After Tuesday’s practice, Mike Babcock discussed the road trip ahead, the first meeting between Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews, Nikita Zaitsev’s progress, and provided status updates on Josh Leivo and Seth Griffith.
As challenging as six of nine games on the road in the month of October [is], is it a good bonding situation for a young club here and a different team from what you had last year?
Mike Babcock: I hadn’t thought about it much, to be honest with you. I just know where we play the next couple of days. The biggest thing for me is we’re just trying to get better every day. I think our group is working real hard at that, getting an understanding of how we play. When we play right, and you get good goaltending, you’ve got a good chance most every night. That’s been our focus. We’re trying to get our powerplay going a little bit better over the last couple of days, and just overall team play, but we’re excited to go. Like you said, we’ve got a lot of kids on our team and these are new places for them, so that will be fun for them as well. We look forward to playing these good teams.
Splitting the goalies Wednesday – Thursday?
Babcock: Yeah. Jhonas [Enroth] will get the Minnesota game, and we’ll go from there.
What do you see from Laine, Mike?
Babcock: He’s a star, or has the potential to be a star, if he wants to work at it and become a real good pro. Size, reach, a cockiness about him – not cockiness, that’s the wrong word; a confidence about him, no different than Auston. They know they’re good players. He can really shoot it. He can really pass it. He plays with pace. Real good looking player. Because they’re in a spot where they had centers already, he’s a real good fit in Winnipeg that way.
Auston was saying that he’ll do his best to look at this as another game in an 82-game schedule, but in your experience as a coach, do these high picks do that thing where they take a look back and compare themselves to each other? We like to make the big deal about the rivalry, or whatever…
Babcock: They’re cognizant of what’s going on around them, for sure. But he’s right. It’s one. It’s the next game you’re playing. [Auston’s] game one was good. His game two was okay. So, it’s important to have a good game in game three because you always want to be on a high note, and you want to ride the high note. He’s playing against Winnipeg, and Laine is playing against Toronto. You’re not playing against each other. One is a winger and one is a center. In saying that, you still want to be better than the other guy. On our team alone, Mitch wants to be better than Willy and Matty. They all think they are the best guy. The more good players you have around, the more competition there is to be the best guy.
How do you feel Nikita Zaitsev has made the transition into the NHL?
Babcock: Good. Comfort is an important thing for him. I think he’s starting to understand. Those guys missed training camp. You only play him part of the game, so their understanding of your structure and how you want to play is going to come over time. Any time you’re a player like him, it’s a different language as well. There is an overload of information. Probably, on game day, you’re thinking too much instead of playing. The more that becomes automatic and he doesn’t think and he just lives off his instincts – which are really good; his hockey sense is really good – the better he’ll be. He’s ultra competitive. I think he’s got a lot of upside we haven’t seen yet. The more comfortable he gets, the better he’s going to be.
Any update on Josh Leivo?
Babcock: They worked him again today. They thought he made good strides yesterday. The first thing he’s got to do is be pain-free. He’s not coming with us on the trip. He’s going to stay here and work with Mike Ellis, and continue to get ready.
Can Seth Griffith eventually help you on the powerplay, do you think?
Babcock: That’s a good question. We’re going to try to give him an opportunity when the opportunity warrants itself. We’re in no rush. He’s another guy who’s got to get up to speed. Boston does a lot of the same things we do. I think that won’t be an issue for him, but the guys thought he was a player who might be able to help us, so eventually we’re going to have to find a way to get him in.