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Red Wings sign first-rounder Joe Veleno after big offensive season

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit – The Red Wings have signed forward Joe Veleno to a three-year entry-level contract.

Veleno, 19, was the Wings’ second first-round pick, No. 30 overall, in last June’s NHL Draft. They drafted forward Filip Zadina earlier in the first round, No. 6 overall.

Center Joe Veleno shoots the puck during the Detroit Red Wings development camp at Little Caesars Arena, in Detroit, June 26, 2018.  (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)

A 6-foot-1, 193-pound center, Veleno enjoyed a prolific offensive season playing for Drummondville in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Veleno had 104 points, on 42 goals and 62 assists, while leading Drummondville into the league championship, where it lost to Halifax (which is led by defenseman Jared McIsaac, a second-round pick of the Wings last June).

Coach Jeff Blashill admitted during last season’s training camp he was skeptical about watching Veleno because Veleno was expected to be drafted much higher, and wasn’t sure about Veleno’s “transferable skills.”

But after watching Veleno in camp and the exhibition season, Blashill was impressed.

“For whatever reason he fell in the draft,” Blashill said then. “I don’t know (why). I know drafting is extraordinarily hard and picking players is real hard, and sometimes that happens.

“I would say I was the most cautious (after seeing Veleno); I wasn’t totally sold right away. As this camp has gone along, I’ve been more sold.

“He’s a good transporter of the ice, from one end to the other. (But) his edges (ability to grip the ice, move faster) are excellent. He can create space with his edges and he makes a lot of plays in small areas.

“That can be important in the NHL.”

The Wings had Veleno concentrate on his defensive game while in Quebec – which is notorious as an offensive-minded league – and the organization was pleased with his development on that side of the ice, along with penalty killing.

Projected to be drafted somewhere in the middle of the first round, Veleno said during training camp that will always be a motivation.

“It would have motivated me regardless; I’m a motivated guy who just wants to prove myself out there,” Veleno said. “I just have to focus on staying true to myself and keep working hard and good things will happen.”

Veleno was impressive during the exhibition season, and wound up centering lines with NHL players by the end of the preseason.

Veleno will likely begin next season in Grand Rapids, but an exceptional training camp will firmly put him in contention for a job on the Wings’ Opening Night roster.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan