Detroit — Michael Rasmussen was a prolific goal scorer in junior hockey, as most NHL players were.
Rasmussen has found the ability to score goals in the pros more difficult, as most probably expected it to be for the 6-foot-6, 210-pound forward who was a man among boys in junior, but struggled with the speed and physical aspect of the NHL early.
Still only 22, but in his fourth year of pro hockey, Rasmussen seems to be settling into a role where he might become a dependable, double-digit goal scorer who can use his best attributes — size, net-front presence, decent scoring touch — to be a contributor offensively.
“He’s got the ability to score,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “I do think he can be a guy who can score in this league. A lot of it will be net-front kind of stuff, but he’s not bad on the types of breakaways he scored (on Tuesday against Carolina). We’ve played him on the wing and center, and he obviously has a lot of time on the penalty kill, not as much on the power play, but he’s a guy who can score.
“Eight goals (after scoring a goal in each of Rasmussen’s last two games) without spending much time on the power play is pretty good.”
The eight goals ties Rasmussen’s career-high as a rookie in 2018-19. Rasmussen feels he can be counted on to be more of an offensive threat.
“Absolutely,” Rasmussen said. “It’s the hardest thing in this league, to score, and to score a lot. As long as I keep improving and working on my game and working on everything else, that’ll allow me to build on the offensive category of my game.
“If I take care of everything else and be a good player away from that (offense), a reliable player, I can do that (provide offense).”
The Wings’ coaching staff has consistently wanted Rasmussen to work on his skating and strength over the years. During stretches of this season, it appears the hard work is beginning to pay off.
“Michael went to work over the last couple of summers and made himself a much better skater,” Blashill said. “He looks like he skates real well now, especially for a big man.”
Rasmussen took the recommendation and advice to heart, spending a lot of time in the off-season working on the areas that needed improvement.
“Just a lot of time in the gym, on the ice, working on my strength and power,” Rasmussen said. “Just different stuff like that. On the ice, going through extra (work) with skating coaches here and people I work with back home (in Vancouver) in the summer. It’s been an on going thing. The faster you can be, and more explosive you can be, it helps you.
“A lot of it also growing into your body and getting a little stronger, like your legs. Kind of maturing, and that has helped as well.”
Rasmussen’s rookie season back in 2018 was an interesting one, in the fact he wasn’t able to be sent to Grand Rapids because of his age, and junior hockey was no longer a challenge.
So the Wings kept Rasmussen, and learning the ways of the NHL as a teenager, difficult as it can be and was, helped him along the way.
“You really have no choice when you’re kind of thrown into it,” Rasmussen said. “It’s been a good learning experience, every year and every game. You kind of just take it in stride and do the best with it.”
One of the highlights for the Wings’ in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime victory over Carolina was the play of goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
Struggling in recent weeks, Nedeljkovic rebounded against his former team and played the type of game he displayed earlier this season.
“Alex needed to get his confidence and swagger back. It was a critical game for our team, and a critical game for him,” said Blashill, alluding to Saturday’s wild 10-7 loss against Toronto.
The victory against Carolina was Nedeljkovic’s first since Feb. 9. Nedeljkovic is confident he can recapture the swagger he had the first half of the season.
“Personally, a win is a win and we’ll take the win right now,” Nedeljkovic said. “It’s been a weird couple of games lately and just happy to get a win and move forward, that’s the biggest thing. I know my game will pick up. I have no doubt I can turn it around. It’s been kind of sloppy lately but I’ll pick it up and I’ll be there when the guys need me.”
For the Wings as a team, too, defeating the conference-leading Hurricanes was a positive development after looking ragged against the Leafs.
“Being able to go toe-to-toe against a really good team and finding a way to win hopefully interjects that confidence back,” Blashill said.
The gritty way the Wings played against Carolina, Nedeljkovic said, needs to be the way the Wings play the remainder of the season to stay in the playoff picture.
“There’s a lot of good teams in front of us, and there’s a lot of good teams that we’re going to play on the schedule,” Nedeljkovic said. “This is how you have to play. We have to play playoff hockey now. We can’t wait a few more games and see what kind of happens with the rest of the league. We’ve got some ground to make up and we need to start playing like we’re playing Game 7 (of the playoffs) every single night.”
Blashill said the Wings are continuing to assess the progress of forward Jakub Vrana, who is returning from shoulder surgery, and wouldn’t specify a timetable on a return. But, Blashill was coy about Vrana returning as soon as this weekend, if Vrana receives medial clearance and feels he’s ready to play.
Vrana has been taking part in practice.
… With Tuesday’s victory, the Wings are 8-5 in games decided in overtime, and 13-1-6 in one-goal games this season.
… With a game-tying goal Tuesday, Dylan Larkin extended his season-long point streak to 10 straight games, with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) since Jan. 29 against Toronto.