| The Detroit News
Detroit — There’s no question Michael Rasmussen needed to play hockey.
Rasmussen played only 35 games in Grand Rapids last season, then was shut down, like everyone else, by the pandemic.
When the Red Wings found a roster spot in Austria this autumn for him, Rasmussen took advantage of the opportunity.
Rasmussen had 18 points (five goals) in 18 games playing for Graz, and heads into this Red Wings camp confident he can make an impact.
“Compared to different camps, I feel more in game shape and more in game mode,” Rasmussen said. “I definitely didn’t know what to expect going over there but it was a high level of hockey.
“It was a big ice, a bit more open, but it’s a great league.”
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Rasmussen, the Wings’ 2017 first-round draft pick, spent the 2018-19 season in the NHL when the only options were either the NHL or junior hockey.
In a perfect world, Rasmussen probably would have benefited from playing in the AHL, which he did last season in Grand Rapids.
Rasmussen had 22 points (seven goals) in 35 games with the Griffins, before an upper-body injury effectively shelved his season.
“Frustrating,” Rasmussen said. “I got off to real good start.”
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Critics on social media may want the development to happen quicker and bolder, but Rasmussen is only 21 and is a significant piece in the Wings’ future.
A 6-foot-6, 220-pound center who is strong around the net and knows how to use his size as a strength — Rasmussen made several good plays during Tuesday’s scrimmage — is a key building block.
Coach Jeff Blashill feels Rasmussen can grow into a shutdown center in time.
“He can become a real big, lockdown type of center that can play against other teams’ best players,” Blashill said. “That could really put him in a position to be an extremely valuable five-on-five player, and he’s always got the real good net-front ability on the power play.”
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Injuries have impacted Rasmussen at the junior and pro level.
“The mental toughness to fight through the number of injuries and frustration is going to be critical for him,” Blashill said. “He’s got things that can really separate himself from other guys. He just has to prove it every day.”
More offense required
The Wings scored an NHL-worst 142 goals last season. Los Angeles was the next worst, and the Kings had a sizeable 35 more goals (177).
If the Wings have any hopes of improving this season, they’ll have to create more offense.
To that end, seeing the depth of scoring Tuesday, especially from newcomers such as Vladislav Namestnikov and Mathias Brome, gave Blashill reason for optimism.
“To add scoring from different people, it’s huge,” Blashill said. “It’s a scrimmage, and we’ll take it with a grain of salt, but they still scored. Namestnikov, the type of goal he scored (deflection), is repeatable.
“We need more depth of scoring and we need more people to contribute offensively. That’s a positive.”
Fight for jobs
One factor in general manager Steve Yzerman’s dip into free agency was to create more depth, and that’s been apparent in the first few days of camp.
There’s an increased amount of flexibility and more NHL-caliber players competing for roster spots.
Blashill saw more evidence of that after Tuesday’s scrimmage. On defense, there appears to be more options, and upfront, there could be more scoring depth over several lines.
“It looks like it’ll be competitive at each position,” Blashill said. “A lot of guys who are good, solid players, NHL players. Can some of those guys push hard and have great years and help us? We’ll see.”
Blashill mentioned it was the goaltenders who benefited most from the scrimmage.
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier agreed, saying the ability to track the puck through traffic is a skill that is difficult to duplicate in practice.
“We’ve been practicing so long, tracking shots is fine,” Bernier said. “But the big thing is traffic. You can’t re-produce that in practice. It’s hard to have 10 guys in front of you circling around and finding the puck (during practice drills).
“That’s the big thing for a goalie.”