As the Detroit Red Wings round into the home stretch of another disappointing season, two big, young players inject hope into the future.
The Wings face as tough a test as there is this weekend when they take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in back-to-back matinees. But the Wings come into the miniseries buoyed by a solid outing at the Florida Panthers that featured strong performances from a couple of younger potential rebuilding blocks.
Michael Rasmussen and Givani Smith began the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins but are making cases for finishing it with the Wings. Rasmussen used his 6-foot-6 , 229-pound body to set up a goal in Thursday’s 3-2 overtime loss at the Panthers, and Givani Smith showed off his 6-2, 210-pound physique in two fights.
“They’re using their big bodies, and that’s huge for this team,” veteran forward and alternate captain Luke Glendening said. “It’s huge for us right now, it’s huge for the Detroit Red Wings moving forward. It’s great to see these guys contributing the way they are and it’s exciting for the future.”
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This season hasn’t turned out as competitive as was hoped in January, before COVID–19 and injuries tore through the lineup. The Wings are 12-21-5 with five weeks and 18 games remaining. But Rasmussen, a first-round pick from 2017, looks like he’ll help turn things around down the road. In earning his fifth assist in 22 games, he battled to control the puck along the boards, fighting off a couple defenders to get the puck to Anthony Mantha.
“I thought Ras has really taken steps,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He did a really good job on the wall there and got his butt out and made himself big and strong. He seems to be gaining confidence. He’s good with the puck.”
Rasmussen was called up the first week of the season to offset Robby Fabbri and Adam Erne entering COVID–19 protocol. Rasmussen was returned to the Griffins at the start of February, then recalled March 2.
Smith, a second-round pick from 2016, is in his third stint. He endeared himself to teammates when he fought Riley Stillman in the opening minute of the third period, avenging a hit on captain Dylan Larkin.
“It’s a testament to who Smitty is to step in there, after he’s already fought, to step in there on a high hit on Larks, stand up for a teammate,” Glendening said. “Smitty being in and out of the lineup, to come up and be, ‘That’s my captain, I’m going to stand up for him.’ That’s a testament to who Smitty is and it’s great for this team.”
If that’s a role Smith can fill — letting opponents know they will pay for taking liberties with the Wings’ stars — he should have a job to keep. In the past, Mantha has fought, or attempted to fight, when he’s felt a teammate was mistreated, and it’s led to Mantha being sidelined with injuries. For Smith to do what he did showed another reason he was added to the lineups.
“When he’s in the O-zone, he’s a really good player because he’s really, really strong on the puck, he wins tons of pucks, he gets to the net front,” Blashill said. “I thought he was accountable the rest of the rink. If he can do that, if he can be solid on the wall on the breakouts and manage the puck in the neutral zone, he is going to be a good player.”
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.