The Detroit Red Wings are going to likely see another big jump in terms of production this year on their roster. General Manager Steve Yzerman is betting on it, too.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Yzerman said in his press conference Wednesday. “I expect us to be a better hockey team. I hope that translates into more wins.”
As the team moves forward into the next stage of the “Yzerplan,” where might some of the players during the rebuild actually fit in? Specifically, how will they fit in?
This version of Detroit Red Wings Two Truths and a Lie, we look at a player who has always been in the conversation, Joe Veleno.
Truth: Veleno Will Start the Season on the Roster
It’s certainly going to be a crowded roster and an especially full bottom six grouping, a likely spot for where Veleno will start. Yzerman even specifically named Veleno as one of the young players the team will be relying on to help take the next step.
Regardless of all the competition, Veleno seemingly has the inside track with 71 NHL games to his name. He’ll perhaps have to hold off Jonatan Berggren or even Elmer Soderblom, but he projects to be on either the third or fourth line.
Where he slots in on that line could be the biggest X-factor. It’s something we’ll look at later in the piece.
Truth: 10 Goals Should Set The Over/Under
It’s always been an uncertainly among analysts whether Veleno would be a goal-scorer in the NHL. In his first game last season with the Red Wings, he had a goal and an assist. Over the course of another 65 games, he’d add seven goals and eight assists. Veleno didn’t have the offensive opportunities that would allow for him to get the scoring that he–or ultimately the Red Wings would hope for.
His CF/60 was 43.5% while his average ice time was about 13:13, which was the lowest among any Red Wings player with at least 50 games player.
With more talent in the top six that will draw the opponent’s attention, it allows the Red Wings to have some strong players on the bottom two lines that could benefit from that. Veleno is one of those players. He’ll not only have more talent surrounding him, but will have the opportunity to take advantage of what could be a very fortuitous situation.
Conventional wisdom would favor an uptick in production this season, through which Veleno could find success in spots where maybe it was harder to find last season. The overall talent base on the roster will be greater and with how hard Veleno purportedly trains and works, 10 goals certainly seems the appropriate standard for the season.
Lie: Veleno Will Only Play Center
No one knows what new coach Derek Lalonde will do. He’ll set a fresh pair of eyes on the roster and potentially do things differently than former coach Jeff Blashill. Maybe he finds a new way to utilize several players, but Veleno’s versatility could end up being a benefit that improves his odds of earning more playing time.
There was considerable debate about this before he primarily centered lines last season. Moving him to wing, if the opportunity is there, it opens up scoring chances both at even strength and potentially in the man advantage. Veleno’s oZS% last season was 43.5%, which was among the lowest on the team. Blashill was specifically leaning on Veleno to be a more defensive-minded forward, one who was responsible in his own zone and he showed that often in the latter half of the season.
A move to wing, if it’s mutually beneficial for club and player, might be something that unlocks more of the potential that Veleno seemingly has.
A point of reference: Michael Rasmussen. Rasmussen was one of Detroit’s best players during the second half of the season, and has been used as a consistent comparison with Veleno. Both of their work ethics have been lauded. Each have been brought along gradually. Finally, they can both play wing or center.
If there’s ever a season for Veleno to take his next big step forward, it seems this would be the year. The Detroit Red Wings and its fans will find out as the year unfolds.