Adam Erne, Michael Rasmussen among players who took steps forward for Red Wings
The record isn't great, and it’s disappointing to miss the NHL playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.
But the Red Wings certainly have had individuals who have put together impressive seasons. Two who came to coach Jeff Blashill’s mind were forwards Adam Erne and Michael Rasmussen.
Each was notable for a different reason and under different circumstances. But both made a positive impression in this shortened season.
Erne came into Friday’s game in Columbus with a team-leading 11 goals and nine assists in 45 games.
Anyone who would have wagered that Erne would be leading the Red Wings in goals is likely a very rich person today.
But given a larger opportunity as the season progressed, Erne flourished.
“If you asked him, it’s more about getting more opportunity and he’s done a good job with it,” Blashill said. “He’s capitalized with the opportunity.”
Erne, 26, was a 2013 second-round draft pick by Tampa Bay, so there was always the potential he would become a good offensive player.
His best season in three years in Tampa was a seven-goal season. He was traded to the Wings in one of general manager Steve Yzerman’s first moves in the summer of 2019.
Erne only had two goals and three assists last season, but he heads into this final weekend with a career high in goals (11) and having tied a career high with 20 points.
Rasmussen is a young player who put in the work during the long offseason and improved on the ice.
“From a year ago, and you include the summer as part of it, he’s clearly a better skater, clearly playing with more confidence and clearly a better defensive player,” Blashill said. “He’s come one of the furthest in terms of development.”
Rasmussen, 22, entered Friday’s game with three goals and seven assists in 38 games.
The former 2017 first-round draft pick is developing into the big (6-foot-6, 229 pounds) shutdown center who can be a force at both ends of the rink.
“A guy like Ras (Rasmussen), certainly, he's shown that he's a guy that was ready for the opportunity, and he's gained tons of experience," Blashill said. "He's been out there 5-on-6, he's been out there 6-on-5, power play, penalty kill. You hope that expedites his development."
Injuries to forwards Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Robby Fabbri, Bobby Ryan and Frans Nielsen in the final weeks of the season gave more ice time to young players such as Filip Zadina and Rasmussen.
Blashill feels that can be beneficial for those players in the future.
“Zadina has shared times throughout the season 6-on-5, and now he's kind of exclusively 6-on-5,” Blashill said. “It wasn't a very good one (Saturday) but he was out there 5-on-3 when the game was on the line.
“If we have Bert and Larks and Fabbs in the lineup, he (Zadina) might not be out there. Even through struggles, you learn, and sometimes that's the best way to learn.
“I would say the experience gained out of a number of players is something that's been gained over this stretch."
When the Wings acquired defenseman Marc Staal from the New York Rangers in September, it was viewed mostly as the team taking on Staal’s $5.7 million salary cap hit (helping the Rangers out of cap problems) — and getting a second-round draft pick from New York.
But Staal, 34, has done a fine job, helping the Wings on and off the ice and proving to be a valuable asset.
“He helped us a ton,” Blashill said. “Whatever minutes he played, he made good decisions. Hockey is a chaotic game and you need players who can sort through the chaos and he did that no problem.
“He’s a big body who is hard to play against.”
Staal is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the Wings might be interested in retaining him for a reasonable price.
Red Wings at Blue Jackets
► Faceoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
► TV/radio: BSD/950
► Outlook: The Red Wings and Blue Jackets close out their respective NHL regular seasons.