Mike Babcock on keeping Zach Hyman with Auston Matthews, Connor Brown’s playing time, and Carl Grundstrom’s standout showing in camp

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Mike Babcock met with the media after practice on Thursday, discussing:

  • Marleau’s fit on the power play
  • Zach Hyman’s place on Matthews’ line
  • Connor Brown’s playing time
  • The new faceoff violation and slashing rules
  • Timothy Liljegren’s camp thus far
  • Carl Grundstrom’s standout performances in camp

Given how well the power play did last year, how do you figure out where Marleau fits?

Babcock: I’m going to give him the spot where Brown had. I know he’s going to be on it. He can play in any of the spots. As much as we were structured more where each guy had a spot last year, once you get good, anyone can just go anywhere except the net front guy. That’s not as big of an issue. Obviously, he’s a guy who we’ve got to find a spot and a fit for and make him important because he is important.

Does he add a different dimension than what you have?

Babcock: He’s just another guy who gets 20. You like lots of guys to get 20. The way we’re playing right now, we’ll get none, though. But if the switch goes on and we get to work here…

Would you ever consider replacing Zach Hyman with Marleau on that line at 5 on 5?

Babcock: I’m not dumb. That’s what I read, that you guys want [that]. This is what I’m going to do: I’m going to coach the time, and you guys are going to write the articles. Hyman is a guy who gets the puck back all the time. When you’re a good player — I’ve learned from good players — they like to have the puck. When you have three guys who want the puck… Datsyuk used to tell me all the time, “No, put him on somebody else’s line. I want somebody to get me the puck.” He gets the puck back better than anyone. So, whatever. That’s it for that.

With Connor Brown’s flexibility, will he be an asset for you up and down the lineup?

Babcock: He doesn’t figure that he’s the 10th forward. I don’t think he is, either. But we’ll get all of that figured out. Brownie is a good player and he’s going to play. Whether it’s on the power play or the penalty kill or a regular shift — he’ll find a way to play. This is all going to work itself out. All the speculating right now… I know you’ve got to have stuff to write, but there is nothing to write. This is what you should be writing: “They haven’t worked hard enough.”

The new emphasis on calling slashing — did you think that was necessary?

Babcock: Outstanding. Very important. It’s interesting to me that we’re doing that but we’re all kind of caught up in the faceoff thing. The slashing thing had to happen. Now we’ve also got to figure out the faceoff thing. The other night, it drove me crazy. Our players weren’t competitive enough. It was kind of like we just went, “Oh, this rule’s [no good.]” It’s the rule, so let’s figure out how to be competitive within the rule. Let’s stop going to the box. Let’s get all that figured out. Plus, I’m not interested in having all these delays and our fans boo and all of that stuff. Let’s just get it figured out between the linesmen and us. The good thing is the linesmen are coming to visit with us before the game for the next six games. We’ll be dialed in. But the slashing is important. You can’t be whacking guys in the hand. Put your stick down on the puck.

Why is it important to you?

Babcock: Because we’ve got good players. I don’t want them getting whacked.

What have you seen from Mitch Marner so far in camp in terms of improvement?

Babcock: Mitch was real good in the first period the other night and then got fooling around. What have I liked about him? He’s bigger, faster, stronger, more confident. Mitch is a real good player. To this point, though, we haven’t seen that at game time. But we will.

How about Timothy Liljegren half-way through camp? 

Babcock: Yeah, he’s a good kid. He’s got elite, elite skill. He’s going to have to learn how to play. He’s going to have to get bigger and stronger. He’s like a lot of D that you draft. It’s way harder to be a D in the NHL than it is a forward. It’s going to take him a little time this year. Development is going to be real important for him.

You’ve got a reputation among the players of being a really honest, straight-forward guy and that if a guy really makes this team, he really makes this team. You can look to a guy like Byron Froese. The guys that we maybe see like Maries — Justin Holl, Chris Mueller — are you paying close attention to them for call-up purposes and all of that?

Babcock: For sure. But if you’re good enough, you get to make the team. How’s that? That’s what we are focused on first. When Byron Froese made our club, there was no one else, so he made the club. That was great for him. If there is somebody here… like, Grundstrom looks like a real hockey player to me. Every day I go out there, every day he has the puck and every day he skates faster than everyone else. Every day he is more physical and every day he shoots the puck in the net. Pretty soon, even a smart guy like me catches on and says, “Hey, this guy might be alright.” That’s all I do. I go out there and just watch. If you do good things, we catch on over time.

A bunch of young defencemen are fighting for spots. Do you see some frontrunners emerging after these two games?

Babcock: Not that I would ever tell you about, but it’s a good question.