Vancouver, British Columbia — As starts go, Taro Hirose couldn’t have asked for a better one.
Getting his first opportunity on this road trip since being recalled from Grand Rapids, Hirose had two assists in Tuesday’s 7-5 loss in Edmonton. Hirose played 11 minutes, was on an effective line with Michael Rasmussen and Adam Erne, and was on the power play and on the ice at the end of the game.
It was only his second NHL game this season, but Hirose showed some of the characteristics that could keep him around.
“In those situations you want to come in and find a way to play your game,” Hirose said. “Our line was able to impact the game positively and that’s all I can ask for.”
Hirose, 25, is in his third pro season since signing as an undrafted free agent from Michigan State.
Playing in Grand Rapids this season, Hirose leads the Griffins offensively with 14 goals, 31 assists and 45 points in 52 games.
“We’re grinding away, and for myself, I’m just finding my game and finding a way to help the team win,” Hirose said.
Hirose played a game Dec. 18, being recalled in the final game before the Wings were shut down due to numerous players on the roster being hit with COVID. Otherwise, it’s been remaining in Grand Rapids and working on his game there, while waiting for a chance at the NHL level.
“All the guys that are here deserve to be here,” Hirose said. “So, it’s just working as hard and I can in Grand Rapids and wait for my time to get a chance here.”
While with the Griffins, Hirose is beginning to evolve into that leadership role and mentor for younger players, such as prospect Jonatan Berggren. But Hirose also wants to show the Wings he is an NHL player too.
“If I can help the younger guys improve their game, I’m all for it,” Hirose said. “But, yes, exactly, you keep doing the right things every day and when you get your chance here, just try and take a hold of it.”
At 5-foot-10, 162-pounds, Hirose has had to overcome physical limitations while advancing through the ranks. But what Hirose lacks in size or strength, he overcomes with his cerebral way of making and creating plays on the ice.
“He’s a very responsible player, he’s just not a very big man,” Blashill said. “But he’s as smart as any player. Ultimately, he’s a good player on the power play. He’ll give us a chance to give us a little more skill.
“You have to prove over a period of time you’re going to make our team better. A lot of guys can play on teams, non-playoff teams. But are you a player that can push us toward being closer to a playoff team?”
Learning the NHL
Forward Pius Suter doesn’t have a point in his last 11 games, as the grind of the 82-game NHL schedule might be having a dramatic effect.
Suter, 25, played in Chicago during the shortened, 56-game last season, but played in his 60th game Tuesday and is behind his offensive statistics from a season ago (23 points, to 27 last season).
Blashill did see progress Tuesday, as Suter centered a line with Filip Zadina and Givani Smith.
“He’s never been in this kind of grind,” Blashill said. “Last season was different, it was probably easier in the sense the travel was easier. Now he’s getting into games played that’s beyond what he’s done in the NHL, and probably what he’s done in pro hockey. Certainly at the level he’s been tasked with, he’s out against a lot of the other team’s best, him and Larks (Dylan Larkin), and it’s hard.
“Some of it is confidence and struggle, and in this league it’s hard to pull your way out of it. You can’t overthink, and just play and that’s what he did (Tuesday).”
Larkin didn’t practice Wednesday, but Blashill said it was a “maintenance day” and expects Larkin to play Thursday against the Canucks.
…Mitchell Stephens (lower-body) filled in for Larkin during practice, and appears to be getting closer to returning. Stephens hasn’t played since Nov. 13.
“(Wednesday) wasn’t really physically grueling, but he did everything, and you start moving towards a light at the end of the tunnel,” Blashill said. “It’s a positive that he’s put himself into position where he took part in a different, non-contact jersey and a fairly full practice.”
…Blashill was pleased with defenseman’s Olli Juolevi’s debut Tuesday, playing 16 minutes.
“Solid job,” Blashill said. “He was strong defensively, moved the puck well. It’s hard. He hasn’t played much hockey over the last couple of years and went through a number of injuries. He’s practiced with a little bit but to walk into game action, and against a real high-powered offensive team, he did a good job.”
…The Wings signed forward Cross Hanas to a three-year, entry level contract. Hanas, 20, has 22 goals and 48 assists in 53 games for Portland (WHL). Hanas was a 2020 second-round draft pick (55th overall).
Red Wings at Canucks
►Faceoff: 10 Thursday, Rogers Arena, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
►Outlook: The Canucks (30-24-7) are 2-1-1 on their current seven-game homestand, and coming off a 6-3 win over New Jersey…C J.T. Miller is having a career best season (49 assists, 73 points), while G Thatcher Demko has solidified the goaltending (27-17-3, .916 SVS).