Blashill sees upside in new Red Wing forward Vanek

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Thomas Vanek has heard it all before.

His overall performance isn’t up to standards.

His offensive production is declining.

His response?

“Whatever,” said Vanek, who was bought out by the Wild in June and became an unrestricted free agent. “It’s part of the job. It’s part of what we sign up for. I’m a big boy. I can take it.

“I’m my own worst critic and I know last year wasn’t good enough and I’ve learned from it and I’ll be better this year.”

Still, there’s little risk — and the chance for high reward.

That’s why the Red Wings signed Vanek to a one-year, $2.6 million deal July 1.

And, Jeff Blashill has heard it all — Vanek’s reputation of not being interested in defense, leading to inconsistent play — and seen the numbers — Vanek’s career-low 41 points and 18 goals last season.

But the Red Wings coach wants to wipe the slate clean.

“I did a lot of research and I’ve heard a lot of things,” Blashill said. “I’ve heard he’s a great person. I’ve heard he doesn’t work hard enough. I’ve heard and seen he scores 40 (goals) a year at times. I’ve seen and heard a lot of those things, and for me, I’ve told him I’m a stubborn person and sometimes that makes my relationship with my wife difficult because I just don’t believe everything I heard.

“I want it to be proven to me. ... I’ll make decisions based on what I see.”

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And that starts with Vanek’s linemates — with Darren Helm and a player to be determined.

The Red Wings simply want Vanek to be a net-front presence with his big body (6-foot-2, 214 pounds), a role he enjoys.

“Getting back to the net front, getting back to the thing that I think I’m one of the best at, going to the dirty areas in front of the net and getting those ugly goals,” Vanek said. “I still feel I can score 20-plus goals.”

Vanek’s ability to score goals — he’s scored at least 20 goals 10 times during his career — is something the Red Wings need.

“I’m excited about what he can bring to our table,” Blashill said. “We don’t score easy. He scores easy. He gets one shot and he can score.

“I’ve told him work ethic on the track is not negotiable. Work ethic to win puck battles is not negotiable. Defense is not negotiable. If he does those three things, he can have a real good year.”

Zetterberg on Nielsen line

Blashill said he’s determined some line pairings, if not combinations.

For starters, Henrik Zetterberg will be on a wing with center Frans Nielsen.

“They’re both veteran players,” Blashill said. “Z will spend a lot of time in low coverage, he’ll take faceoffs if needed.”

One line closer to being set is the fourth line of Luke Glendening centering Steve Ott and Drew Miller.

“They’re certainly making a pitch toward saying ‘we’re going to be a line that could really be effective,’” Blashill said. “They have similar mentalities.”

Blashill, however, hasn’t determined whom he will pair with Dylan Larkin.