Mike Babcock met with the media ahead of the game against the New York Rangers on Thursday, discussing Frederik Andersen’s recent play, player development, Michael Grabner’s impact in New York, the play of the team’s top defence pair, and more.


What has [Frederik Andersen] shown you this season in his ability to bounce back and not allow things to get sliding the wrong way?

Mike Babcock: I thought he did a good job last game. Things weren’t very good for him early but he was able to shut the door down and get the win. We need him to be good. We make mistakes, so we need him to be good. We need him to be the top goalie in the league like he’s capable of being. He’s got the skill set for that and the mental makeup to do it. That’s what we need and that’s what we expect.

Do you consider giving Curtis McElhinney more than just the back-to-back?

Babcock: No.

How do you evaluate individual player development? You see a guy like Naz, who has taken this many years to get to a place where you want him to be. You watch maybe what Auston and Mitch are doing. Everybody seems to develop at different speeds.

Babcock: I’ve just got two years with Naz and his development has been fantastic. I don’t have to worry abut the times prior to that. Auston is just one of those guys who is that competitive and that good. So I don’t think that’s a problem, either. I think William Nylander has come a million miles as well. I think Marner has. I mean, Hyman and Brown speak for themselves; they drive the bus, they’re that competitive. Zaitsev is one of those guys. So we’ve got a lot of guys who we think are really improving, and yet – just because they’re at this level now – we don’t expect them to stop. We need them to be better. The league is getting better every day. We’re playing a real good team here today. They have to be good if we want to get in the playoffs.

What’s been the key to the ability to stock the right side as much as you have this season, and maybe look back to the draft and the organization’s development capabilities?

Babcock: I bug Hunts all the time. He was a right winger. He loves good right wingers. I like center and D, though. We got to get that changed over time. I have no idea why he finds a good right winger all the time. No idea.

Speaking of which, when is Mitch Marner going to play again?

Babcock: Yeah, that’s a great question. Mitch and I had that little discussion today. We wondered how the science was going and we went back into that room and asked a few questions, but we didn’t get any good answers. I don’t know. I’ve said it before – that’s why coaches and players aren’t allowed to make those decisions. That’s why it’s really good you have the medical science people we do and they just say, “no.”

Shocked by what Grabner has done this year?

Babcock: No, not really. Grabby played junior in Spokane. I’ve known Grabby forever. He came in, was real good for us. We wanted him back big time, the coaches did. So did Lou. But we wanted to play our kids, so we chose not to do it. He had 100 breakaways last year, went 0 for 100. Last time he played us, he went 2 for 4. I don’t know what happened the other time, but I think we should keep his breakaway count under four tonight.

What do you hope to see from Marchenko?

Babcock: He’s a real good defender, I think, who is real smart with a good stick. He’s not fleet of foot, so play your game. Good, good passer. Courageous guy. I think Marchy is a real hockey player. Now, we’re going to find out. You’re going to watch and I’m going to watch. It’s up to him to grab it. It’s no different than Leivo – you sit there, you sit there, and you can say anything you want about the coach under your breath and you can do anything you want to get as competitive as you want, but when you get your opportunity in life, if you prepare for your opportunity you often made good on your opportunity. I think Marchenko has a opportunity here to do something with it.

Where do you see Rielly in his development right now as he adjusts to that matchup role?

Babcock: I think Riels is good. Ries and Zaits. If you just look at stats, Gardiner is plus-20. Z and Riels are minus players. They’re playing against the best guys every single night. Gards gets lots of nice starts on the offensive blue line. They’re different types of players. One’s an apple, one’s an orange. I think those guys are doing a real good job. Do I think they should be better? Absolutely.

Obviously, you have to take care of your own business or else nothing else matters, but when you look at a night like last night – there were three games and the results all went your way – do you spend a lot of time following the out-of-town scoreboard this time of year?

Babcock: I watched the Florida-Edmonton game on and off just because it was entertaining. They were playing fast. Obviously, I checked the score this morning in the other games, like I do every day. Obviously, the more help you can get, great. But to me, it’s about us. It has nothing to do with the opposition. It has to do with us and our growth and development. Here is the opportunity we have. At game 60, we wanted to have a chance. We have a chance. So, it’s up to us. Nobody else.