What Joe Veleno must do to earn a bigger role with Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings like what Joe Veleno brings to the lineup, but there’s no question the young forward can do more.

Veleno joined the Wings when he was called up from the minors at the end of October. It was a memorable day and night for Veleno, who hitched a ride from general manager Steve Yzerman to Toronto and then went out and earned a goal and an assist. 

Veleno spent his first four games on the second line, but as the Wings regained all of their regular top-six forwards, Veleno dropped to the third line, and then, as of late, the fourth.

“He’s got to earn more opportunity,” coach Jeff Blashill said Wednesday. “Opportunity has a factor in what your impact is. I think Joe is doing a fine job. I haven’t been disappointed in Joe. Can he grab more? Certainly. It’s not always easy. He’s not always killing penalties, and he hasn’t been on the power play much.”

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The Wings drafted Veleno at No. 30 in 2018, the same draft they took Filip Zadina at No. 6. Veleno, 22, made his debut at the tail end of last season, appearing in five games after returning from a season in Sweden. Playing in the SHL was a terrific growth opportunity for Veleno, who was able to continue to focus on becoming a strong two-way player while North American leagues were delayed by the pandemic.

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The 6-foot-1, 206-pound Veleno started this season in the AHL with Grand Rapids, but when the Wings needed a skilled forward Oct. 30, he got the call. In the NHL, he has three goals and an assist through 26 games while averaging about 12 minutes a game.

“His ice time, it’s not that he can’t do anything in that time, but it’s not necessarily going to lend itself to being easy to grab more,” Blashill said. “I do think he can use his big body to win more battles. I think he can find ways to be a little bit quicker in his decision making with the puck. He’s working at it. He’s a young kid playing in the NHL and it’s not going to be easy. I’ve been totally fine with his progress.”

The Wings have lost fourth-line centers Mitchell Stephens and Carter Rowney to lower-body injuries, and while Veleno can play wing, the Wings like him at his natural spot. Now there’s a new option on the horizon, as the Wings claimed Gemel Smith off waivers Jan. 19.

Smith, who was sidelined the first half of the season by an abdominal injury, was sent to the minors for a conditioning stint Jan. 21, but that won’t last much longer. Reports from Griffins coach Ben Simon indicated that Smith “played better in the second game, looked more comfortable. The point of going down there is to get going a little bit, get some game experience, and then we’ll see what the future brings.”

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What will Veleno’s role be when Smith returns?

“I don’t know that any decision has been made,” Blashill said. “Both Steve and I are similar in the sense that a lot changes in this world that we live in, so we take things day by day, and so we make the best decision for our hockey team and for each player’s development. We’ll continue to do that.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.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 AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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