Detroit — Stay in the NHL, or return forward Michael Rasmussen to junior hockey?
The question was out there, and with Rasmussen approaching the magic 10-game mark Tuesday, the Red Wings had to decide.
To no one’s surprise, Rasmussen will stay in the NHL.
Going beyond 10 games will burn a year off Rasmussen's entry-level contract, but the organization feels that's not an issue considering how much Rasmussen could develop in the NHL this season.
“We told him as of today you’re staying and playing through those games,” said coach Jeff Blashill after Monday’s practice. “We want to make sure, from my perspective, we need to win, but we also need to make sure that we’re developing and doing the best thing we can for Michael Rasmussen long term.
“Our assessment, as we stand here today, the best things is to keep him and keep playing.”
Rasmussen, 19, has one point (an assist) in nine games this season, while playing just under 13 minutes (12:39) a game.
The Wings have scratched Rasmussen out of the lineup in two games, but are seeing the steady development and progression that give them confidence Rasmussen is developing into the power forward they envision.
“He was excellent last night (against Dallas), he took another step in the right direction,” Blashill said. “It’s a real hard league, and he did lots of things that it takes to be successful against some big bodies.
“He was great down low.”
Rasmussen has played both center and wing, but may see more action at center Tuesday with injuries to Frans Nielsen and Andreas Athanasiou likely to keep both out of the lineup.
“We need some center and he’s obviously done it,” Blashill said. “I’ve put him some shifts at center and I’ve liked him. He’s done a good job in down-low coverage.
“It’s just utilizing his flexibility.”
Rasmussen wasn’t focusing on anything more than playing in the next game.
The chance to play a little more at center, his natural position, was a positive thought.
“That’ll be good,” Rasmussen said. “I’ve played both, so they’re both pretty comfortable for me, but I like playing both positions, so I’ll enjoy if I play it.”
What Blashill wants to see from Rasmussen is learning how to use his 6-foot-5 body in ways that’ll keep the puck and control play for the Red Wings.
“Bumping guys off with his back side, win 1-on-1 battles, and hold on to the puck a little more whether it’s 5-on-5 or the power play,” Blashill said. “He’s always a good net-front presence guy, there are no issues there.”
Injuries up front
Blashill said Nielsen is out for the next two games, while with Athanasiou there remains a slight chance he could play Tuesday.
“Double-A is going on the trip, but I’d list him as doubtful,” Blashill said. “Still a slim chance (he’ll play), we’ll evaluate, but I would list him as doubtful.”
Both Nielsen and Athanasiou were hurt on collisions during Sunday’s victory, but finished the game.
With neither is available, that would bring back Martin Frk and Luke Witkowski into the lineup.
“We’ve got options,” Blashill said. “We could go with 12 forwards and six defensemen and play Witter (Witkowski) up front, or go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. We’ll see.”
The victory Sunday relieved a lot of pressure from the Wings, who only won their second game.
But the way they won, playing with a lot of poise and confidence in the third period, gives them hope going forward.
“That was one of the best games we’ve played in a while,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “We all stuck together, got great goaltending and did a good job against their top players.
“We stuck together and didn’t get rattled. We didn’t fold, didn’t take unnecessary penalties, and it does feel good in here today.
“We can build off that.”
In losses to Boston and Montreal two weekends ago, the Wings got flustered and rattled when falling behind, and the games got quickly out of hand.
That hasn’t, necessarily, been the case since then, be it in games the Wings have won or lost.
“When we’ve been scored upon, we’ve stayed in it and have kept our chin up,” Blashill said. “We talked a lot about it and credit to the guys, they’ve done a good job of it.
“(Sunday) we played a real efficient, smart, puck possession kind of hockey and that’s how you salt away the clock.”
Red Wings at Blue Jackets
Faceoff: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit-plus/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Blue Jackets (6-4-0, 12 points) have gotten off to a good start, despite injuries. ... LW Artemi Panarin is off to an outstanding start with 15 points (five goals, 10 assists), while G Sergei Bobrovsky (3.87 GAA, .872 SVS) has struggled.