Red Wings’ Adam Erne flourishing while earning bigger role

Detroit News

Detroit – The plan, at least early in the season, from coach Jeff Blashill to Adam Erne was direct and probably did not instill confidence.

There would be no role on either specialty team, at least to start. You can expect to play in the bottom six forwards, and probably won’t get a ton of ice time. Make the most of the time you do see.

Implied: There are young forwards breathing down your neck.

Coming off a poor season statistically, Erne could have been demoralized. Instead he took the challenge and is having a career best season in some regards..

“He’s earned any of the opportunities he’s gotten,” Blashill said. “He’s had to earn his ice time, I haven’t given it to him.”

Erne, 25, tied his career-high by scoring his seventh goal Thursday in a 3-2 overtime loss at Florida. Three of those goals have come on the power play, and five of his 11 points total have come on the unit.

Those seven goals place Erne third on the team (along with Bobby Ryan). Anthony Mantha and Robby Fabbri lead with 10 goals apiece.

How did the Wings decide to put Erne on the power play?

He filled in for an injured player one day in practice, and looked so good the coaching staff decided to keep him there.

“He’s earned more and more ice time as we’ve gone along,” Blashill said. “He’s got on the power play as guys were out and he did a good job with it, so he stayed on the power play and he’s earned it.”

For a player who has relied on determination more than pure skill, Erne is relishing the fact he’s carved out a spot in the lineup.

“I pride myself on my work ethic,” Erne said. “Our line is doing well together (Darren Helm, Luke Glendening), and we all pride ourselves on work ethic in practices and games. It feels good that it’s paying off for all of us.

“I knew going into this year that last year, statistically (two goals, five points in 56 games) was not a great year for anybody, especially for myself. I don’t know what everyone else thought I was going to do, but I knew I needed to prove that I belonged.”

In their preseason meeting, Erne said Blashill wanted to put him, Glendening and Helm together and was hoping the line would click.

“It kind of worked out that way,” Erne said. “He said I wasn’t probably going to start on special teams and I’d have to earn what I got.”

A bruising 6-foot-1, 212-pounder who can play a physical game, but has the instincts and ability to be effective offensively, Erne has become more of the player the Wings envisioned when they acquired him from Tampa for a fourth-round pick in 2019.

“Adam has always been a guy who works extremely hard,” Glendening said. “He’s physical. He skates super well. But it’s great to see him putting the puck in the net. You can see his confidence on the ice. He’s hanging onto the puck and making plays.

“Just because he’s scoring goals doesn’t take away from the player he was. But it’s an added dimension when he’s putting the puck into the net like he is this year.”

The adjustment of coming to a new team and never getting into an offensive rhythm while dealing with injuries contributed to Erne’s downfall last season.

Now with an expanding role, and playing with confidence, Erne has become a different player.

“Blash is giving me a role on this team and I’m just running with it,” Erne said. “I really enjoy playing with Glenny and Helmer. We play a similar game and that’s keeping it simple and consistent every night. I’m just trusting my game and sticking to it night after night.”

That confidence is showing on the offensive end, and especially on the power play. Erne is playing the bumper role, in the middle area in the slot, and utilizing Michael Rasmuseen at the net-front and quick passes from the flanks.

“As the coach trusts you a little more, you kind of understand what he’s expecting from you and I feel he’s given me a little bit of leash to not be afraid to make some plays as long they’re not stupid turnovers,” Erne said. “I found the ability to make some plays and not just grind every shift, and be able to create more offense.”

The Wings are in Tampa for a two-game weekend series beginning Saturday. Erne – who was drafted by the Lightning – is playing some of his best hockey since being traded from Tampa to Detroit. He isn’t looking too far ahead.

“That was a team that put up five or six goals a night and a team that scored at will,” said Erne of his time in Tampa. “This is a team (the Wings) that every goal we score we seem to have to work for it. It’s definitely a little different.

“But I’m just trying to go one game at a time. I’m just pushing forward. The more you play the better you play. I’m sure most guys feel the same way.”

Red Wings at Tampa Bay Lightning

►Faceoff: 1 p.m., Saturday, Amalie Arena.

►TV/radio: Bally Sports Detroit-plus/97.1 The Ticket.

►Outlook: The Red Wings (12-21-5) and Tampa ( 25-9-2) begin a quick, two-game weekend series.

… The defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning have won three of the four games between the teams this season.

… The Wings are likely returning RW Bobby Ryan and LW Sam Gagner, who sat out two games with injuries. G Jonathan Bernier (lower body) skated Friday but isn’t going to play Saturday.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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