Taro Hirose can score, but here’s why he isn’t a regular with Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

Taro Hirose has made favorable impressions on the Detroit Red Wings since being signed as a free agent three years ago, but only as a call-up. He’s with the team again on their trip to western Canada and Seattle, and contributed two assists in the 7-5 loss against the Oilers on Tuesday.

That was Hirose’s 44th appearance since making his debut on March 19, 2019. He has 18 points with the Wings in that span, seven of them on the power play, but Hirose hasn’t yet shown what it takes to be a regular.

“Ultimately you have to prove over a period of time — and he has got to get that opportunity — but over a period of time that you’re going to make the team better,” coach Jeff Blashill said. ” A lot of guys can play on teams, especially teams that are non-playoff teams. There’s a number of players that can play on those teams. Are you a player that can push us towards being closer to a playoff team? Can you really be impactful?”

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Hirose is a crafty player and adept passer — he set up Filip Zadina’s power play goal in Edmonton — but a lack of stature has been an impediment. At 5 feet 10 and 162 pounds, Hirose has struggled to withstand physical pressure, and getting stronger has been a constant focal point through his time in the organization. At Hirose’s first training camp, in September 2019, Dylan Larkin joked that “it really looked like he’d never touched a weight in his life,” and Hirose’s physicality is still an issue.

“Can he have a great summer and continue to build his body up a little bit, because that’s something he’s always going to battle — he’s not strong, he’s not big, he’s not fast,”  Blashill said. “It’s not easy to play in the NHL that way and be a really impactful player on a good team.”

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Hirose was called up for the second time this season (he was up for one game in mid-December) when the Wings lost Robby Fabbri to a knee injury and Tyler Bertuzzi was unavailable because his travel is restricted by his unvaccinated status. Hirose, 25, has worked hard to better his game, and it certainly has shown in the minors, where he has 14 goals among 45 points in 52 games (he had five goals in 29 games last season).

“My passing ability is one of my strengths but this year I really wanted to work on trying to shoot the puck and trying to get to those areas to score more goals,” Hirose said. “In GR, I have been able to do that.”

Hirose said his offseason work on his shot “has really helped me be able to change the way I shoot a little bit, but also just feeling more comfortable in taking those shots. I think being able to shoot pucks, you can also create chances that way and for me, having that deception and being able to shoot now and then, that will add a different aspect to my game.”

Hirose’s best stretch in the NHL came in the spring of 2019, when he was on a line with Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen, two smart playmakers. But Hirose isn’t going to get called up and immediately be put on a skill line, so his best chance to stick around for a bit is to show that he can help the Wings on the power play.

“The hard part of guys that are kind of in those spots is you don’t just come up and go right on a top line,” Blashill said. “So you have to prove you can be an effective player on different lines, and then really shine on the power play. He was out there at the end of the game, 6-on-5, he was on the power play. We’ll see how he does.”

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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