Mike Babcock addressed the media at camp on Thursday, discussing Auston Matthews joining the top power-play unit, Rasmus Sandin’s preseason debut, Timothy Liljegren’s progress, what Calle Rosen needs to do to make the team, and more.
What do you think about the structure of your club through two preseason games? You’ve only given up a goal in each.
Babcock: Well, the first night we should’ve given up more. We gave up quality chances. I thought we were better the second night. In saying that, we’ve got a long way to go. What I am pleased with, though, is the work ethic. We played last night and practiced today. At the end of practice, Matthews and Marleau and guys like that are just blowing down the wall, which to me, shows their fitness and also their determination. We are getting a lot of good work from a lot of people. It is good to see.
Zach Hyman — does he have to make an adjustment going from Matthews and Nylander’s line to John and Mitch?
Babcock: I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him in about three weeks or whatever and get a handle on what they’re doing. I think all players are different. I just know the key to a lot of it: When you want to be successful on the cycle, which is how the game ends up being, you need someone to get the puck. That is what he does. If you get close to him, he gives it to you and gets to the net. He is a guy who works hard every single day. He gets better all the time. It’s just a matter of those guys figuring out how to play together. They’ll do that. They’re more involved in that than I am.
Auston says he is excited for the potential of the first power play unit if he gets a look with Mitch there. What sort of potential do you see with him, Mitch and that group?
Babcock: That is how we are going to start and go from there. It has got to have success. When we were recruiting [John Tavares], I asked him what spot he wanted to play on the power play and he said, “Net front.” That surprised me, to be honest with you. I didn’t know that was what he was going to say because we were going to move Matty there. When that happened, we just thought we’d put Matty in his spot. Now, that’s all great. But it’s still the summer kind of. You’ve got to have results. Right now, we don’t have any of the groups together. We are doing the best we can. Even when you’re playing with kids, you’re still playing in your spot, if that makes any sense. We’ll get them together for game five, I think, so we can practice and get organized.
When you have so much skill, how do you decide on which guys get which spots?
Babcock: I think it’s great to say that this is your plan, but until it gets going… The other thing is, they’ll tell you by their body language and how they’re playing what works and what doesn’t.
What have you seen in terms of progress from Timothy Liljegren this year over last?
Babcock: Well, I thought Lily really came on. He was ramped up in the league to start with as an 18-year-old. I thought he really came on. I thought he had a good playoff run. In the rookie tournament, I didn’t think he was great. Now, that was his best game last night, which is good to see. He’s a real good player. He’s an intelligent player. Any time you put a guy as young as he was — especially a defenseman — in the American league, it is going to be hard for you. But we like his progress. We’re playing him here tomorrow or the next day. He’s getting back in there. Just keep earning the confidence and keep getting quicker.
Any impressions of Rasmus Sandin?
Babcock: The Sandman there? The CEO of Sandman Hotels. He should get some sort of deal there, I think. I thought he was really good last night. He’s got real good instincts and makes real good plays. He leverages his body — which isn’t big at this time — but he leverages his body well.
How can Rosen translate his AHL success into a full-time NHL job?
Babcock: Well, I mean, the biggest thing is he can really skate and pass the puck. It’s that ability to contain on the cycle. The thing that Zaitsev is so good at — better than anybody on our team — is that ability. Stick on puck, body in the hands, separate. It’s like initiating the breakout and it stops things. If you don’t, that thing goes forever. So, for a man Rosen’s size, he has to figure out how to leverage his body.
Any update on Gauthier?
Babcock: He’s got a shoulder, but I don’t know. Not very long, I don’t think.
Is the issue with Travis Dermott related to the injury he had last year?
Babcock: No, nothing.
Is it nice that the organization today doesn’t have to rush first round picks?
Babcock: When you’re a good organization, that is what it should be like. I think you’ve got to be smart about what you do, too, with not getting them here too soon so that their window is longer. You’re not picking as high as you used to be, so it’s probably, if the draft goes right, going to be longer development time for those guys. They’re not taking anyone’s job anyway. It’s just flat out impossible at this point.