Steve Yzerman pleased with improvement of young Detroit Red Wings. Joe Veleno might be next

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Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read
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As he has watched his team go through a disappointing season, Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman has been pleased with the progress of multiple young players — and another prospect might have time to make an impression, too.

FIlip Hronek, Filip Zadina and Michael Rasmussen are among the reasons to be encouraged for the Wings’ future.

“They are positively contributing,” Yzerman said Thursday. “It’s not like they’re putting up big numbers but that’s OK. They’re competing really hard. They’re doing a lot of good things. They’re growing as as players.”

Hronek, 23, has been the Wings’ best defenseman the past couple seasons. He’s out against opposing top lines, he plays with a physical edge that belies his 6-foot, 183-pound body, and has at times been the team’s leading scorer this season.

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The growth shown by Filip Zadina and Michael Rasmussen stands out more in contrast to last season.

Zadina, 21, has emerged more physical, willing to chase down the puck and get it himself rather than wait for a teammate to deliver it to him. It would have been nice to see what he might have done had that second line that looked so good during training camp lasted; but injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic waylaid that less than a week into the season. Bobby Ryan was done for the season in early April and Robby Fabbri is also dealing with a nagging injury.

Detroit Red Wings center Michael Rasmussen (27) skates the puck up ice as Nashville Predators right wing Rocco Grimaldi (23) pursues during the second period April 6, 2021 at Little Caesars Arena.
Detroit Red Wings center Michael Rasmussen (27) skates the puck up ice as Nashville Predators right wing Rocco Grimaldi (23) pursues during the second period April 6, 2021 at Little Caesars Arena.

Rasmussen, who turns 22 on Saturday, has been so noticeable with his physical presence. He’s much stronger on the puck, consistently using his 6-foot-6, 229-pound body to protect it while making plays. In Monday’s game at Carolina, he used one arm to hold off a defender and another to maneuver around the net to set up a goal.

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“I see a difference in their play from a year ago,” Yzerman said. “They are having more of an impact in each situation they’re in. They’re not regressing. You can see when guys are really competing and asserting themselves, regardless of what their statistics are, they are having a positive impact."

The three date from recent drafts — Hronek, 2016; Rasmussen, 2017; and Zadina, 2018. There’s another first-round pick from 2018 who should get a chance to make an impression as the Wings count down the games towards their May 8 finale. Joe Veleno returned to the area Sunday after finishing his season in the Swedish Hockey League, where he played because the pandemic delayed the start of hockey in North America. Veleno had 11 goals and nine assists in 46 games with Malmö.

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Veleno, 21, was assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins. He’s eligible to come out of quarantine this weekend. The Griffins have a hectic schedule because multiple games have been postponed because of the pandemic — Thursday’s game was the latest, and that was supposed to have started a 16-game, 31-day slate.

Veleno played both his natural position, center, and wing while in Sweden. That flexibility will help as the Wings try to get him into their lineup before running out of games.

“Joe is somebody that potentially we could get a look at once he comes out of quarantine, see where he’s at, see where we are at,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “That’s definitely a potential.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Red Wings' Steve Yzerman pleased with growth of young players