Detroit — Joe Veleno will be returning to the Red Wings’ lineup Saturday and getting a good opportunity.
After missing the last three games with an undisclosed injury, Veleno skated on a line with Pius Suter and FIlip Zadina during Friday’s practice. He will likely stay there when the Wings face the New York Islanders.
Veleno, a 2018 first-round draft pick, has been waiting for a prime opportunity to show he is a full-time NHL player. This could be that chance, playing with playmakers Suter and Zadina, the Wings’ other 2018 first-round selection.
“I don’t want to change my game too much, but bring some offense, play a hard game, compete hard and win some battles,” Veleno said.
The 21-year-old had a good exhibition season, but wound up being one of the final cuts.
“I was disappointed for sure,” Veleno said. ” I thought (in the) preseason I was pretty good. But the message was to be great and good enough wouldn’t have cut it. I definitely understood that going down to Grand Rapids. The only thing more I could do was perform in GR and hopefully get an opportunity coming up.
“It’s just patience and if I go out there on the ice and do well, my opportunity will come. I just have to take it or do well with the opportunity when it’s given to me.”
Coach Jeff Blashill said the Wings have yet to see the best of Veleno.
“He’s got better hockey in him than what he’s played so far,” Blashill said. “He had the really good period against Toronto (Oct. 30) where he controlled the puck. He’s done a good job at times. When he has the puck on his stick, he can transport from one end to the other and control it.
“But there’s more there and I’m hoping we see that (Saturday).”
Playing with Suter and Zadina appears to provide a chance for Veleno to show all the attributes to his game.
“This is a big opportunity,” Veleno said. “I’ve had some chances in the past, and this year, to kind of showcase what I can do on the ice. It’s unfortunate with the injuries, but that’s part of hockey and you have to deal with it. I’m looking forward to this opportunity.”
Veleno has two goals and one assist in nine games this season, while playing a variety of roles in the lineup.
“I’ve built that confidence in some of the games, and I’ve shown myself that I’m able to play at this level,” Veleno said. “It’s just bringing it every day and every single game, not taking any days off. Every game is important and matters and is something I have to learn along the way
“I’ve shown I can play at this level and I ‘ve just got to prove it every single night.”
Veleno has been used in in both a scoring and defensive role by Blashill. That speaks to Veleno’s versatility and dependability defensively.
“He’s got the opportunity to play (in the top six forwards) because he’s been accountable defensively. He’s got enough skill to play up,” Blashill said. “Whether over a long period of time he produces to the level that you would see in a normal top-six role, we’ll see. It’s up for him to decide. I don’t know yet where his ceiling is. He doesn’t know where his ceiling is, none of us do.
“But he’s a good-sized body, he’s strong. He’s got good skill and he’s been pretty accountable defensively. If he does those things, that earns you minutes, whatever line that is. Rather than get wrapped up in whether it’s top-six or bottom-six, a lot of times it’s fit with a line and then how productive that line can be.”
With Mitchell Stephens (lower body) out with a long-term injury, and Tyler Bertuzzi (COVID-19 protocol) out for four more games, Veleno will get a chance to play significant minutes.
“There’s more opportunity,” Blashill said. “It’s important guys, when they get opportunity, they grab it.”
Defenseman Nick Leddy played the last seven seasons with the Islanders, helping New York to consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances the last two seasons.
Acquired by the Wings in July for forward Richard Panik and a 2021 second-round pick, Leddy has seven points (all assists) in 24 games, with a minus-8 rating.
Blashill likes what Leddy has brought to the locker room.
“He’s got a really good veteran presence to him,” Blashill said. “He’s really good with our younger players, or even our middle-aged players, so to speak. He has a good way about him, calm, he helps talk through situations with his partner, whoever he’s playing with. He’s a dynamic skater.”
Blashill feels there’s another level with Leddy.
“We’re in a spot where we need him to be on top of his game every single night and he’s getting there,” Blashill said. “That consistency is critical. In our defense corps, you’re not going to hide necessarily if you’re not having a good night. You got to make sure you’re on top of your game every night. That’s an area he can continue to improve, but he’s done a good job for us.”
Defenseman Danny DeKeyser was taken off the COVID-19 protocol list Friday and is available to play, if needed, against the Islanders.
DeKeyser missed the last four games, and hasn’t played since Nov. 20 in Arizona.
Islanders at Red Wings
►Faceoff: 7 p.m., Saturday, Little Caesars Arena
►Outlook: The Islanders (5-10-3) came into the season as Stanley Cup contenders, but have been ravaged by COVID-19 and a season-opening 13-game road trip that was necessary because their new arena wasn’t complete. … The Islanders are 0-8-1 in their last nine games, losing 2-1 in overtime Thursday against San Jose, after having two games postponed because of COVID.