How 2022 first-round pick Marco Kasper looked in his debut with Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

There was Marco Kasper, shoving and battling with Calle Jarnkrok. Soon after, it was Timothy Liljegren.

The Detroit Red Wings gave their 2022 first-round pick a challenge in his NHL debut, and he responded with the kind of performance that made them select him at No. 8 last July. Kasper, who turns 19 on Saturday, will get another chance to show he belongs Tuesday when the Wings play the Canadiens in Montreal, one of six games left this season.

Kasper played nearly 15 minutes in Sunday’s 5-2 victory over the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena.

“I thought Marco was great,” coach Derek Lalonde told media in Toronto after the game. “Simple game, safe game, good team game, never got himself in trouble. Was around the net.

“For a first game, under these type of circumstances, he passed with flying colors.”

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Kasper, 6 foot 1 and 183 pounds, wasn’t afraid to mix it up even as he faced a veteran NHL player such as Jarnkrok while battling in front of the net, or while scrumming with Liljegren.

“I think it’s always good to be engaged in a game and get the guys going,” Kasper said.

A week earlier, Kasper was playing in Sweden. But with Rögle BK’s elimination from the playoffs, the Wings brought him to Detroit, just in time to fly with them to Winnipeg after their home game Thursday. Kasper took part in the pre-game warmups Friday, and in Sunday’s morning skate in Toronto, but that was it for preparation with his new teammates before getting into a game against an opponent fighting for playoff positioning.

“It felt great getting the win,” Kasper told reporters on Sunday night. “It’s awesome. It’s a really special night for me. It was really fun.”

Kasper, who wore No. 92, had one shot on goal and three hits. Officials gave him a penalty for closing his hand on the puck during a scramble in Detroit’s crease in the first period, but otherwise Kasper played hard without penalty.

“It’s important to play responsibly both sides of the puck and not let anything happen on the defensive side,” he said. “I am just trying to play responsible out there and give my best.”

Kasper came to the Wings from the Swedish Hockey League, where he collected eight goals and 17 assists — and 72 penalty minutes — in 52 regular season games, in addition to three assists in nine playoff games. His 23 points were the second-most by any skater 20 or younger in Sweden’s top professional league. His grittiness and sound defensive play are a huge part of his appeal, and it showed in that he was trusted to be on the ice after the Leafs made it 3-2 midway through the third period.

“That is his DNA, too, which is good, and why we are all so excited about him,” Lalonde said.

While the Wings (34-33-9) appear headed for the draft lottery, this past month has taken on renewed importance with March’s arrival of 2021’s No. 6 overall draft pick, defenseman Simon Edvinsson, and now Kasper. Getting a taste of what it is like to play in the NHL will help them as they train in the offseason, knowing the rigors and demands. He won only one of eight faceoffs, for example, so there’s a lesson in how much tougher that area is.

“It’s a fast game, strong,” Kasper said. “The battles are harder, I can feel it and see that, but it’s been awesome, playing here against the Maple Leafs in my first game, it’s just been really special.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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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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