Wings’ Ouellet returns to lineup: ‘It’s been rough’
Detroit — All Xavier Ouellet can do is sit and wait until Monday’s NHL trade deadline and see whether he remains with the Red Wings.
He’s done a lot of sitting. For 10 of the last 11 games, Ouellet was a healthy scratch, before getting a chance to be in the lineup Thursday against Buffalo.
Maybe, by Monday, Ouellet, 24, will get an opportunity for a fresh start somewhere else.
“Personally, it’s been rough,” Ouellet said after Thursday’s morning skate. “Every athlete wants to play and contribute, and it’s not fun to sit a long period of time. It’s been tough mentally.
“But I guess it’s part of the game. I have to keep working on myself, which I have, and I feel good physically. It’s just a matter of getting my timing back and feeling good with the puck.”
Ouellet has another year left on his contract at a salary cap hit of $1.25 million. Given his inability to crack the Red Wings’ lineup, he’ll likely be shopped before Monday, and given his age and potential, some team will take a chance for a middle- to low-round draft pick.
“I want to play,” Ouellet said. “I’m 24 years old, I think I need to play. I’m a Red Wing today and I want to be a Red Wing. I’ve worked real hard to be where I am today, right now. So I’m looking for an opportunity, and hopefully it’s here.
“I don’t know. It’s hard to say.”
Ouellet was a 2011 second-round draft pick whose potential was such that the Red Wings inserted into the lineup during 2013-14 playoffs against Boston.
But that kind of confidence has waned in recent years.
He played a career-high 66 games last season, but heading into Thursday, Ouellet had only played in 36 games with four assists and a minus-2 plus-minus rating.
“I have to find my timing back,” Ouellet said. “I feel real good physically, so that’s a good positive. Now, it’s just getting the timing back and execute, get passes tape to tape, get pucks on net, being solid defensively.”
Coach Jeff Blashill wants to see Ouellet play with a higher level of confidence.
“It’s a difficult thing for athletes when they’re out for a while and to step back in and play with the kind of confidence you need to be successful,” Blashill said. “But that’s what he has to do. He has to play with confidence. He’s been a good player in the league going back a number of years.
“The last couple of times he’s played, he’s come in and not played with that type of confidence and swagger you have to play with to be successful.”
The Red Wings only dressed six defensemen against Buffalo, so Ouellet was going to get a regular shift and more ice time than he’s seen in more than a month.
“When he’s at his best, he’s doing a good job of passing the puck, being physical defensively and hard to play against, and playing with a shot-first mentality,” Blashill said. “Let’s get back to that.”
Getting a chance
Another player getting an opportunity Thursday was forward Tyler Bertuzzi, who during the morning skate was getting time on the power play.
Bertuzzi was likely replacing Martin Frk on the power play — while Frk appeared to be replaced by David Booth in the lineup.
Blashill says he believes Bertuzzi will evolve into an effective power-play player at the NHL level.
“Bert’s a strong, heavy kind of guy in that slot area with good ability around the net,” Blashill said. “I’m hoping he can pick up some loose pucks, rebounds. Bert is a good enough player that he should be on the power play and we’ll give him an opportunity here.”
Defenseman Mike Green (upper body) will miss his fourth consecutive game, not an ideal situation with the trade deadline looming Monday.
Green is the Red Wings’ best bargaining chip, although he is expected to return to the lineup this weekend.
“I thought there’d be a good chance he could have played, and been in the lineup (Thursday),” Blashill said. “As it turned out, he wasn’t quite there. But I expect him to play on the weekend.
“It doesn’t mean he’s going to play for sure, but I expect him to play.
“He skated Tuesday. I don’t know if you’d call it a setback, but he’s not quite where he thought he’d be today.”