Where Derek Lalonde is at in deciding Detroit Red Wings’ roster battles

Detroit Free Press

As the Detroit Red Wings‘ eight-game preseason nears the end, the battles for roster spots is intensifying among the players hoping to be around next week.

It’s a group that includes Simon Edvinsson, Jonatan Berggren and Elmer Söderblom, all of whom are angling to start their NHL careers, and Joe Veleno, who is trying to gain a foothold in his. The Wings finish their exhibition schedule this weekend against the Toronto Maple Leafs, at home Friday and on the road Saturday. Coach Derek Lalonde wants to see the hopefuls “paint the picture for us a little bit.

“They’ve all had positives, negatives. It’s really hard for me to pick someone out on the positive, but I also probably couldn’t pick someone out on the negative, which is typical. That’s why we want to keep seeing them, keep evaluating, and go from there.”

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Edvinsson, a highly touted defense prospect drafted at No. 6 overall last year, was on the roster for Wednesday’s game at Washington; he had one assist in his first three games combined. He has been paired with Gustav Lindstrom, which could wind up as the Wings’ third defense pairing.

Veleno, a first-round pick from 2018, was also on the docket against the Capitals. Veleno played 66 games last season, producing 15 points, but he’s vulnerable because he can be sent to the minors without waivers. His assets include his skating and defensive play, and he credits his improvement in winning puck battles to having trimmed down.

“I’m a little bit lighter,” Veleno said. “I feel a lot more comfortable at the weight I’m at now — I spoke to my trainers about it over the summers and looked at my diet, as well. I had a big summer, and I feel really good about myself.

“I think it’s been going pretty good. There are a lot of guys battling for spots and with the new coaches, all those sorts of things, you want to leave your best impression. I’m trying to do that, and have some fun. I feel confident.”

Berggren, a second-round pick from 2018 whose development was set back by injuries, is nimble with the puck and seems to be adjusting to having less time and space on the North American ice sheet, which is smaller than the sheet he was used to in his native Sweden. He had two assists through his first four preseason games.

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Söderblom, a sixth-round pick from 2019, intrigues because he’s 6-foot-8 but moves surprisingly well for such a big body. He appeared in the Wings’ first three preseason games (with a goal and an assist), got a much-needed breather during the fourth game and was a late scratch from the fifth game because of upper-body soreness. He’s competing most directly for a spot with veteran Adam Erne, who is trying to distance himself from a disappointing 2021-22 season (19 points, 79 games).

Those are the principal prospects vying for roles. Older players battling for roles include forward Givani Smith and defensemen Jordan Oesterle and Steven Kampfer. The key for the younger players is that management wants them to play — there’s no benefit to them making the team as a reserve.

The 23-man roster is due Monday. The Wings open the season Oct. 14, the following Friday, against the Montreal Canadiens.

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 latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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