Former Michigan State player Taro Hirose talks about the decision to sign with the Red Wings. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Detroit – The whirlwind week is coming to an end for Taro Hirose, but it’s not over yet. And it sounds as if the end will be quite memorable, indeed.
The former Michigan State forward had his first practice with the Red Wings Friday, after signing a two-year entry-level contract earlier in the week.
Coach Jeff Blashill confirmed after practice Hirose will be in the lineup Tuesday, when the Red Wings visit the New York Rangers.
“Obviously making your NHL debut at Madison Square Garden isn’t the worst thing in the world,” Hirose said. “Definitely just excited and happy to get one (game) in.”
Hirose, 22, and Ryan Kuffner – who’ll make his debut Saturday with Justin Abdelkader (bruised foot) unable to play – both will get a headstart to showcase themselves heading into next season in these final games of this season.
There were several factors that made the Wings a fairly easy pick for Hirose.
“Playing at Michigan State, you’ve sort of been around the Red Wings,” Hirose said. “We played in the arena a couple of times, and growing up in Calgary it was a big thing (rivalry), and (Pavel) Datsyuk was definitely one of my favorite players.
“It’s just a great organization to be part of. Wherever you go there’s going to be competition, but this was a right fit for my game.”
Hirose took part in the Red Wings’ development camp last summer and received positive feedback from coaches.
Shawn Horcoff and Jiri Fischer were two members of the Wings’ development and scouting staff who kept tabs on Hirose, and the familiarity was a factor in Hirose joining the Wings.
“Just being at development camp added a sort of comfort to it, knowing the staff and coaches,” Hirose said. “It was a big part of my decision (to sign).”
While Kuffner is regarded more of a pure goal scorer, Hirose is considered a set-up guy, someone who was effective at Michigan State with the puck on his stick. He had 116 points, including 83 assists, in 106 games over three seasons at MSU.
“Sort of a cerebral player who likes to have the puck on his stick and also makes plays away from the puck,” said Hirose, of his self-scouting report.
Getting an opportunity to take part in practice Friday was another stepping stone in this entire week.
“It was kind of surreal, you’re out there with guys like (Niklas) Kronwall and guys I’ve grown up watching,” Hirose said. “Definitely I’m happy to be part of it.”
Dylan Larkin (neck strain) will return to the lineup Saturday against the New York Islanders after missing five games.
Larkin completed his second practice Friday and reported no issues.
“A couple weeks ago I got tangled up with a guy and came out with a neck strain,” Larkin said. “There was increased soreness, and I tried to play through it but it wasn’t getting any better. I felt I was hurting the team. I wasn’t able to turn my head.”
Larkin went to see a specialist in New York who confirmed the strain, and nothing more serious.
“It was nothing major and nothing that needed more attention or will hold me back down the road,” Larkin said. “It’s a pretty sensitive, pretty serious part of your body. When you’re talking about a neck injury, outside of hockey, just in life, some serious things can happen. Some big words were being thrown around and a lot of doctor talk.
“I just decided to see a specialist and it was the best thing I did. I got some clarity and confidence that it won’t get worse.”
Larkin wasn’t concerned he’d miss the rest of the season.
“I always thought I’d be back; it just needed time,” Larkin said. “Any time you miss games it’s not great, and for a guy like me nobody likes sitting out and watching.”
Abdelkader has a bruised foot after blocking a shot against Tampa and is day-to-day.
Kuffner, who will make his NHL debut, was part of the power play during Friday’s practice, and skated on a line with Frans Nielsen and Thomas Vanek.
“Ultimately if Kuffner is going to make our team better, he’s going to be a guy who’s going to score, who is going to be a power-play type guy,” Blashill said. “We’ve got other guys who can penalty kill, be depth guys. So let’s put him in that position and see what he does.
“And it’ll be the same thing with Taro.”
… The Wings officially sent forward Filip Zadina to Grand Rapids after a nine-game trial with the Wings. Playing more than nine games would have activated the first year of Zadina’s contract, which the Wings didn’t want to happen.
“It was a useful endeavor,” Blashill said. “It was good for him to get a feel for what he has to get better at and good for us to get a feel for him.
“The next step for him, anybody like him, is now you have to come back and show us how you can help us win. We didn’t win enough in that stretch, and that’s not on any one player. But ultimately you are what you do and our record is reflective of the guys who were on the ice and he was one of them, and he had pretty good minutes and opportunities.
“That’s a lot to ask a 19-year-old, and it’s going to be a lot to ask of a 20-year-old. (But) if he wants to be a guy that’s here, he has to find ways to be an impactful player that will help us win.”
Islanders at Red Wings
Faceoff: 1 p.m. Saturday, Little Caesars Arena
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Islanders (41-22-7) have been one of the surprise teams in the NHL this season. … They’ve allowed the least goals (169) in the Eastern Conference. … C Mathew Barzal (39 assists, 56 points) is the Islanders’ leading scorer.