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Confident Taro Hirose returns to Red Wings lineup

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Buffalo, N.Y. — When Taro Hirose was sent to Grand Rapids in early December, it wasn’t a shock.

Hirose wasn’t playing the type of hockey he had been late last season, after signing with the Wings as an undrafted free agent from Michigan State.

Taro Hirose had 19 points (15 assists) in 22 games with Grand Rapids, restoring the confidence he lost in the NHL.

“Confidence was a huge thing for me early in the season,” said Hirose, who was recalled Wednesday and was in Thursday’s lineup against Buffalo. “I wasn’t really playing good hockey and playing the way I wanted to be playing.

“Going down there and getting some confidence and playing a little bit more, that was big for me, and I’m hoping I can help the team win up here.”

Hirose played in 23 games with the Wings, with seven points (two goals), after collecting seven points (six assists) in 10 games after signing in March last season.

At 5-foot-10, 162 pounds, the 23-year-old Hirose is fighting an uphill battle in terms of size and speed in nearly every match-up.

So it’s a matter of Hirose using his creativity and savvy to outplay an opponent.

“At his size and speed he gives up a lot of size, and he’s not super fast, so it’s hard to create separation on his own,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He has to be a real good give-and-go player, which he is, and then it’s got to connect with the line.”

Blashill placed Hirose on a line with Andreas Athanasiou and Luke Glendening, a unit that excelled late last season, but couldn’t get going offensively when this season opened.

“I hope they can get that chemistry back right away,” Blashill said. “If all three are going at a high level, they have the puck a lot, and when Taro has the puck, he’s real good.”

Hirose had 19 points (15 assists) in 22 games with Grand Rapids, restoring the confidence he lost in the NHL.

Hirose admitted he might have been pushing too hard to match last season’s success.

“For sure you always want to do well and having that success in the back of my mind, you want to try to match that,” Hirose said. “When things aren’t going well, for me, you start doubting yourself, and to go down and get some confidence was big.”

Reuniting, and getting the opportunity to play with Athanasiou again, was exciting for Hirose.

“A strength of mine is just getting other players the puck, and getting them the speed and ice,” Hirose said. “(Athanasiou) is real dangerous, and we can work in that aspect, and find space for each other.”

Blashill believes Hirose has the intangibles to be an NHL player.

“From a pure athleticism, and a size and speed standpoint, it has to be the right situation for him to have success,” Blashill said. “The chemistry has to work, and he was a nearly a point per game player in the American League, and he had points (in the NHL).

“You get a chance to prove what you are in this league every day, and he had a chance at the end of last year and he did a real good job. This year it didn’t quite go as smooth, not that he didn’t play well. He did not play poorly. He just wasn’t producing.”

Memorable evening

Defenseman Gustav Lindstrom was slated to make his NHL debut Thursday in Buffalo with a lot of family support.

His parents flew in from Stockholm on short notice, wanting to share the memorable evening.

“It’s great they are here,” Lindstrom said. “They’ve supported me all my life. Now we’re here, so it’s a dream come true.”

Lindstrom, a 2017 second-round draft pick, has been a steady presence in Grand Rapids, and the Wings have been anxious to give Lindstrom a taste of the NHL.

“Just play your game,” Blashill said of what he told Lindstrom ahead of his NHL debut. “I’ve talked to him on the ice a little bit. Playing his game is what got him this opportunity, this call-up, so come in and play your game.

“He seems to be fairly unflappable. He’s a young guy who is pretty easygoing, it doesn’t seem like much affects him, he doesn’t get nervous, he’s just pretty relaxed. Those are the people that are able to come in and get their game right away.”

Lindstrom has some familiarity with Buffalo, having played for Sweden in the world junior championships a year ago. The scouting combine was in Buffalo, too.

"It's nice to be back," Lindstrom said.

Red Wings at Blue Jackets

Faceoff: 7 p.m. Friday,  Nationwide Arena, Columbus

TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Blue Jackets (29-16-9) have been one of the surprise teams in the NHL this season. … They’ve won eight of their last 10 games, firmly putting them in the playoff picture. … Former Red Wings RW Gustav Nyquist (34 points) and D Zach Werenski, a former Michigan standout, (16 goals) have been key contributors.

Twitter: @tkulfan