Red Wings' Joe Veleno takes on pressure, expectations at NHL level

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The NHL debut of Joe Veleno is getting closer.

Maybe Tuesday in Columbus, or the next game in Carolina. Soon, it appears, Veleno will get into the Red Wings’ lineup.

Joe Veleno was a 2018 first-round pick.

Veleno, one of the Wings’ 2018 first-round picks (Filip Zadina was the other) can’t wait.

The center was involved Monday in his first full practice, after a week of participating in morning skates and optional skates, as the schedule was filled with games.

“Just being around the guys and having the experience of going to the road games, I’m excited to get the chance eventually and make the best of it,” said Veleno, who is waiting to be medically cleared after suffering a mild concussion/whiplash late in his Swedish Hockey League season.

More: Jakub Vrana, Red Wings looking like an exciting and seamless fit

Coach Jeff Blashill hasn’t seen a lot of Veleno, but has noticed a physically different young player from a year or two ago.

“Undoubtedly he’s changed his body for the good,” Blashill said. “He looks thicker, and from what I understand he’s gotten quicker because of it, so it’s good weight.

“He’s definitely a bigger man than he was a year ago so that’s a positive thing. Coaches have told me he’s skating and shooting the puck well, so we’ll see.”

Veleno played a lot of wing with Malmo this season, but Blashill said the Wings continue to envision Veleno as a center and he'll play center with the Wings when inserted into the lineup.

Wings fans have been clamoring for the chance to see Veleno at the NHL level.

He appeared on track to get in a few games late last season with the Wings, but the pandemic ended the season, and the Wings weren’t brought back for the NHL’s Return To Play.

This season, Veleno was loaned to Malmo in the SHL. Veleno returned earlier this month, and had to complete a seven-day quarantine before getting on the ice with the Wings.

He understands the expectations and pressure of fans through social media, but knows how to deal with it.

“There’s always going to be pressure but it’s part of hockey. It’s always going to be there,” Veleno said. “I like playing under pressure. That’s why you play the game of hockey. A lot of people are going to expect certain things but you have to be mentally tough with it, and know what they’re (the organization) doing is right and listen to the right people who try to help  you.

“I’m excited to get things going over here I know I worked real hard to get here. I know I worked real hard to get here and I’ll have fun with it, kind of just relax and work hard out there. If you work hard, everything seems to fall into place.

“Pressure is always going to be there, no matter what.”

The Wings have traditionally been patient with their draft picks, not rushing any young player to the NHL before he excels at the American League level.

Veleno is no different, following in a long line of recent draft picks who’ve learned professional hockey in Grand Rapids.

“Everybody wants the next guys and you’re always excited about the next person until maybe that next person doesn’t do it and you want the next person,” said Blashill, of fans’ anticipation. “(General manager) Steve (Yzerman) isn’t going to rush any of these guys to the NHL. He’s going to make sure they've earned it and they’re ready for it. If you do the alternative, first off, if you don’t make people earn it, you create a culture of entitlement that nobody wants. No. 2, if they’re not ready for it they’ll come here and fail, and they’ll fail here at times anyway, but you want them to have as much in their toolbox when they have their struggles in the NHL, as much experience, before putting them in their spot.

“Everybody’s time line is different, and there’s no quick fix at all. It takes time and drafting and no quick fix to rebuild.

“We don’t know which ones will (be impact players), if any, and hopefully a number them do, and you’ll become a better team when they’re ready to be that type of impact players.”

Ice chips

Blashill said forward Robby Fabbri (upper body) is still day to day. Fabbri's availability against Columbus remains unclear.

... Defenseman Filip Hronek didn't practice Monday, but Blashill expects Hronek to be available against Columbus. 

"He's banged up, but so are a lot of players," Blashill said. "I anticipate him playing, but you never know until you get to (Tuesday)." 

... NHL teams carried four-to-six man taxi squads this season, through the pandemic. Count Blashill among a growing number of coaches and executives who don't want to see the format continued next season.

"The taxi squad guys get in a spot where there are more guys who just are not playing (games)," Blashill said. "That's why you have the American League, so you keep guys playing and practicing."

Red Wings at Columbus Blue Jackets

►Faceoff: 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nationwide Arena.

►TV/radio: Bally Sports Detroit-plus/WWJ-950 AM.

►Outlook: The Red Wings (17-25-8) and Columbus (15-25-10) face each other for the first of three games in these final two weeks. … The Wings lead the season series 3-2-0.

Twitter: @tkulfan