Wings rethink best options for Veleno to 'thrive, not just survive'
Detroit — Joe Veleno has appeared to be on the cusp of earning a regular spot on the Red Wings this season — but not quite totally.
With the Wings nearly at full health currently — although with Dylan Larkin a game-time decision Wednesday, Veleno was recalled from Grand Rapids as insurance — the question of whether to keep Veleno in the NHL or let him develop in the AHL with the Griffins again is at the forefront.
It's an interesting question regarding Veleno, 22, a Wings' 2018 first-round draft pick.
Is it better for him to play probably lesser minutes but learn at the NHL level? Or play major minutes in all situations in Grand Rapids?
"Wherever he's at, we want him to play meaningful minutes and be in position to thrive, not just survive," coach Jeff Blashill said.
"There are ways to earn meaningful minutes in both situations. In this situation, if he's not up the lineup, he still has to learn how to do it right and by that, I mean how hard you have to compete to win puck battles and how you have to manage the puck and get pucks in and out, and those are lessons regardless if he's playing a lot or a little. Those are things he critically has to learn.
"On the reverse side, when he's down (in Grand Rapids), he has opportunities to do more with the puck and have opportunities, certainly on the power play.
"We're balancing what is best for Joe Veleno and the Detroit Red Wings. Sometimes those worlds collide but we try to do the best we can to make sure the development of the player is paramount."
In 35 games with the Wings this season, Veleno has four goals and three assists (seven points) with a minus-seven rating. Veleno has six goals and four assists (10 points) in 11 games in Grand Rapids, with a minus-2.
Veleno is averaging just over 12 minutes per game with the Wings. Ice time isn't tabulated in the AHL, but it's a safe bet Veleno is playing five to eight minutes more with the Griffins.
With the return of forward Carter Rowney to center the fourth line, and Vladislav Namestikov returning to play wing on the third line, there may not be a chance to even get Veleno consistently into the lineup.
That will likely sway the decision to keep Veleno in Grand Rapids, where he had a goal and two assists in two games with the Griffins last weekend, while the Wings were idle.
Blashill also feels that Veleno is established and mature enough that he can handle the shuttle between the AHL and NHL.
"Joe is in a spot in his maturity where he can handle going up and down a little bit," Blashill said. "When a player comes over (to the AHL) he is learning his footing and it's hard to call him up. Joe has been around enough, this is his third year of pro hockey, he can probably handle it a little bit, the up and down, and we don't want it to be a rollercoaster, but it's part of the mental toughness to be successful in this league."
Forward Darren Helm signed as a free agent with Colorado last summer after 13 seasons with the Wings.
Helm has four goals and two assists (six points) in 38 games with the Avalanche, including scoring a goal when the Avalanche defeated the Wings in Denver earlier this season.
Wednesday was the first time Helm has played in Detroit as a visitor.
"Quiet leader but demanded a lot,” Blashill said. “His work ethic is excellent, both on and off the ice. In the weight room, practice, he’s one of those guys whose attention to detail is great. He’s one of those guys who studies, any information we put there he would study it, so his preparation was great. Not necessarily in a real boisterous way, but certainly demanded that of other people.
“He's a great person to have in the locker room. His effort on a day-to-day basis is excellent, his compete on a day-to-day basis is excellent. I’m sure he’s adding good value to their locker room. He certainly did that here and in the last few years under trying times. When he came to Detroit, Detroit was somewhat, or at its peak, and he was a big factor on a lot of good teams."
Blashill feels Helm can provide a needed part to an already stacked Avalanche lineup.
"You need players who can provide momentum and energy shifts and he certainly does that," Blashill said. "They're a group that has some real big, high-end ability up front. But any team that wants to win deep in the playoffs needs depth through their lineup and he can certainly add that."