Mike Babcock addressed the media after the first practice back after the bye week, touching on the addition of Curtis McElhinney, Auston Matthews’ All Star nod, the play of Connor Brown and Zach Hyman, and more.
Are you refreshed, Mike, after the break?
Mike Babcock: Sure. It’s always fun to go and all that. I’d rather have four [fewer] back-to-backs but, I mean, that’s the way life is. But when you’re out on it, you may as well enjoy yourself and I think our team did that. Now, obviously, we have to get focused and get ready to play. These points are huge for our team.
As a coach, is it hard to tune it out? The job kind of never stops for you guys.
Babcock: I was able to tune it out. I went through all the bad plays on the flight on the way down, and then I went through all the good plays on the flight on the way home, so I didn’t have to think about it the whole time. It was perfect.
You have a new backup goalie (Curtis McElhinney). Is there urgency on your part to see him in the next little while?
Babcock: No question he’s going to play one of these two games. I haven’t decided the order yet. We’ll talk about that. Obviously, we have more back-to-backs than any team in hockey. To me, that’s an important game with important points. We need to get some points from those back-to-backs. He’s a veteran guy. He’s been a good guy around the league. A good person. We feel he’s a battler and that he can help our hockey club, so that’s why we claimed him.
Auston gets the nod for the All Star game. In years past, when you’ve had guys go to the All Star Game, what’s been their response? What do you think he can get out of this, I guess, just from being around those guys?
Babcock: It’s affirmation for the things you already know as a player. Auston knows he’s a good player and we expect it to be one of many All Star Games he gets to go to. In saying all that, anytime you’re around the best players, I think that’s a positive thing. The confidence you gain from that and being around the best guys is important as well. He’s on the fast track. He’s a good young player and it’s going to be apparent to the whole league shortly.
Is there anything about his game that has surprised you so far?
Babcock: I knew Auston pretty good because of being in that area where he was playing with the U18 development program. I had a pretty good handle on him. You never know mature he is or how driven he is until you have him every day. His ability without the puck has gone through the roof very quickly. He’s a real good player. He’s still got lots to learn. He’s going to be a dominant faceoff player in the NHL. He’s not that yet. He’ll have more and more confidence and do things quicker as time goes on, but even at this point, I think he’s centering a real good line in the National Hockey League right now.
Last time you guys were here I asked you about those two guys he’s playing with and you talked about Zach Hyman and the forecheck and the ability to hunt pucks down. But he’s good on the PK, too. Does he just carry what he does on the forecheck to the penalty kill, too?
Babcock: He’s real smart. He’s going to play on the powerplay eventually here, too. There’s a sequence of events for everything. Right now he’s getting lots of ice time penalty killing and playing a regular shift. He’s got real good hockey sense. He can pass the puck pretty good. Strong net presence. Good down low on the penalty kill. Elite speed and smarts. Conscientious. Blocks shots. Heavy stick. He’s a good player.
It’s a different level, but Connor Brown played with Connor McDavid in the OHL. He’s playing with Auston here is there something to be said for just experience playing with an elite guy like that?
Babcock: Brownie has outstanding hockey sense and, obviously, Auston does some things. Brownie can shoot the puck pretty good, too. Auston shoots it real well but he needs someone to get it to him. When Hyman’s getting it back for those guys all the time, the better shots they have, the better it is for us. No question, Brownie was a dominant, dominant player in the Ontario Hockey League and had a real good year in the American Hockey League. Now he’s taking it into the NHL. The people that have been around him aren’t surprised by what he’s doing.
First practice back after a long layoff. What are you looking to accomplish as a coach? Is it shaking off the rush?
Babcock: Turning the lightbulbs on and getting guys ready to go again, obviously, and getting focused. We didn’t feel we finished strong defensively, from the Winter Classic through, as we could’ve. The other thing is you’re trying to get guys moving. The ice was crazy slow today, so that’s probably a good thing, too, to have to fight through that. The puck was bouncing all over. We’ll be better at the skate tomorrow and be ready to go.
Does it make any difference that the Rangers are coming off a break, too?
Babcock: I think it has to be that way. I just don’t think you can come back and play teams that haven’t [been]. I don’t care who you are if you’ve had four days off.