Red Wings unsure on Joe Veleno's ceiling, but he's about to get a long look
Columbus, Ohio — Forward Joe Veleno is getting another chance to show what he can do at the NHL level, and he just might stay with the Red Wings for a long, long time.
Veleno was recalled from minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids on Monday, as the Red Wings placed forward Mitchell Stephens (lower body) on injured reserve.
Veleno, 21, a 2018 first-round draft pick, was with the Wings for four games two weeks ago when they were on the road without forwards Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin. Veleno had a goal and an assist, and now has two goals and an assist in nine career NHL games over two brief stints.
This stretch with Detroit could be much longer, given Stephens isn't likely to return soon.
"He’s too young in his development to say what his ceiling is going to be, but I do think he’s a guy who can come in and play in those types of third- and fourth-line role-type minutes because he’s accountable defensively,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He knows how to manage the game, knows how to manage risk and when he’s done that he’s been really good. I certainly wouldn’t put a ceiling at all on him.
"But he’s going to get a chance to get back in the lineup here, and every time you get back in you got to show that you can help us win hockey games.”
The Wings wanted Veleno to get physically stronger after being drafted, along with putting a premium on being a dependable and accountable player at both ends of the ice.
Veleno has seemingly checked both of those items on the checklist, with his season spent in the Swedish League last winter during the pandemic proving to be beneficial getting acclimated further to professional hockey.
"Joe had moments of playing real good hockey," Blashill said of Veleno's earlier time with the Wings this season. "Joe is a good transporter from one end to the next, so that’s important. Joe’s got some physical tools, he can beat you one-on-one, can shoot the puck, and he’s accountable defensively.
"We just need him to be a good player for us, all 200 feet.”
The Wings will miss the work Stephens provided on the penalty kill, but that is also an area where Veleno, potentially, can come in and contribute.
“I don’t know (Monday) if (Veleno) will contribute in that role, but eventually he will,” Blashill said. “Joe’s a good penalty killer, he’s definitely somebody who can fill some of those minutes (lost with Stephens). Carter Rowney is another guy who can fill some of those minutes, probably Adam Erne is another guy who can fill some of those minutes.
“Stephens had done a good job for us on the kill. Him and (Sam) Gagner had some real good chemistry together, so it was unfortunate. But this is the NHL and this is hockey and you have to work through injuries. We have guys that are very capable of going in and doing a real good job and Joe’s one of them.”
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Stephens was hurt Saturday against Montreal when he slammed skates-first into the end boards and left the ice unable to put much weight, if any at all, on his left leg.
Blashill wouldn't put a timetable on Stephens' return, but it sounds like his absence will be lengthy.
Rowney is another forward who could see more responsibility, and playing time, on the checking line with Stephens unavailable.
"Carter Rowney is a guy who hasn’t played a ton but has played pretty well when he’s played and gotten better and better, from the preseason until now," Blashill said. "He’s a guy who can win faceoffs on the right. We’re in position to be able hopefully utilize the depth to replace (Stephens)."
Defenseman Troy Stecher (upper body) was on the ice for Monday's morning skate, but it remains to be seen if Stecher will be able to return to the lineup. Stecher hasn't played since Nov. 4 in Boston, and Monday's game was to be the sixth consecutive game he's missed.
Being able to practice was a positive step. But whether Stecher can play over the pain is the key question.
“He’s trying to work through the injury and see if he can not have to take significant time off,” Blashill said. “If he chooses either of the other routes (surgery), he’s going to have to take significant time off. The fact he’s out there is a good sign. The big step would be shooting (the puck), so we’ll see.”
Red Wings at Stars
►Faceoff: 8 Tuesday, American Airlines Center, Dallas.
►TV/radio: ESPN+, Hulu/97.1
►Outlook: Dallas (5-6-2) has five victories but only one has been a regulation time victory. ... Offense has been an issue, as Dallas ranks 29th with only 2.38 goals per game. ... D Miro Heiskanen (nine assists, 12 points) and C Tyler Seguin (five goals) have led the Stars.
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