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Red Wings Prefer Veleno At Center; Lightning Claim Smith

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Joe Veleno, Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings' preference is that Joe Veleno play center in the NHL.

By sending Joe Veleno to play for the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins this weekend, the Detroit Red Wings are making Veleno a center of attention. For the next two nights in a home-and-home series against the Rockford IceHogs, Veleno is likely to center GR’s top line and play alongside top prospect Jonatan Berggren.

In the middle is exactly where the Red Wings are projecting Veleno will be playing for them going forward.

“I think long term here we still see him as a center,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “We would like to ultimately have him play center as much as we can but I also think there’s times where he gets an opportunity to move up the lineup.

“If the wing is the position that’s open, then it gives him a good opportunity. He kind of fills a little bit similar need there in terms of a big body and smart enough defensively to go against good players. If that’s the case, it will give him an opportunity for a few more minutes, But all of us I think long term still see him more as a center.”

Veleno On Wing Against Wild

The Red Wings tried Veleno on wing on the third line against the Minnesota Wild in Monday’s 7-4 loss. He skated on a unit with Michael Rasmussen and Adam Erne. However, three nights later when facing the New York Rangers, Veleno was the third-line center between Erne and Sam Gagner.

“As a young player who potentially could be a long-term center I would be reticent and (Detroit GM) Steve (Yzerman) would be reticent also from a management standpoint to move him to a wing position more than we want to, or need to because you want him in that spot,” Blashill explained. “It’s easier to go from center to wing than to spend two years not playing center and then go back to center. It’s really difficult.”

The Detroit staff also believe that Veleno’s skill set is best suited to play in the middle.

“From an attribute standpoint, I do think he can transport the puck and I do think as a center you get the puck more in the middle of the ice where you can make a difference transporting it up the ice,” Blashill said. “That’s one of his good attributes, transporting it from the D-zone to the O-zone.

“I also think his defensive instincts are a little better at center, probably because he’s played it more than wing. I wouldn’t think he can’t become a good winger but right now we’d like to give him opportunities to be a center.”

Smith Bolts Back To Tampa Bay

The Wings lost a center from their depth chart on Saturday when the Tampa Bay Lightning were opting to claim Gemel Smith on waivers.

Detroit made a claim for Gemel Smith last month when the Lighting placed him on waivers. He ended up playing three games for the Wings, the last two on a line with his younger brother Givani Smith. It was the first time in 53 years that Detroit was suiting up brothers for a game.

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