Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Friday, discussing the emergence of Andreas Johnsson as an impact player the last 30 or so games, the organization’s approach to the upcoming trade deadline, Mitch Marner’s recent play, and more.
Andreas Johnsson was a seventh round pick. You coached in Detroit arguably the best seventh-round pick to ever make the NHL. Not comparing one to another, but what is the drive train with players like that that allows them to get to this level despite the odds?
Babcock: I mean, he’s a good player and he’s a good kid. He’s 24 years old, so he’s not just a kid. He has worked hard at his game and developed. I remember when he first came, he had the concussion right away and it set him back, but he’s been good. He got off to a slow start this year, but he just found a way to just keep working. I thought he generated the most offense for us last night of all our players. That was a positive thing. Obviously, he is going to decide what the ceiling is for him. But he’s an important player for us and he’s gotten better and better and he has a chance to help us.
What has he done really well the last stretch here?
Babcock: I just think it’s confidence. It probably was going good before it started to show. Usually, it comes from winning battles and winning pucks. To me, he keeps the puck alive, so he’s not one and done. He is on it and he stays on it. He is good about getting it back. He has good detail in his game, but his engine allows him… and that is the biggest part for young players when they come in the league — the engine of good players is so good. They can just keep coming shift after shifter after shift, and that’s what he seems to be able to do — sustain his play.
Jake Gardiner is not at practise. Is he hurt?
Babcock: I don’t know if it’s called hurt. He had a maintenance day today. We’ll see tomorrow.
How long is the coach’s wishlist at the trade deadline?
Babcock: What I’ve found… You talk to your GM every single day. You talk about your team. There comes a point where — no different than when you talk about the team and who should play with who — I have to make a decision and he has to make the decision. What you have to do is weigh cost versus the reward. You’ve got to evaluate the level of your team and where it’s at and what you think you can do to help the team. Just because you may want somebody, doesn’t mean you can afford him. That’s kind of like life.
How much does maintaining the chemistry you have right now factor in? How do you value that versus the cost of adding a guy?
Babcock: I’m not concerned about our chemistry at all, to tell you the truth. I think we’ve got a pretty good group. They seem to like each other. They seem to play hard most nights and enjoy being here and all of that. I am not that concerned. I’ve been through a lot of trade deadlines and what I find every year is that, if you can improve the team, the guys are all in. They want you to improve the team if you can. The part for the coaches and the players is that we’ve got to do our part to push the GM into helping you.
Do you feel like Mitch Marner has had his usual zip of late?
Babcock: I thought Mitch’s line was good. I thought two games ago, Mitch was really good in St. Louis. I thought he was really good in Vegas. Sometimes the puck… Last night, if Mitch, instead of passing to Hyman on the one, shoots it in the net, and on the second one right away, if he shoots it right in the net, we don’t think anything of it. He generated lots of offense last night. The puck never went in for him.
I think sometimes we are in a result business and we all understand that it’s about points for the team and for the individual, but I thought he made lots of good plays last night. I thought he tracked real hard and did a lot of good things defensively. To me, I thought the was good. Did he get as many points as he normally would get? Probably not.
Was playing him more this year something you discussed before the year?
Babcock: No, it’s just because he’s penalty killing. Some penalty killers left last year so we had to replace them. He has been good on it. His goals against per 60 on the penalty kill have been outstanding.
Where did you see the growth in Tomas Tatar’s game in the years that you had him in Detroit?
Babcock: Tats is a good player. He is just a good, honest kid. He needs to be pushed a little bit, but he is an honest player. He is good around the net. He wants to be really good. I assume that Tats last year, when it didn’t go as good as he would’ve liked when he went to Vegas, it was motivation in itself to respond. Tats, to me, has always been a real competitive guy, a real good guy, a real good teammate, and dangerous in the scoring areas. He’s got a good stick and shoots it real hard. Uses a long branch and greasy around the net.
Auston Matthews said that Andreas reminds him a lot of what Brendan Gallagher brings to Montreal.
Babcock: I’ve never coached him, so I can’t tell you that. I just think his stick-to-itiveness, his ability to get pucks back, win pucks, and make plays in traffic… he’s good along the wall and he is way heavier than he appears. What I mean by that is his ability to hang onto the puck in traffic and then win it back. He seems to be able to cut guys’ arms off and own lanes and be on the right side of things to do that. Good players want to play with guys who get the puck.