If nothing else, defenseman Jeremie Biakabutuka forced the Detroit Red Wings to think of him as an intriguing prospect and not just a novelty player with a familiar last name.
Biakabutuka, the nephew of former Michigan and NFL running back Tim Biakabutuka, is one of four amateur tryout players in Detroit’s training camp after the first roster trimming. The Red Wings cut nine players today to get down to 60. It doesn’t mean the Red Wings are going to sign him. It only means they want to look at him longer.
“He keeps earning looks,” Detroit coach Derek Lalonde said. “Every time we have a practice, a game, or a skate, we reevaluate our roster for the next day. A lot of it will come from the staff. Some of it will come from Steve (Yzerman) and his management group. They continually want to see him in situations. It’s a credit to him and something he’s earned throughout camp.”
Biakabutuka has played four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and has been passed over in the draft. But he is 6-foot-4 and he can skate.
“High compete,” Lalonde said. “He can skate north south. Driven kid, he wants to be coached. Looks you in the eye. Little habits like that, you appreciate as a coach. He’s made a good impression. Really good kid. We’ve liked having him around.”
The Red Wings currently have 20 defensemen officially on their training camp roster, although Jake Walman and Mark Pysyk are both out with long-term injuries. Robert Hagg was also injured in the Red and White game.
The Red Wings have signed prospects Donovan Sebrango, Jared McIsaac, Wyatt Newpower, Albert Johansson and Eemil Viro already projected to play in Grand Rapids this season. Veterans Brian Lashoff and Steven Kampfer are also headed for Grand Rapids. Simon Edvinsson could end up in either Detroit or Grand Rapids.
Depending upon injuries and Edvinsson, the Red Wings may have room for another defenseman in Grand Rapids.
Quebec native Biakabutuka did play football when he was very young, but quickly decided he preferred hockey.
“We are a football family first. Hockey’s like a second sport in our family,” the young Biakabutuka said. “But my father didn’t really like the contact aspect. You can get injured really bad with a concussion. So I played hockey, and I was pretty good at it. So I thought why not just keep going in that sport.”
The Red Wings boast a collection skilled young defensemen already on their prospect list, but must see potential in Biakabutuka or he wouldn’t have survived the first cut.
“I’m a big defenseman with good mobility and speed,” he said. “So obviously they want to see me play good defensively, see me finishing my check, be physical. Using my speed to join the rush. I have a good shot, too, so take shots on the net. I consider myself a two-way defenseman, so doing all that and not creating a turnover every shift. Just be hard to play against and join the rush when I have a chance to.”