Oliwer Kaski sports ability to provide Red Wings new dimension on defense
Traverse City —The Red Wings could use some offensive skill out of their defensemen. They barely got any last season.
Oliwer Kaski might be able to change that.
If not immediately, maybe shortly down the line, if early indications are accurate.
The Wings signed the undrafted European free agent in May and Kaski, 24, has been impressive in early workouts.
Sunday, in the Red-White intrasquad scrimmage, Kaski scored a goal when the teams were 3-on-3, one-timing a pass from Adam Erne.
Throughout the scrimmage, Kaski showed the ability to initiate offense and consistently attack.
“One of the things that could separate him is his offensive ability,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He can really pass and shoot (the puck). He has to learn to move his feet more consistently defensively.
“But the goal today, when you one-time the puck, you have a way better chance of scoring than when you stop and shoot it.
“He showed what a big part of his skill set is. I’m real intrigued with his skill set. Now, he has to show he can defend on a regular basis.”
Kaski, from Finland, was named the top defenseman in the Finnish pro league last season when he had 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists) in 59 games with Lahti.
Jiri Fischer, the Wings’ associate director of player personnel, identified Kaski early while scouting Europe.
“Jiri Fischer had me watch on tape before we got him,” Blashill said. “He’s (Kaski) got some real weapons. I got to see him play at the world championships and he can really shoot it. He has a good offensive mind.”
Kaski spent the 2015-16 season at Western Michigan, so he’s familiar with the state and the Wings’ organization.
When the Wings showed interest last season, Kaski was receptive.
“I feel like they really wanted me here and I really liked that,” Kaski said. “They really understood my style of game, and in the end, it was an easy decision to make.
“Every European player liked the Red Wings because they had a lot of Europeans and they liked the style of game they played. I always looked up to those guys, the Swedish guys they had here. I always liked to watch them play. (Valtteri) Filppula was here, too.”
Filppula skated with Kaski during the summer, getting ready for this season.
“He has a lot of skill,” Filppula said. “He can make plays, shoot. I feel like I’m saying the same thing about a lot of players (in Wings’ camp), now everybody skates well. They have a lot of skill and can make plays.
“I’m really excited to see how camp goes for him.”
Defenseman Patrik Nemeth may not have been a big, bold headline type of acquisition, but Nemeth could help the Wings substantially.
Nemeth signed a two-year, $6 million contract on July 1, leaving the Colorado Avalanche. The Wings were aggressive in acquiring Nemeth for his defensive, and penalty killing, ability.
At 6-foot-2, 220-pounds, the Wings’ appreciate Nemeth’s physical stature, too.
“He’s strong as an box, he is strong, strong, strong,” Blashill said. “He wins puck battles, wins net-front battles. We haven’t been good enough in front of our net. We haven’t been good enough at getting pucks out on the power play, creating stalls in the defensive zone.
“He does all those things.”
Dylan Larkin, Mike Green and Darren Helm didn’t participate in the scrimmage, all bothered by “minor little tweaks,” Blashill said.
“Common with training camp,” Blashill said. “We have a bunch of guys with little tweaks and what-not, the normall stuff with going 100 miles-per-hour into training camp. We’ll have to adjust our practice accordingly.”
Andreas Athanasiou, who scored a goal in the scrimmage — the Red team ultimately won 2-1, in a shootout — left the ice in the second half (they played two separate halves, rather than three periods) because of a “tweak,” Blashill said.
The Wings end the training camp portion of the schedule Monday at Centre Ice Arena, and head home to face Chicago Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena in the first of nine exhibition games.
...Taro Hirose (Michigan State) already has played 10 NHL games, signing with and then joining the Wings last March. But this is Hirose's first NHL training camp. The experience gives Hirose a bit of an edge of other rookies. "Being familiar with the systems and the way Blash likes guys to play, (it) gives me a little step over some of the guys who haven't played at that level before," Hirose said. "At the same time, with the new general manager and a lot of new management, new faces, you have to prove yourself every day."