Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill talks about dividing teams for scrimmages. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Detroit — There’s one line – three young players who could form the foundation of the future – that Red Wings fans will be paying extra close attention to here in Traverse City, and likely the rest of exhibition season.
The line of Michael Rasmussen, Joe Veleno and Filip Zadina — all first-round draft picks from the past two drafts — will play together during these intrasquad scrimmages in Traverse City — and likely stay together for some exhibition games.
The trio played together during last weekend's Prospects Tournament, when the Red Wings reached the championship game before losing to Columbus.
“We’ll start that young line together,” said coach Jeff Blashill Thursday outside of Centre ICE Arena, as players were undergoing physicals inside, ahead of Friday's start to training camp. “One of the things you try to do is get people in spots where they’re comfortable. They just spent four games together for the most part, so we’ll keep them together.”
Rasmussen (age 19) and Zadina (18) both have a good opportunity to make the Red Wings' opening night roster, while Veleno (18) – who was impressive during the tournament — could be competing for a job next year after another year of junior hockey.
Blashill wants to see the three youngsters against the best on the Red Wings, and against NHL competition during the exhibition season.
“We’ll have them go against (Dylan) Larkin, (Frans) Nielsen, AA (Andreas Athanasiou), whoever is on those lines,” Blashill said. “They have to be able to show where they stand without necessarily giving them any kind of crutch at all.
“It’s a little bit of, I don’t want to say sink because we’re not going to let them sink, but it’s a little bit of a sink or swim mentality where you have a chance to show you’re better than these other players, so go show in those scrimmages.
“That’ll make for a real competitive scrimmage.
“I may use them in a preseason game to go up against NHL players and try to avoid giving them a crutch where someone’s going to be carrying the along. I want them to carry themselves, because for them to help us be better this year, they have to carry themselves.”
Blashill spent nearly 15 minutes answering questions outside the arena Thursday:
On how he divided the three squads for training camp: “I divided it up basically, completely equal, with some adjustment,” Blashill said. “I divided the teams up equal with the idea we want this to be a very competitive camp. There’s tons of spots that are up for grabs."
On Henrik Zetterberg, who will not be available for the start of the regular season because of persistent back issues: “Nothing from me today. We’re hoping to have more (information) for you tomorrow (Friday).”
On the health of the other players: "(Defenseman Jared) McIsaac would be the only one of those young guys not available. I don’t think he’ll be available for camp.”
McIsaac suffered a shoulder injury during the tournament. Blashill said Zadina “is good to go” after suffering a wrist injury in Tuesday’s championship game.
Veteran defensemen Mike Green (coming of neck surgery) and Brian Lashoff (undisclosed) may also be limited during the camp.
On the Wings’ prospects in the tournament: “Some guys had real good tournaments. I know some guys really put a lot of work in this summer. Dennis Cholowski put lots of work in, Vili Saarijarvi – they had good camps. Givani Smith had a good camp. The line of Veleno, Rasmussen and Zadina all showed moments of being very good.
“Overall it was great to see some of our young guys look like they’ve taken some steps and are ready for this camp.”
Blashill again emphasized there are jobs available: “After two years not being good enough, it’s as wide open a camp as we’ve had here in a long, long time," Blashill said. "It has to be, based on the results we’ve had. I hope that a bunch of guys we’ve had on our team got better this summer and they come back way better, because then we’ll be a better team.
“Then, I hope a bunch of young guys are in position to really challenge and try to take other guys’ jobs. They can’t be given jobs. If they’re given jobs, then it means they’re not necessarily better. It’s when they earn jobs by taking them, it means they’re better than the guys’ jobs they’re taking. It’ll be ultra-competitive in the sense that we’re as open as we ever have been to the jobs being given to whoever earns them.”
What will Blashill’s message to the team be? “I hope we have a room full of guys who got better and if they didn’t, then we have to find a way to replace them because we need to make sure we’re a better hockey team than we were at the end of last year.”