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Opportunity For First Rounder Joe Veleno to Prove He’s a Scoring Center

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Joe Veleno, Detroit Red Wings
Rookie Joe Veleno has netted five goals in 37 games for the Detroit Red Wings this season

When Joe Veleno was NHL draft age in 2018, his scouting report stated he was a smart player, with good tools, a hard shot, notable defensive awareness and an overflowing desire to be a quality player.

The only question is whether he would score at the NHL level.

Forty-four months later, the scouting report on Veleno remains the same and question still hasn’t been answered.

Coach Jeff Blashill inserted Joe Veleno as his No. 3 center late last week. It feels like a move designed to expand his opportunity. Blashill would like to know whether Veleno could spark more scoring from that line.

“I don’t know that answer,” Blashill said. “Can’t say for sure whether he’ll be able to with a little bit of increased opportunity or not. I hope so. That’s a little bit of why he’s getting that opportunity. Can he win his shifts, go out and defend well and also add scoring? He does have real good individual ability, he’s got a good shot, so hopefully he can help drive some more offense in a bottom-six role.”

Joe Veleno Has Shot to Score

Veleno has played 37 games for Detroit this season. But Blashill has moved him around on different lines. He had been on the fourth line recently. With the Red Wings now 14 points behind the Boston Bruins for a playoff spot, it’s the right time to give Veleno a longer look at center. He responded with a goal and an assist in his first game in that role against Toronto.

He started with Michael Rasmussen and Vladislav Namestnikov on his wings. But in Monday’s practice, Namestnikov moved up to the first line and Filip Zadina was dropped to the third. Blashill said he was experimenting in practice and wasn’t sure what the line combination would be Tuesday in the home game against Carolina.

“I wanted to move (Veleno) up the lineup a little bit and see how that line does,” Blashill said. “We’re trying to get four lines that we feel real confident that we can play against most anybody.”

Each Has Something to Prove

If Blashill sticks with Veleno, Rasmussen and Zadina, he will have three young players all trying to prove they can score at this level. All three are first round picks. Zadina was drafted No. 6 in 2018. Veleno was No. 30 that same year.  Rasmussen was No. 9 in 2017. Each of them is 22. None of them has proven he can score consistently. Veleno boasts five goals, while Rasmussen and Zadina have seven each. Maybe that will fuel the unit. The negative of that move is that Rasmussen has to go to the wing and the Red Wings see him as big checking center.

“Does (moving Rasmussen to wing) free him up a little bit more to be net front? Maybe,” Blashill said. “That was a conversation we’ve had internally for a year, is can he be a real good net-front guy and a center, when you’re work is to get back first all the time. Does it free that up a little bit?

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The Red Wings have used Veleno some on the wing. But it seems as if he needs to play center if is to have his best chance of scoring.

“I think Joe, his natural instincts at center are better defensively than on the wing but he’s fine at both,” Blashill said. “They’re both learning how to be a good defensive center in the league. I would say in the end they’ll both end up in the middle of the ice.”

This will be a good test for Veleno. He hasn’t had as many NHL games as Zadina and Rasmussen. He is probably the best all-around player of the three. It’s not like he is on his last chance. Every player develops at his own pace. Anaheim’s Troy Terry didn’t prove he could score until this season. He’s 24.

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