Light schedule helps Carter Rowney ease into return to Red Wings lineup

Detroit News

Detroit — It’s been a long road for Carter Rowney, but the veteran forward is about to re-enter the Red Wings’ lineup.

Rowney hasn’t played since Jan. 4 with an undisclosed injury, but recently resumed skating and could return to the lineup this week.

He’s excited about that possibility.

“Every day it’s getting better and that’s all I can ask for,” Rowney said. “(Monday) was a good skate, a good step forward, and I’m just taking it day by day. We’ll see how it responds.”

The light schedule is helping Rowney, who is able to practice and get stronger and not having to necessarily worry about the typical non-stop regular-season schedule.

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“It’s beneficial for me practicing a lot,” Rowney said. “The schedule isn’t as compact as it normally is, so it’s been beneficial to get into game shape.”

Rowney, 32, had been a pleasant surprise for the Wings, appearing in 22 games with four points (two goals, two assists), and a minus-three rating, while doing a steady job anchoring the fourth line.

At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Rowney’s size and experience were consistent attributes on a line which has had some interchangeable parts.

“Really, really good awareness,” coach Jeff Blashill said of what he liked about Rowney’s game. “Very calm. Makes good reads in chaos, which to be a better defensive team, you need that. He’s a big body, can make a play, and play good minutes without giving up scoring chances, which is important for the progress of our hockey team.”

More: Wings’ Gemel Smith picked up on waivers by Cup champion Lightning

Signed to a one-year free-agent contract last summer, Rowney felt the Red Wings could be a good fit for him.

On a young roster that continues to develop and grow, Rowney’s experience is a factor.

“They lost a couple players, too, (to free agency), and they still have a young team and me being older and being on a couple of other teams, I could bring some advice to the younger guys,” Rowney said. “Help bring them along and be a good guy in the locker room and bring along some of the young guys.

“We didn’t play them where I was (last season with Anaheim), but you could see there was pieces here and in the years before, I always thought they were a hard team to play against, even though their record wasn’t as good. You could see the pieces were there, and when I came here you could really see it. It’s a good group of guys that like to compete and everyone wants more.”

Rowney has liked what he’s seen since the All-Star break, as the Wings have won three of four games and stayed on the fringe of the playoff chase.

“The guy have done real well the last few games,” Rowney said. “We’ve been in every game, and they’re playing real hard and we’re taking steps in the right direction. It’s been a lot of fun to watch.”

More: Red Wings avoiding losing streaks, building on success

Difficult task

When forward Jakub Vrana (shoulder surgery) does return to game action soon, it’s not going to be easy.

Vrana hasn’t played a game yet this season, after getting hurt in his opening training camp practice.

One advantage Vrana does have is his skating, and offensive ability.

“It’s really difficult, most guys struggle to be dead honest with you,” Blashill said of jumping into the regular-season schedule this late in the season. “Guys that are sitting out in contract negotiations, or miss camp, it’s real hard. (But) he’s very dynamic, and his shooting and skating, that doesn’t need to catch up to speed that way. He can help us in certain ways, even if he’s not necessarily playing 100% to his best, which should take him a little while to get going.

“It’s very difficult, but he’s got a real unique skill set.”

Vrana has just begun practicing while initiating contact on his own. Blashill said it’s too early to judge how Vrana is progressing in that aspect, while adding Vrana will need to play without fear of getting hurt again, similar to Robby Fabbri (knee), Dylan Larkin (neck) and Tyler Bertuzzi (back) in the last few seasons.

“You can’t play with the fear of getting hurt, you just can’t, that’s the reality of it,” Blashill said. “He’s going to roll at some point into regular-season games and you can’t feel your way into it. He’s not a big banger of the body, so he can still be a real effective player without being ultra physical. But you have to be able to take a hit to make a play for sure, and be physical enough.”

Ice chips

Blashill was excited for former Red Wings forwards Valtteri Filppula and Frans Nielsen, who enjoyed memorable Olympic tournaments.

Both 37-year-old forwards were flag bearers for their respective countries, Finland for Filppula and Denmark for Nielsen, with Filppula also winning a gold medal.

“Pretty cool,” Blashill said. “That’s awesome for those guys to get those opportunities, and those two in particular are just great, great pros, so I was happy for those guys to get those opportunities.”

… Blashill wasn’t sure if Rowney and forward Vladislav Namestnikov (undisclosed injury), who has missed his last two games, would be available for Wednesday’s game against Colorado.

“We’re using (Monday’s) skate as a little bit of an evaluation,” said Blashill, who was planning to discuss matters with the training staff.

… Forward Joe Veleno was sent to Grand Rapids for two games over the weekend and hadn’t been recalled as of Monday. With the potential return of Rowney and Namestnikov, it’ll be interesting to see whether the Wings feel Veleno is best served playing major minutes in the AHL, or in a lesser role in the NHL.

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

Twitter: @tkulfan

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