Detroit — The importance of being Michael Rasmussen is that he can score, he is getting more physical and he fills what might be a key slot in the Red Wings’ rebuilding plans.
That the ninth overall pick in 2017 also seems mature beyond his years speaks of the character and wisdom the Wings seek in drafted personnel. And, the 19-year-old from British Columbia may come with a dividend.
At what might be a key point in their reconstruction, Rasmussen may help smash the Wings’ habitually conservative method of developing players.
Just 18 games into his pro career, he is proving effective.
Thoughts his sort of development could have happened in the American Hockey League, let alone another year in juniors, should be banished.
He is growing accustomed to the NHL because he is playing in the NHL.
Maybe other Red Wings’ prospects in this and future seasons of redeveloping the once-perennial Stanley Cup contender will benefit from Rasmussen’s ability to adjust to a sometimes-confounding new reality and grab his piece of it.
“I don’t know that it’s anything too specific,” Rasmussen said, when asked after practice Tuesday why the puck is starting to go in for him, with some regularity. “I’ve had lots of chances.
“I don’t really know the exact reason. I just try to play my best and play in a way that will help the team.”
In the first nine games, Rasmussen had an assist. He looked, at times, ineffective.
A return to major junior hockey might have seemed an alternative. But, the fact of the matter is even Grand Rapids would have been a mistake.
And yet, if the rules governing relations between the NHL and major junior hockey allowed Rasmussen to go the AHL, he might well be skating for the Griffins instead of producing for the Red Wings.
In the nine games before Wednesday, Rasmussen scored five goals and assisted on one. He is on pace for a 20-goal season his rookie year.
Tough to do, from over by Lake Michigan. Unless, they traded him to the Blackhawks.
Only five other teenagers in the 92-year history of the Red Wings scored goals in three consecutive games: Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe, Lane Lambert, Steve Yzerman and Dylan Larkin.
(Alex Delvecchio came close, at age 19, with points in three consecutive, from November 7-11, 1951. But his assist Nov. 10 against the Maple Leafs came without a goal.)
“Has he developed?” coach Jeff Blashill said, of Rasmussen. “Yes.
“Has he gotten better from day one? Yes. That’s for sure.
“Where? He’s skating better for sure.”
But Blashill said he is not certain Rasmussen is much quicker or better adapted to the speed of NHL play.
He said he is certain, however, Ramussen adjusted his attitude.
“I think he’s learned that when he has the puck or he doesn’t have the puck, he just has to skate more,” Blashill said. “He’s a good skater, and he just has to make sure he’s moving his feet.”
Doing so gets him more ice time, Blashill said. It also gets Rasmussen closer to his office.
“I think in the offensive zone he’s gotten better at knocking people off the puck,” Blashill said.
Indeed, Rasmussen is less often seen with his head jerking back after a hit. The big man is doing some initiating.
“I think we’ve had to remind him a couple of times, but he’s gotten a little more physical,” Blashill said. “So, now, he’s winning more physical battles.”
That is sort of like Rasmussen negotiating his commute to his office.
“Those two things combined allow him to do what he does best,” the Wings’ coach said. “And that’s being at the net when the shot comes in from the point.”
Striving for greatness
Blashill said he is not certain Rasmussen has learned most or all of the skills and techniques to stay in his office, once he gets there. But he is learning.
And, the puck is going in.
“He’s like Larks,” Blashill said, comparing Rasmussen with Larkin. “He wants to be a great player.”
Meanwhile, a line of players have spent arguably too much time in Grand Rapids wondering what it takes to play in Detroit, for the Red Wings.
Rasmussen is proof that at least some guys can learn in the big new arena on Woodward Avenue.
And, the confidence engendered by beginning to accomplish it in the NHL is paramount.
“It goes right along with your skill and your ability,” Rasmussen said, of confidence. “I try to do an OK job of staying even keel on my confidence and staying upbeat and all that.
“It can be a tough thing to possess,” the earnest young forward added.
“But it’s a thing you’ve got to try to master because it’s important.”