Toronto — Shortly after the exhibition season ended, coach Jeff Blashill was asked about forward Joe Veleno, who had been sent back to Grand Rapids after just missing making the opening night roster.
“There’s going to be a time when Joe plays for us this year. I would bet on that,” Blashill said.
Blashill wasn’t going out on the limb. The only mild surprise was it happened so quickly, as Veleno was recalled Saturday by the Wings.
It wasn’t a major shock. With forward Tyler Bertuzzi unavailable for the first two games of this road trip, in Toronto and Montreal, because of his unvaccinated status, and possibly not having Adam Erne, who appeared hurt after blocking two late shots Friday against Florida, the Wings were likely going to be short a forward.
Veleno, 21, a 2018 first-round draft pick, was off to a good start with the Griffins.
Veleno had three goals in five games, and was playing in all situations as the No. 1 center.
Wings fans wanted to see Veleno stick in the NHL, but Blashill explained the Wings’ decision before the regular season began.
“If he wasn’t going to be in our top six, maybe you could make an argument in the middle-six somewhere (at the NHL level), we wanted him to be in really important roles,” Blashill said. “We want to make sure Joe’s feeling really confident and that he’s playing at a really, really high level and continue to develop the offense.
“I don’t know what Joe’s offensive ceiling is. I know he can be a really good third-line player. I know that, I believe that. But can he be more than that? We’re hoping so, and he’s hoping so. He wants to be.”
The shift will be replayed on highlight reels for months, or years, to come.
With the Wings trailing 2-1 with about five minutes left in regulation time, and Florida pressing, the Wings put forth an inspiring defensive shift.
Blocks by Erne, Robby Fabbri and Danny DeKeyser, all of whom sacrificed their bodies on hard shots, along with big saves from goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, sent the Little Caesars Arena crowd into a frenzy.
In turn, the emotion and on ice sacrifice spurred the Wings, who shortly later tied the game on a goal by Pius Suter.
“It’s a little bit telling of our team, the amount of sacrifice you saw on that shift,” Blashill said. “Certainly, that’s not the exact way we want to play in the defensive zone. When you have a big block and a guy is down, all of a sudden you get frantic. Then another guy’s down and you get even more frantic. It was chaotic, but as you could tell from the crowd’s response, that was pretty awesome what those guys did, the way they laid it on the line.
“Erne was hurt on the first block, and he stayed in there and blocked another one. It talks about the sacrifice. It’s a good example of what our team’s been about. We want to sacrifice more than other teams to win hockey games, and that’s what we’re going to have to do in order to be successful.”
Blashill feels this roster is doing a good job of sacrificing for their teammates.
“We want to be a team that sacrifices more than the other group,” Blashill said. “You build confidence and a belief you’re going to win if you believe you’ve sacrificed more than other people. We’ve had good examples of that.”
Nedeljkovic had 30 saves against the Panthers and made several big saves in the third period to give the Wings an opportunity to tie the game.
Nedeljkovic is enjoying being a Wing, after arriving from Carolina in a trade over the summer.
“We have a great group of guys in there,” Nedeljkovic said. “Everybody is awesome and gets along well. We’re playing some great hockey and maybe we haven’t gotten the results in some games, but we’re playing good and we have a good group in there and we believe in ourselves.
“We know we can go out and win any night.”
Blashill believes Nedeljkovic is progressing well.
“The last two games he’s been in a situation where he had to make big saves at critical moments and he’s done that,” Blashill said.