Toledo Walleye head coach Dan Watson goes into his second year leading the team this season when it begins Oct. 13. BLADE PHOTO
Toledo Walleye coach Dan Watson liked what he saw when he got his first, up-close look at his potential goaltenders for the upcoming season.
Watson coached young European netminder Matej Machovsky and ECHL veteran Pat Nagle at the Detroit Red Wings' training camp last weekend. The goalies were among a handful of players, who attended the NHL team's training camp activities, that will likely suit up for Toledo this season.
“We expect big things out of them,” Watson said.
Machovsky, a native of the Czech Republic, was signed as a free agent by the Red Wings this summer. The 24-year-old played the past four seasons in his native country.
Nagle, a native of Bloomfield, Mich., was signed by Toledo's American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids. Nagle played for Toledo's top rival, Fort Wayne, last season. Nagle, who will turn 30 on Thursday, has played six seasons in the ECHL.
Both appear destined to be the Walleye's two goalies, although potential transactions with Toledo's AHL and NHL affiliates could change that before the Walleye open training camp Oct. 1.
“They are both penciled in,” Watson said.
Machovsky and Nagle attended the Red Wings' preseason camps along with Walleye defenseman Simon Denis and forwards Connor Crisp and Austen Brassard. Watson and assistant coach Andy Delmore also served as instructors at the preseason activities in Traverse City, Mich.
“This kick-starts the season,” Watson said. “Our guys get to see how [an NHL camp] operates. There are no details missed. We get to see the amount of work and preparation that goes into it. With our Red Wings affiliation, we have unlimited access to an Original Six team and its rich history. I'm really happy with how our guys represented themselves.”
Machovsky, who is 6-foot-2 and 187 pounds, had a 2.25 goals-against average and .925 save percentage last season for Plzen HC, a European Elite hockey team based in Plzen, Czech Republic. Machovsky has played in North America before, competing in the Ontario Hockey League in 2010-11 and making the all-rookie team.
“He is going to be really good,” Watson said. “He's mature. He competes. He is a big kid with a lot of athleticism. He's aggressive to pucks. He can play the puck. He has played three years of pro in Europe. So he's not a rookie. He won't allow soft goals.”
Machovsky first will compete for a spot in Grand Rapids with Jared Coreau and Tom McCollum. Coreau must clear waivers at the end of camp.
Machovsky made 32 saves in the Red Wings' 4-1 win against the New York Rangers in a prospect tournament last week.
“Machovsky was real solid in net,” Grand Rapids coach Todd Nelson said after the game. “He was real calm.”
Martin Straka, who has been Machovsky's coach for the past four seasons in the Czech Republic, said the young netminder moves very well.
“He is an excellent butterfly [goalie] and plays well with his stick,” Straka said.
Straka is a former center who played 14 seasons in the NHL, primarily with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He said Machovsky's past experience in the OHL should help him adjust to the North American game.
“He reads the game well and his skates are fast and excellent,” Straka said.
Watson said as things filter down, the Walleye will have “one of those two for sure.”
Nagle posted a 15-3-2 record during the regular season for Fort Wayne. He recorded a 2.23 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.
“We got a nice look at him on the ice versus behind the [opposing] bench,” Watson said. “He's an absolute pro. He was already in a mentorship role. At a young 30, he's still trying to impress and he still wants to learn.”
Nagle, who is 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, has six years of pro experience and has played with Florida, and Idaho of the ECHL.
“He has a good glove hand and a good, quick blocker,” Watson said.
If Nagle or Machovsky earn a spot in the AHL, Watson said he has a contingency plan.
“I have something in place. It could be a young guy or a proven guy,” Watson said.
The Walleye coach said newly acquired forwards Crisp and Brassard also stood out.
“They're leaders already even though they haven't worn a Walleye jersey yet,” Watson said. “They showed well at camp. We got to see what they bring.”
Crisp, who is 6-2 and 220 pounds, played last season for Brampton. Crisp, 23, was selected in the third round of the 2013 NHL draft by Montreal. The native of Alliston, Ont., has played in 106 career games and has produced 18 goals, 22 assists, and 193 penalty minutes.
Watson said Crisp is a pure power forward with good size and speed.
Brassard, a 6-foot-2 and 207-pound forward, was acquired from Utah this offseason. Brassard has played in 199 AHL contests. Brassard, a 24-year-old native of Windsor, Ont., was selected by the Winnipeg Jets in the fifth round of the 2011 NHL draft.
“Those guys earned tryouts. They were chosen by the Red Wings,” Watson said.
The Walleye have signed nine forwards and six defensemen so far. Watson said he expects to possibly sign one more impact forward before training camp starts.
“Right now, we are pretty well set,” he said. “We'll see whatever happens in Grand Rapids and what we get from them.”
Watson also had the opportunity to reunite with several players that suited up for the Walleye in past seasons, including Mike Borkowski, Zach Nastasiuk, Dylan Sadowy, and Vili Saarijarvi at the camps. He said the tournaments and clinics got the juices flowing.
The Walleye open the season Oct. 13 at Quad City, and the home opener is Oct. 21, also against Quad City.
“That gave us a head start to our season,” Watson said. “It's right there now.”