Rookie Michael Rasmussen's focus is on sticking with Red Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Red Wings rookie center Michael Rasmussen

Sunrise, Fla. — The whole situation is a little unusual for Michael Rasmussen.

The losing have the Red Wings have done thus far this season, is different for Rasmussen, who has been part of playoff teams recently with Tri-City in the Western Hockey League in junior hockey.

Also, there’s the individual portion of that.

Rasmussen has one point, an assist, in six games with the Wings, while averaging just over 12 minutes of ice time (12:08).

It’s been quite the education to professional hockey for a 19-year-old trying to find his way.

The losing has been eye-opening.

“No, not too much, I haven’t really been through losing streaks when I was in Tri(-City),” Rasmussen said. “It’s not good. We want to win and everything is better when you win. You play better when you win, and get more points when you win, and there’s more success and have more fun.

“Hockey is about having fun. Winning is fun. We have to start winning here.”

The Wings need to make a decision, ultimately, with Rasmussen.

When Rasmussen reached 10 games played – Saturday will be his 7th – the first year on his entry contract is clicked on, which teams generally don’t like to burn if a young player isn’t quite ready to succeed at the NHL level.

The alternative for the Wings is sending Rasmussen back to Tri-City — he has junior eligibility, therefore sending him to Grand Rapids isn’t an option.

Coach Jeff Blashill indicated the Wings could stretch out that process, probably scratching Rasmussen from the lineup and working with him in practice, for a short period of time before making a final decision.

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“I’m just focusing on helping the team win and doing my part and getting better,” said Rasmussen, focusing on his current stay with the Wings.

The Wings scratched Rasmussen earlier in the week, but he returned to the lineup Thursday in Tampa and played 9:56, on 13 shifts, being credited with one blocked shot, but had no shots on net.

“I felt pretty good, I think I improved on a couple of things and made some positive plays,” Rasmussen said. “I made a couple of good players on the power plays. But there’s still some things I have to clean up. I just have to keep going.”

Blashill felt Rasmussen made progress, and was hoping for more of it Saturday against the Panthers.

“I’m hoping he plays even better (Saturday) and keeps taking steps in the right direction,” Blashill said. “I like him a lot as a player and I hope he can keep going in the right direction.

“Raz played better (in Tampa) than he had previous. It was a much better game against a real good team. My plan is to keep him in the lineup and play him (Saturday) and hopefully he takes another step in the right direction.

“If at some point he doesn’t, then we’ll go back to the drawing board and try to help him keep getting better.”

Rasmussen is learning how to use his 6-foot-5 body against big, strong NHL defensemen, positioning in front of the net and along the boards.

The pace and speed of the NHL seems to be affecting Rasmussen right now, though there’s the belief he will adjust as the season progresses.

Rasmussen is spending considerable time working against the Wings’ defense, power play drills, and learning how to possess the puck.

“It’s a hard thing to do, hard thing to have the puck and hard thing to get the puck and keep it,” Rasmussen said. “I’m working a lot over the course of practice, against all the D-men and everyone working in the corners, and just trying to get better every day.”

Tough education

Not just Rasmussen, but rookie defensemen Dennis Cholowski, Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek and Libor Sulak (who was sent back to Grand Rapids early in the week) have been through a difficult transition, playing in the NHL while filling in for injured veteran defensemen.

It hasn’t been an ideal transition to the NHL — but necessary, given the injury circumstances.

“Very few young defensemen in this league can come in and just survive on their own, without someone to kind of help them along, help them manage games,” Blashill said. “So they’ve had to basically be totally on their own, and it’s hard to judge to be honest with you.

“The fact that a guy like Dennis Cholowski has played real well, it speaks to the level of player that he is. He’s been able to do it without tons of guys out there that have been around a lot.

“In the end, it’s the situation, and there’s nothing that we can do about it. For the most part, our defense have done a good job.

“It’s certainly no excuse to not winning games.”