Detroit Red Wings center Joe Veleno is well aware that he’s working from behind the eight ball. He’s playing catchup during the NHL preseason.
“I’ve kind of had an open canvas, fresh start for everyone,” Lalonde said. “Joe obviously wasn’t available for us early on.”
Veleno is available now, and he’s doing his utmost to make up for lost time. He’s played Detroit’s last three preseason games.
— IcehockeyGifs (@IcehockeyG) October 4, 2022
He’s up against it. On the surface, the odds seem to be stacked against him. In other words, it’s just like every other Red Wings preseason for Veleno.
“Every year obviously there’s jobs, ice time to be taken,” Veleno said. “I’ve been of the same mindset as every other year that I’ve come here. Obviously everyone wants to showcase their skill and what they can bring to the game.
“I have another opportunity again and so do a lot of guys. So I’m sure everyone, myself included, are going to grab on to that.”
Veleno Still Has Much To Prove
Last season, Veleno played 66 games for the Red Wings. The 30th overall selection in the 2018 NHL entry draft ended up counting 8-7-15 totals in those games.
“It was definitely a learning experience for me,” Veleno, 22, said of his first full NHL campaign. “There’s definitely a few things that I would’ve liked to have gone better, but it is what it is. It’s in the past now.
“Just looking to become a better hockey player and keep learning from the older guys, getting that experience. There’s definitely some things that I would’ve liked to have gone better. I’m looking forward to the new challenge now.”
Red Wings coach Lalonde’s emphasis from the outset of training camp was that this was a chance for all players to hit the reset button. Preconceived notions about them were no more.
That being said, the same questions that the past regime was posing about Veleno remain queries with validation.
Can he be a top-nine NHL forward? Will he be able to drive a line as a center? Is there enough offense in him to make Veleno too valuable to be assigned to AHL Grand Rapids?
Lalonde Thinks Joe Is Playing Above Average
In the small sample size offering from Veleno in terms of game action, Lalonde is suitably impressed.
“My first look at him, I got very excited,” Lalonde said. “He was committed in the zone. He had a couple of D zone stops and he was strong on the puck.
“Hopefully we can build off that.”
In terms of those building blocks, Veleno is blunt in self assessment of what he needs to do better as an NHLer.
“Pretty much everything,” Veleno answered honestly. “Obviously in my game I want to be a complete centerman. I want to able to do penalty kill, power play, and be responsible 5-on-5.
“I think I can improve on a lot of things.”
Veleno Cutting Weight
One of the factors of emphasis with Veleno under the past coaching staff was the need to bulk up. He is of the belief that size does matter. And last season, Veleno thinks he sized himself out of his comfort zone.
“I think the game now has just gotten a lot faster,” Veleno said. “One thing this summer was obviously to work on my speed. I thought I was a little bit too heavy last year.”
Over the summer, Veleno reduced his weight from 210 pounds to 203.
“I thought it affected a bit of my speed,” he explained. “I was still pretty fast but I just thought it was some weight that I didn’t really need. I’m feeling really good at the weight that I’m at now.
“The game, it’s so fast. You gotta be able to skate and make plays at a high level. Just working on that over the summer helped a lot.”
What He’s Needing to Achieve To Be With Red Wings
Lalonde doesn’t mince words in relating what he thinks he’ll need to see from Veleno in order for there to be a spot for him in Detroit.
“I think a little better in his own zone,” Lalonde said. “I think as a team we need more defensive stops. We need to spend less time in our D zone.
“Him getting stops, like anybody else in our lineup, I think that helps. Probably being a little harder in some of those areas. Probably just that area of being a little better away from the puck and a little harder.”
Veleno understands the numbers game and how it works. He can be assigned to AHL Grand Rapids without clearing waivers. If he’s even with another player in a battle for a spot, that is a mitigating factor working against his chances.
If that does turn out to be the case, he’ll simply make the best of it. That’s what he did last season when he didn’t make Detroit to start the season, and it ended up earning him a quick recall.
“I’m still a young player,” Veleno said. “I still need to learn. The experience is gonna come as I play more games.
“I guess just practicing my skills, practicing my hands, practicing my shot, practicing my skating, all those kinds of things. It’s just gonna make me be a more well-rounded player going forward.”