Hockey

Joe Veleno’s Unconventional Path to Detroit Red Wings

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The Detroit Red Wings are entering a difficult stretch in their schedule. The team has lost two of its last three games to the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. These two teams have some of the most talented players in the National Hockey League. One rookie Red Wing that needs to find his footing at the National Hockey League level is Joe Veleno. Veleno needs to do this if he wants to be on the Red Wings’ roster when they are once again in their “window” to compete for a Stanley Cup.

Matt Boldy of the Wild recently scored a hat trick against the Red Wings. This is not the first time that a young player on an opposing team has scored a hat trick against the team. Michael Bunting of the Toronto Maple Leafs is also a rookie who scored a hat trick against the Red Wings, although at 26-years-old Bunting is older than Boldy. According to NHL.com, “to be considered a rookie, a player must not have played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons. Any player at least 26 years of age (by September 15th of that season) is not considered a rookie.”

There are three rookies on the Red Wings roster that have made a tremendous impact on the team during the 2021-22 NHL season. Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond are two candidates for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in the league. The two are toward the top of the list when it comes to scoring in the NHL. This is surprising when it comes to Raymond as he was not guaranteed to make the team out of training camp. If it had not been for a shoulder injury to Jakub Vrana, Raymond would likely have not made the team.

Veleno has yet to play a full season with the “big club.” Drafted 30th overall in the 2018 draft by then-general manager Ken Holland, Veleno is now too talented to play in the AHL but has not found his footing in the NHL. Head coach Jeff Blashill was recently quoted as saying that the Red Wings’ organization sees Veleno as a center at the National Hockey League level. He has certainly proven that he is too talented for the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League.

The Red Wings organization and Blashill have given Veleno every opportunity to get his feet wet. They have told the 22-year-old that he needs to be stronger on the puck. At 6’1” and 198 pounds Veleno has already put muscle on his frame. This was evident by his social media activity during the offseason after his first season in the American Hockey League. During the extended break due to the coronavirus, Veleno had nothing but time to develop this aspect of his game.

“The last four games (in Grand Rapids) I felt so much more comfortable at that level and having played most of my games in the NHL just going back there is kind of a different pace and feels a little slower compared to this level,” Veleno said. “The start of the year I wouldn’t necessarily say I was being dominant at that level. Having the NHL games under my belt and going back down there with a whole lot of confidence, just being more comfortable on the ice, helps a lot to make me thrive better at that level.”

The Red Wings’ brass wants Veleno to thrive at the NHL level rather than just survive. He will need to be stronger on the puck to do this. As Red Wings director of player personnel Shawn Horcoff said, playing a 200-foot game will require this increase in strength. Any professional athlete should be up for the task and meet it head-on.

Veleno had an unconventional path to the Red Wings roster through Malmö of the Swedish Hockey League to the Griffins because of the 2020-21 season being disjointed. The fact that Veleno was able to improve any aspect of his game is a bonus. It would have been easy for him to be complacent. If Veleno wants to be an everyday center on the Red Wings’ roster one day he will need to put all of these things together.

The Red Wings have not made the Stanley Cup playoffs since the 2015-16 season when they would lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. Steve Yzerman was the general manager of the Lightning at this time and built a team that would win a Stanley Cup in 2020-21. Yzerman was not offered a contract extension by the Lightning after the team was swept in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Julien BriseBois stepped in as general manager but Yzerman was the one that built the roster. It is certainly too early for Yzerman to make a decision as to whether or not Veleno will be on the Red Wings’ roster when this time comes.

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