of Ryan Sproul’s season so far, the Red Wings system of over-ripening prospects and what it takes to make it in the NHL. I also spoke to Ryan about how he thinks his season is going. I hope you enjoy the second installment of Talking With!
Here is Ken Holland on Sproul:
“I haven’t seen him since he came back from his injury, but he had a great rookie prospect camp with us. We like his size, we like his reach. I saw him a couple times before he got injured so I’m looking forward to seeing him tonight to see where his game’s at. The reports I get is that he has improved, and I think that’s the most important thing with a young player is that they improve as the season goes on.”
Sproul broke his jaw on Dec. 28 but missed just three weeks of play. He’s been playing with a cage on since his return on Jan. 19 against Sarnia.
“I’m here tonight to watch, I don’t see these guys a lot, mostly I go on reports. Young players to me are a work in progress. If they’re really good offensively and really good defensively, they go right to the NHL. Most young players have to work on some part of the game whether it’s strength or defensive play or their compete. We like his instincts, we like his reach. He’s got to work on the defensive side of the puck but again that’s something all young players have to do, they have to work on something.”
“I saw him in the prospect tournament, I liked his instincts to jump up and join the rush. Maybe sometimes he takes some risks. We’ve got a young kid in Brendan Smith who was the leading scoring defenceman in college hockey in Wisconsin two years ago, and he’s going through the process right now of finding that balance of offense and defence. I think sometimes you need to go pro, but you look at the tools. I’m looking more at the tools. We’ve got someone (in Sproul) who is 6’3″, he’s got some hands, he’s got some hockey sense and he’s got some instincts. Now, through the experience of playing junior hockey and eventually playing pro hockey you’ve got to fine tune those areas of the game. If he was the full package he would have went number one overall. Obviously he went in the second round because there were some areas of his game that needed improvement, but we’re happy he’s improved. Obviously, he’s offensive minded, he’s put some stats on the board. They (Soo Greyhounds) obviously had a great first 25-30 games to the year, and all of a sudden they’ve played their way into fighting for a playoff spot. I’m looking forward to seeing him tonight.”
“I’m a big fan of culture. That’s where the Detroit Red Wings come in. That’s where learning to hit the gym, who you sit beside in Detroit, who you sit beside in Grand Rapids, the patience that’s needed for all young players, it’s a process. There’s the odd player that has the gift that can go from junior hockey to the NHL, but those are few and far between. He’s gonna learn a lot when he turns pro. A lot of young players in junior hockey and college hockey, they get by on their skill because they’re just better than everybody else. When you get to pro, you’re not better than everybody else. The difference in the talent pool is very, very close. It’s now about hitting the gym, it’s about getting stronger, it’s about the culture, it’s about the environment. I think down here he’s developing as a young hockey player. He’s trying some things. Sometimes they try things in junior that they can’t try in the pros because they are going to get benched or sat out. We like his potential. The potential sometimes takes five years to develop, it takes eight years to develop, sometimes it takes one year to develop. Everybody moves at a different pace. We’ll watch and see, our scouts like his potential.”
“When we sign these players, they go to Grand Rapids. It’s important that we have some good veterans down there. Obviously when they get to Detroit, they’re sitting beside Nick Lidstrom or Steve Yzerman when he was here. Igor Larionov, obviously the impact he had on Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. I’m not sure who the veterans are gonna be when Ryan gets to the NHL, but that’s what building an organization is all about.”
“I think overripe just means patience. We’re fortunate that we’ve had good teams and we as a management team and a coaching staff haven’t been under pressure to try get somebody up before they’re ready. We’ve been able to have a luxury of being patient and letting them come at their own pace. That’s all overripe means. I played nine years in the American Hockey League as a minor league goaltender, Jimmy Howard spent four years in the American Hockey League, and Jiri Hudler spent three years in the American Hockey League, and Val Filppula spent an extra year in Finland and had one year in the American League. Some guys can step right in. Darren Helm basically spent a year and a half and he’s in the NHL. It’s about allowing a player to come at his own pace. When your big team isn’t under pressure, if we weren’t very competitive, you’re anxious, you need hope. Sometimes you bring up some players when they’re not quite ready. Because we’ve had a good team, we’ve had the luxury of being able to be patient.”
I caught up with Ken again post-game, and he was pleased with Sproul’s outing. He said Sproul played a very solid game.
Here’s Ryan Sproul on his performance against Windsor, his season thus far and his jaw injury:
“I don’t really know when they (the Red Wings scouting team) are coming, so I try to play my hardest every game, and if they’re here, they’re here and I’ll see them after the game.”
“It’s the second time I’ve seen Ken this year. I saw him in Sarnia about four months ago.”
“Defensively, I’m trying to work on my game and tonight I played well defensively, and I have been I think. Being out there for the overtime goal was huge.”
“I need to be harder on the puck, that’s stuff I work on. Being aware of guys in front of the net, not getting sucked into battles in the corner, so hopefully they’re happy.”
“It (the jaw) is not a hundred per cent yet, I’ve still got some wires. Hopefully in a couple of weeks it will be a hundred per cent.”