How Carter Rowney’s return to Detroit Red Wings affects Joe Veleno

Detroit Free Press

A veteran forward is on the near horizon for the Detroit Red Wings, which could squeeze out a younger one.

Carter Rowney, sidelined since Jan. 4 with a lower-body injury, practiced Monday, and if he’s not ready as soon as Wednesday when the Wings host the Colorado Avalanche, the expectation is Rowney will be cleared for the following game, Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ditto for Vladislav Namestnikov, who has missed the last two games.

“We’re using today’s skate as little bit of an evaluation, to get a feel for where those guys are at,” coach Jeff Blashill said after the Wings’ first practice in three days. Forward Jakub Vrana also was on the ice, but he’s coming back from shoulder surgery and has only just dipped into contact practices.

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This is a leisurely stretch, as the Wings only had a handful of games to make up from the Christmas-time postponements caused by the pandemic. Namestnikov, also bothered by a lower-body injury, practiced with Michael Rasmussen and Adam Erne, which is where Blashill likes Namestnikov best, because he helps give that line an identity.

Rowney centered Givani Smith and Sam Gagner, which is the role Joe Veleno has played the majority of games since Rowney’s injury. But Rowney, 32, appeals as the playoff picture comes into sharper focus.

“Really, really good awareness,” Blashill said when asked what he likes about Rowney. “Very, very calm. Makes good reads in chaos, which to be a better defensive team, you need that. He’s a big body. He can make a play, but he can also go out and give you real good minutes without giving up many scoring chances, which I think is really important for the progress of our hockey team.”

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The Wings assigned Veleno, 22, to the minors at the start of their weeklong break. He had a goal and two assists in two games for the Grand Rapids Griffins over the weekend. When he spent a pair of games in the minors during the Wings’ All-Star break, Veleno had four points in two games. He’s a go-to guy with the Griffins, and if there isn’t a spot for him with the Wings, he’s better off playing big minutes in GR over practicing in Detroit. He’s waiver exempt, so he can easily be recalled — or kept in the minors.

“We haven’t totally decided,” Blashill said. “We’ll evaluate where our forward group is at and evaluate if we foresee him in or not in, and make the decision what’s best for Joe Veleno at that point.”

Veleno (6 feet 1, 206 pounds) has four goals, three assists and a minus-7 rating in 35 games with the Wings. He has 10 points and a minus-2 rating in 11 games with the Griffins.

Rowney (6-2, 208) has two goals, two assists and a minus-3 rating in 22 games. General manager Steve Yzerman signed Rowney for one year, $825,000 last summer because he brings a steady defensive presence.

Contact Helene St. James at 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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