Finally healthy, Red Wings' 2017 first-rounder Michael Rasmussen aims for big second half

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — Michael Rasmussen has had a good, productive season for the Grand Rapids Griffins when he’s been healthy and in the lineup.

But therein lies the issue.

Rasmussen hasn’t always been healthy, missed two months of playing time with an undisclosed injury, and has only played 18 games for Grand Rapids.

An injury has limited forward Michael Rasmussen to 18 games this season for the Grand Rapids Griffins.

The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Rasmussen has 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in those games, and has looked promising.

But it’s just the two months Rasmussen missed until returning Jan. 10 that’s been frustrating, along with getting back into game mode.

“Definitely being out that long, it was tough coming back and just getting back into the swing of things,” said Rasmussen, who has two goals and three assists in eight games since returning. “But it’s been all good, everything is going well.”

Rasmussen, 20, probably would have been in Grand Rapids last season. But because of his age last season he couldn’t be sent to the Griffins, and the Wings felt Rasmussen had nothing left to prove in junior hockey, so Rasmussen was left playing in the NHL all season.

In 62 games, Rasmussen totaled 18 points (eight goals) with the Wings while playing mostly wing — an unnatural position for him — and not seeing huge playing time.

The plan pretty much heading into this season was for Rasmussen, the Wings' first-round pick in 2017, to play in Grand Rapids, readjust to playing center, which he mainly played in junior hockey, and regain his confidence and play much more than he did last year.

Rasmussen had five points in his first three games this season, and appeared headed for a monster season, before getting hurt in mid-November.

“It was a good start to the year,” Rasmussen said. “They’re (statistics) still good now. It’s tough being out that long, and coming back, but it’s been good. I’m happy to be down here. It’s a good group of guys, good coaches and training staff.

“Both are very competitive leagues with great hockey players. You have to be ready to play every night.”

In 62 games with the Red Wings last season, Michael Rasmussen totaled 18 points (eight goals) while playing mostly wing — an unnatural position for him.

For any player, young or old, it’s never fun to be sent down to the minor leagues.

But, particularly in Rasmussen’s case, it’s difficult to head to the AHL after spending your entire first year in the NHL — and essentially going backward.

Still, coach Ben Simon liked the approach Rasmussen has had with the Griffins.

“He came down with the right frame of mind,” Simon said. “You didn’t see the pouting. He competed and worked and had a real good first half of the season before he got hurt.

“Anytime you get hurt, now you have to hit the reset button, but he’s worked his tail off to get back.”

Rasmussen, arguably, was one of the Wings’ best players during training camp and exhibition season, showing little rust while switching back to center.

The disappointment of being sent down to Grand Rapids was there, although Rasmussen was intent on not letting it linger.

“Being a competitor, you’re a little bit disappointed,” Rasmussen said of not making the Wings’ roster. “It took a couple of hours of being upset, and then just moving on. I came down here with a smile on my face and tried to help the team win, and that’s been the biggest priority for me.”

Having a good training camp gave Rasmussen a sense of self-satisfaction, and belief this could be a good season for himself.

“For that stuff (sense of what more could he have done) comes in your mind, but more than anything else I was proud of myself that I had a good camp and showed well,” Rasmussen said. “I didn’t take it personally or anything, I just focused on having a good camp and good start to the year and now I have to keep it going and continue working hard.”

The Wings envision Rasmussen as being a big, rugged shutdown center who also can be an effective net-front presence in the offensive end.

Rasmussen showed glimpses of being that type of players at the NHL level, and has looked the part in Grand Rapids as well.

“We want him to develop as a center, and it’s a tough position to play in the NHL,” Simon said. “There aren’t many 6-foot-6 centers that can skate (the way Rasmussen can).

“He missed a significant amount of time, and he’s just getting his feet back underneath him. He’s making strides, learning the position, learning to stay below the puck in the defensive zone.”

Rasmussen’s strengths right now are carrying the puck around the net, protecting the puck, and getting to the net front. He understands how to use his size.

Going back to center this season hasn’t been a huge adjustment, Rasmussen said.

“Not really, it’s just getting back into the routine and mindset of getting back quicker and going down low and helping the defense and being an option in the defensive zone,” Rasmussen said. “Being responsible and taking faceoffs, and that’s pretty much to it.”

There are those people who wonder how much the NHL season helped, or hurt, Rasmussen. But he insists it was a huge benefit, although not easy, by any means.

“It was definitely hard at times,” Rasmussen said. “It’s a big jump for sure (from junior hockey) and it was hard, but then again, it was good for me. A real good year of experience and a lot of learning and just being around those guys around those guys and being around pro hockey.

“I was thankful for last year and I enjoyed it. It’s a totally different level and lifestyle with different expectations. You have to get adjusted and learn to adapt.”

How long before Rasmussen returns to the Wings, or when, remains undetermined. Rasmussen’s injury, coach Jeff Blashill said several weeks ago, could somewhat slow Rasmussen’s return to the NHL.

“The fact he’s been out as much as he’s been out, hurts,” Blashill said. “It hurts the timeline of development. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it will hurt his development long-term, but the timeline, the quickness which he would be potentially ready to be an NHL player, is hurt.”

Rasmussen, though, is determined to accelerate that timeline, while helping the Griffins to continued success and a playoff berth.

“That’s what I’m focused on every day, trying to get ready and prepare to stay up the next time I’m up there (NHL),” Rasmussen said. “But the biggest thing for me is focus on the thing you can focus on and go from there.”

Twitter: @tkulfan