Dylan Larkin's injury creates another opportunity with Red Wings for Joe Veleno
Joe Veleno has had some good opportunities to establish himself as an NHL player this season, but this could be his best.
Veleno, a Red Wings' 2018 first-round draft pick (30th overall), is likely to see some time on the first line, centering Tyler Bertuzzi and Lucas Raymond.
Veleno is taking the place of Dylan Larkin, who underwent core muscle surgery Monday, and will miss the final six games of this season.
Coach Jeff Blashill talked about Veleno's chance after Tuesday's morning skate.
"I might play with the lines a little bit as we go, but he’ll certainly get increased opportunity,” Blashill said. “He’s had decent opportunity through the season, but this is even increased opportunity. It gives him a chance to jump through that window. He needs to seize this moment and show over the next (six) games we have remaining that he's a guy who can help us win. We need guys that can ultimately boost our fortunes higher, and he has a chance to show he can be one of those guys.”
Thus far, Veleno has had spurts of overall effectiveness, but consistency remains an issue. Veleno has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 60 games, but hasn't earned a point over his last 13 games heading into Tuesday's game in Tampa.
Still, the Wings have been more eyeing Veleno's defensive game, and to show that someday he can become a consistent two-way player.
The offense should work itself out. It's the total package the Wings are more interested about.
“When you’re a young player, where you earn the ice time is not necessarily just putting up points, it’s making sure you’re extremely accountable, especially as a center,” Blashill said. “That’s why it’s really hard for young centermen who are driving teams to winning. Ultimately Joe Veleno needs, No. 1, to establish that he’s a good two-way player before he worries about more offense.
“Does he have offense? I think so. But you can win lots of games and he can be a big piece of us being a better team if he becomes a real good two-way center that wins faceoffs, can play against anybody, that wins his shift on a consistent basis. That, to me, is where the focus is with him. That urgency with which he plays needs to be more consistent.
"There’s nights where the urgency is good and he’s winning tons of pucks (battles) and there’s nights where the urgency isn’t as good, and he doesn’t win as many pucks.
"Offense will start increasing when the urgency on a consistent basis increases."
The decision to shut down Larkin, and for Larkin to have surgery, was decided among Larkin, general manager Steve Yzerman, Blashill, and Larkin's representatives.
The injury had lingered for weeks, and forced Larkin to limit the amount of time he could practice.
"Early, there was a pain management and then at some point it just became where it felt like the right thing to do for Dylan to get it done," Blashill said of surgery. "He tried to grind through as long as he could. Now, hopefully, he can get himself healthy, and the expectation is that you miss some training, but ultimately he’ll have plenty of time for that and should be ready to go next year.”
Larkin was nearly a point-per-game player (31 goals, 38 assists for 69 points in 71 games), and took another step forward in his defensive game.
Arguably, it was the best season of his seven-year career.
"He had a real strong season through large parts of it," Blashill said. "In the end, he was playing hurt and that's not easy, It probably took some of his jump, and one of his best attributes — and he has a lot — is his jump, and speed and to get pucks and win pucks, and it took away some of that consistency.
"He's continuing to grow and he did a good job of growing into a leadership role he has."
Larkin will have enough of the summer to train, yet rehabilitate and refresh mentally, and be ready to play in September.
"Sometimes refreshed mentally is a good thing,” Blashill said. “Dylan’s going to maximize the time he has to train, he’s going to come into camp in great shape. He’s going to have gotten better at things, that’s who he is as a person.
"And he’ll be healthy.”
The fact the Wings' minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids remains in a tight playoff chase in the final days of the AHL season is likely keeping top prospect, forward Jonatan Berggren, with the Griffins.
Berggren (2018, second-round draft pick) has 18 goals and 36 assists (54 points) in 64 games for the Griffins.
“I would say there’s fluidity to our situation,” Blashill said. "Grand Rapids is in a spot where they’re trying to fight for their playoff lives right now, so we're cognizant of that. We’re cognizant of individual player’s development, of who helps us the best, and I don’t know who will play and who won’t play.
“Ultimately, the Berggren conversation is a decision made by Steve (Yzerman) on what’s best for Jonatan Berggren given his age (21) and where he's at in his development. That's decision is clearly based on what is best for his development."