It’s not fourth line center or bust for Joe Veleno to make the Detroit Red Wings’ roster.
“There is a world where he is competing on the wing for sure,” Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “There is no doubt.”
Veleno probably helped his roster chances by coming to training camp bigger and stronger than he was last season. He seems more confident.
“Obviously there are unforeseen things like injuries,” Blashill said. “Let’s see where it goes. The biggest thing is he has to make a statement every time he’s on the ice that he’s going to make us better.”
Detroit general manager Steve Yzerman has made it clear that even prize rookies must earn their place. The Red Wings won’t hand a roster spot to a rookie and see what happens.
“It’s not about making our team,” Blashill said. “It’s about making our team better.”
If Detroit keeps eight defensemen, which Blashill has indicated, then the Red Wings are limited to 13 forwards. The Red Wings came into camp with 13 forwards under contract with more NHL experience than Veleno or the other rookies.
“If (Veleno) is a much better player than some of the guys we foresee in those spots,” Blashill said, “and if we can find a spot in the top nine, then I think it’s a discussion.”
The Red Wings plan to give Veleno, Lucas Raymond and Jonatan Berggren considerable playing time in the exhibition season to see who is ready and who is not. Veleno’s advantage over Raymond and Berggren: he has already played 58 games in Grand Rapids and five with the Red Wings.
Deciding which rookies makes the team is complicated. Yzerman and Blashill also must factor in what’s best for the players’ development. Raymond is 19, while Berggren and Veleno are 21.
“The discussion for fourth line center is we’d have to discuss what’s best for Joe Veleno at that point too, not just necessarily is he a little bit better than another guy,” Blashill said. “Is that the best thing for our organization and the best thing in terms of his development? Those are talks Steve (Yzerman) will have as we go through the exhibition season.”