How Jake Walman's summer training prepared him to build on breakout season
Walman's trainer discusses how the Red Wings defenseman has attacked the offseason.
Matt Nichol started to notice Jake Walman’s NHL potential in the summer of 2014.
Walman had been recently drafted by the St. Louis Blues, 82nd overall in the third round, and he was prepping for his freshman season at Providence College when he started offseason training with Nichol in Toronto.
“I remember specifically, Hal Gil was a client of mine for a while and that summer he had retired and was working with me as a coach that summer,” Nichol said. “He pulled me aside and said, ‘Watch this kid. Watch how he walks the line out there, watch his poise, watch how he skates, watch his ability. This guy is going to be a really good NHL player.’”
Like most prophecies, it took some time.
Walman had as successful three-year NCAA career at Providence before turning pro and embarking on a rollercoaster of an experience with the Blues organization. He played for three different AHL teams, failed to make an impression on the Blues top brass, and was eventually traded to Detroit in 2022, in what felt like a throw-in as part of the deal for Nick Leddy.
By the end of the 2022-23 season, the deal in public conversation, with 20/20 hindsight, has been reclassified as “the Jake Walman trade” and not “the Nick Leddy trade.”
Walman seized a top-pairing opportunity with Moritz Seider, he set a new career high for games played (63), goals (9), assists (9), and plus/minus (+10). Normally plus/minus isn’t a great stat, but when a players is plus-10, and only four other players on the roster are net positives, it says something.
When it came to possession, Walman was the only Red Wing to finish the season with a CorsiFor above 50 percent at even strength (50.19), and Detroit had an expected goal shared of 52.31 percent when he was on ice.
In layman terms…. while Detroit was a below-average team and missed the playoffs, they were consistently the better team when Walman was on the ice.
Detroit rewarded Walman with a three-years, $3.4 million per season contract, betting on the defender a a big part of the core, and ideally, a foundation that will help dispel some of the outside discourse about the current state of the Yzerplan as a winning or losing venture.
If you’ve ever spent time with Walman, you’ll notice a healthy balance of confidence and cockiness in his demeanor. I often remember something Rich Peverley once told me, “no one makes the NHL without an ego,” and Walman is a good example of how that ego, when balanced, is a vital tool to success.
When Walman has struggled in his career, or dealt with injury, he’s used it to put an extra chip on his shoulder, add to his internal drive. When things are going well, like they did last season, he builds on his confidence, and feels more comfortable in his space.
And we’ve seen that in the small sample size that is Red Wings training camp, which started this past week in Traverse City, Michigan.
Walman has impressed Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde, impressed his likely defensive partner in Seider, and most importantly has impressed himself and is using his camp opening to build into the NHL preseason, which starts tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For Nichol, who first bought into the Walman hype in 2014, it’s all a reflection of nearly a decade of hard work he’s seen from Walman in the summers back in Toronto.
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