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Former Red Wings first-round pick Joe Veleno on line with 2020 top NHL prospect

The Detroit News

Plymouth — Former Red Wings first-round draft choice Joe Veleno has been playing on one of Canada's top lines with 2020 consensus No. 1 prospect Alexis Lafreniere heading into Tuesday's game against the United States at the World Junior Summer Showcase at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth at 4 p.m.

The 11-game tournament, which features many of the best 20-year-old players from Canada, U.S., Sweden and Finland, is an early audition for the players who will represent their countries and compete at the world championships in the Czech Republic from Dec. 26-Jan. 5.

Joe Veleno

Veleno, a 6-1, 191-pound center who was selected 30th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and left-winger Lafreniere were paired on the same line for the first two practices with right-winger Kirby Dach, the third overall pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2019 NHL draft.

The 17-year-old Lafreniere had 105 points (37 goals, 68 assists) in 61 games with the Rimouski Oceanic last year and was the most valuable player in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the player of the year in the Canadian Hockey League.

"We both have good hockey sense and good skill and see each other pretty well on the ice," Veleno said. "We're both guys who are really competitive and want to help the team win as much as possible.

"He's dynamic in every sense. He can score, he can pass and create plays with his hockey sense. He makes his linemates better and is honestly just an amazing player."

Lafreniere says he's already built a rapport with Veleno at the evaluation camp.

"He's really fast, and I like a center who passes the puck well," Lafreniere said. "In the 'Q' this year, he was one of the best players in the league and now he's one of the best here."

Both players have impressed Tom Renney, chief executive officer of Hockey Canada and a former Red Wings assistant coach on Mike Babcock's staff in 2012.

"Joe is one of those guys who can do the thinking for the other four players if need be," Renney said. "I like his ability to distribute the puck off both sides of his blade and he can shoot the puck.

"Alexis' skills are definitely world-class in his age group. What's really good about the way he approaches the game is his humility and his desire to get better each and every day. I don't think this is a young fellow who for a second has let this go to his head."

Lafreniere said he talked with this year's No. 1 overall draft pick, Jack Hughes of the U.S. National Team Development Program, about handling the pressure of being the early favorite to be selected first overall at the 2020 NHL Draft in Montreal on June 26-27.

"He said there will be a lot of attention, but to focus on myself and get better every day," Lafreniere said. "We're pretty different players. He's a center and more of a quick guy. I'm an offensive guy, but he's a way better skater than me. If I can catch him, I'd be happy."

Veleno said the evaluation camp is another step in preparing for his first pro season with either the Grand Rapids Griffins or the Red Wings. The 19-year-old native of Kirkland, Quebec, ended his junior career with 104 points in 59 games with the Drummondville Voltigeurs last year.

"I've spent the majority of the offseason working out in Detroit and working on the things I need to do defensively," Veleno said. "I've learned a lot from Dylan Larkin, who is one of the best two-way centers. He's great with the puck, without the puck. He's fast, knows where to be and always willing to learn."

World Junior Summer Showcase

All games at USA Hockey Arena, Plymouth

Saturday: Finland 3, USA White 2

Saturday: USA Blue 4, Sweden 2

Sunday: USA Blue 7, Finland 1

Sunday: Sweden 2, USA White 1 (OT)

Tuesday: Canada vs. USA (4 p.m.)

x-Wednesday: Canada vs. Finland (1 p.m.)

x-Wednesday: USA vs. Sweden (4 p.m.)

x-Friday: Canada vs. Sweden (1 p.m.)

x-Friday: USA vs. Finland (4 p.m.)

x-Saturday, Aug. 3: Sweden vs. Finland (1 p.m.)

x-Saturday, Aug. 3: Canada vs. USA (4 p.m.)

x-Game on NHL Network