Red Wings prospect Joe Veleno taking aim at pros after prolific junior career

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The likelihood is Joe Veleno will begin his pro career in Grand Rapids this season, playing for the Griffins and working toward an NHL career.

But given the state of the Red Wings, and where they are in their rebuild, Veleno is going to do everything he can to make the NHL roster.

Red Wings prospect Joe Veleno takes a shot during the team's development camp Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

“For any guy here it’s a big opportunity,” Veleno said Tuesday, after the first practice of the development camp. “Detroit’s in a big rebuild and there’s a lot of open spots. I’m definitely taking that into consideration and giving it my best to play on the team next (season).

“I’m pretty excited. It was a long four years in juniors and four years were pretty good. I’m pretty excited to jump another level and get things going in pros.”

Veleno, 19, a first-round selection last year, cemented himself as a potential huge piece in the rebuild with an outstanding junior season for Drummondville in the Quebec junior league.

With 104 points (42 goals, 62 assists) in 59 games, Veleno had the best points-per-game average (1.76) in the league.

That came after a training camp with the Red Wings that impressed the front office and coach Jeff Blashill.

“It gave me a lot of confidence,” Veleno said of his first Wings’ training camp. “I saw that I was able to play with some of the older guys who had already turned pro and I was able to keep up with them. It gave me an idea of where I’m at, and how I can prepare myself for next year.”

While the offense was impressive, it was the also the defensive work done by Veleno that pleased Shawn Horcoff, the Wings’ director of player development.

“He had a great season last year obviously, making the world junior team, finishing first in points per game, fourth in the league in scoring,” Horcoff said. “(But) I was happy with his overall game. He showed a much better awareness in the defensive zone.

“A lot of these young guys, they get drafted high and they think their skill is what is going to make them make the league a last a long time, and frankly, that’s not the case.

“Very few people survive on just offensive talent in the league. He’s going to be no different. If we’re going to be successful, he has to develop into a good 200-foot player much like Larks (Dylan Larkin). We used Larks as good example for Joe.”

Veleno has spent time in the weight room and feels he’s ready to take on the bigger and stronger players in pro hockey.

“It’s one of the biggest challenges coming from junior, managing how to create time and space on the ice  and how to make plays at a higher pace,” Veleno said. “That’s one thing I’m definitely going to have to work on this summer and get used to next year. Guys are bigger, stronger, quicker. You have to be ready for that.

“Little things like cleaning up my game and playing more of the 200-foot game and being responsible in the defensive zone. Things like that will translate into the pros.”

There’s a real good possibility Veleno will begin his pro career in Grand Rapids, where he could be teammates with fellow first-round pick from last year, Filip Zadina.

The two were expected to skate together this week, but Zadina has a hamstring issue and might not skate.

Veleno is looking forward to possibly being linemates in Grand Rapids, if Zadina returns to the Griffins rather than being promoted to the Wings.

The two could form an exciting offensive line, one fans are craving for already.

“For sure it’s fun playing with those types of players,” Veleno said. “He’s very dynamic and scores goals. The way I play the game, creating room for other guys on my line and passing the puck, obviously it would be a lot of fun with him.”