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Vanek, Red Wings turn out to be a good match

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

San Jose, Calif. — Frans Nielsen had a lot of teammates during his 10 years with the New York Islanders, and now his first season with the Red Wings.

One of the most skilled Nielsen has played with is Thomas Vanek, his current linemate on the Red Wings and formerly with the Islanders.

“Just with his raw talent, he’s right up there with the best guys I’ve played with,” Nielsen said of Vanek who, like Nielsen, signed July 1 as unrestricted free agents. “With his passing ability, ability to find lanes, and he goes hard to the net and spends a lot of time in there.

“If you don’t have a play, you know you can throw it in there (toward the net) and he’ll be around the net, and he’s really skilled in close.

“He’s up there with the best I’ve played with.”

Depending on whose opinion it was Vanek, 32, was considered to be a gamble, a no-lose signing, taking some young player’s spot, or a shrewd signing by general manager Ken Holland.

As the Red Wings approach the middle of the season, the Vanek signing certainly appears to be a positive move.

On a 1-year contract worth $2.6 million — Vanek was bought out by the Minnesota Wild, making him a free agent — Vanek has nine goals and 14 assists in 28 games and been a consistent offensive threat.

The fit for Vanek with the Red Wings has been seamless.

“I’m not sure why it’s a good fit but this is what I know,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Thomas Vanek is great person. I know that Thomas Vanek wants to win bad. Thomas Vanek is like everybody, he has positives and negatives to his game and we’ve tried to point out the positives and point out the negatives and make sure we’re on the right path.

“What I like about Thomas is when I bring him in, he wants to win. He’s not an excuse guy. He’s a guy that looks and says ‘I can be better in that area.’ He’s very hard on himself. It doesn’t mean he’s perfect, but he’s very hard on himself.

“He’s certainly been a big piece for us so far.”

The Red Wings saw Vanek as a consistent 20-goal scorer, who was also a capable net-front presence and a fine passer.

After two disappointing seasons with the Wild, Vanek has enjoyed his time in Detroit.

“After being two years in a spot where it wasn’t successful for me, I wanted to sign somewhere where I thought I could fit in and do the things I can do,” Vanek said. “After talking to a few teams, this was one team that kind of saw my game similar to what I see as my game.

“I thought it would be a good fit.”

Coreau starts

Goaltender Jared Coreau got the start Saturday in San Jose, coming on the heels of his shutout the game before in Los Angeles.

But Blashill made it clear Petr Mrazek was just as good against Anaheim Wednesday, though the result was a loss.

“Both guys played great,” Blashill said. “Pete was great against Anaheim, outstanding, actually. We didn’t give up tons of shots, but we gave up too many chances in that game and I thought he was excellent.

“Obviously Jared played very good against Los Angeles. Just given the result in L.A., I went with Jared again, but I really fee like both of them are in a good spot.”

Ice chips

Blashill said Saturday’s lineup would be identical to the one that played against the Kings, meaning forward Tomas Jurco would be the lone healthy scratch.

… Justin Abelkader (sprained knee) said he might return to the lineup Tuesday in Chicago if all goes well in practice on Monday. @tkulfan