Gifted Joe Veleno riding high but still long shot to make Red Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Joe Veleno

Detroit – OK, so it wasn’t like winning the Stanley Cup.

But Joe Veleno and the rest of his Red Wings teammates that won the eight-team NHL Prospects Tournament last week in Traverse City still feel good about their accomplishment.

“It was good time over there,” said Veleno Wednesday, hours before taking off for Chicago for an exhibition game. “A lot of guys had a lot of fun, especially winning that tournament. It was pretty special for the whole organization and for us players.”

No question, Veleno and the rest of the roster took the tournament seriously.

“We really wanted to win,” Veleno said. “We showed it in all of our games, always coming back from a deficit.”

One of the best players during the tournament was Veleno, who led all goal-scorers with seven.

Veleno, still only 19, scored 42 goals in his final season of junior last winter, in Drummondville, and the scoring in Traverse City further showed the improvement in his shot and willingness to shoot rather than pass.

The performance in the Prospects Tournament also gave Veleno plenty of confidence heading into the NHL exhibition season.

“Obviously high,” said Veleno of his confidence level. “I had a pretty good tournament but I have to reset myself here. I know it’s a different level. This is like the real stuff.”

The Wings’ coaching staff and player development staff worked with Veleno the entire summer and last season to improve the velocity and accuracy on his shot.

“That was one thing I wasn’t doing as much in junior a couple years ago,” Veleno said. “Once I got drafted here, they kept telling me to shoot the puck. I worked on my shot during the summer and got stronger.”

Another item coach Jeff Blashill wanted to stress was Veleno concentrating on becoming a complete two-way center, effective on the defensive side as much as becoming a threat offensively.

“It hard to be a pure point guy, and you look at his point (totals) in juniors, they were good but they weren’t astronomical,” Blashill said. “To think you come here and all of a sudden go astronomical in points would be misleading.

“So become a great two-way center.”

Detroit center Joe Veleno skates during practice.

Blashill told Veleno to concentrate on defense, too, and that can help any young player get to the NHL.

“I told him the quickest way to the NHL is to earn trust,” Blashill said. “That’s true of every organization. So if you earn trust from the coach, you get out there way quicker.

“So be great defensively, transport the puck up the ice like he does and produce offense, like he does. You have to do both, for sure, if you want to be a top-two line center, but you better make sure you are good defensively.”

With the deep pool of centers the Wings have currently, it’s a long shot that Veleno makes the opening night roster. It’s probably for the best for Veleno to earn some pro seasoning in Grand Rapids and gain confidence with a productive AHL season.

Regardless, Veleno is playing with more confidence this preseason.

“Last year I wasn’t ready to play at the next level,” Veleno said. “I knew I was going to go back to junior and get another year there, try to play world juniors and dominate the (Quebec junior league). I met all the expectations and now I’m coming into this season, turning pro.

“I cleaned up a lot of my game defensively and focused on the little details to play in the NHL. We’ll see how it goes.”

Good fit

Blashill has had veteran defenseman Trevor Daley paired with June’s first-round pick, Moritz Seider.

The two were scheduled to be a defensive pairing Wednesday in Chicago, which would be a stern opening test for Seider facing the likes of the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

“He’s one of the most experienced guys in the league,” said Seider of Daley. “Over 1,000 games, It’s great. He helps me a lot, we communicate. It makes it a lot easier.”

Blashill believes the experience and poise Daley plays with benefits the 18-year-old Seider.

“Daley has been around a lot of situations,” Blashill said. “He can tell him where to stand, tell him about different situations.”

Detroit goaltender Jonathan Bernier stops a shot during practice.

Goalie workload

Early in the season, look for goaltender Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier to split the workload, judging from Blashill’s comments.

Bernier didn’t play as much early last season and didn’t really get into a rhythm until later in the schedule when Blashill evened the workload.

The Red Wings open the season with a back-to-back against Nashville and Dallas (Oct. 5-6), so it’ll be easy to get both goaltenders work as soon as the schedule begins.

“We’re going to get them both going early,” Blashill said. “I’d like to get Bernie a few more games early than I did a year ago and try to get them both in a groove.”

More injuries

Add Justin Abdelkader and Oliwer Kaski to the list of Red Wings nursing minor injuries, joining Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi and Darren Helm.

Blashill said Larkin has skated on his own the last two days but not with the rest of the team.

"They're not all the same (injuries) but I don't expect any of them to not be ready for the regular season," Blashill said. "Any soft tissue stuff, you worry about pushing them too fast and it turns into two weeks (of missed playing time)."

Twitter: @tkulfan