Amid the excitement stirred by recent top picks, a couple older ones are trying to serve notice of where they fit with the Detroit Red Wings.
Defenseman Simon Edvinsson, the No. overall 6 pick in 2021, has been fun to watch these past couple weeks, and forward Marco Kasper, the No. 8 pick in 2022, looked good in the one game he played before a lower-body injury scuttled plans to get him into more games. But two forwards from the 2018 draft have been auditioning for expanded roles, too: Joe Veleno, picked at No. 30 that year, and Jonatan Berggren, selected at No. 33.
“We are still in a very sensitive development stage for those guys and all these minutes and roles and opportunity are important,” coach Derek Lalonde said.
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Veleno, 23 and Berggren, 22, both have seen their roles expand over the past couple weeks, a result of the Wings losing Robby Fabbri and Michael Rasmussen to season-ending injuries and trading Tyler Bertuzzi and Oskar Sundqvist. Veleno has gotten looks on the second unit on power plays; when he converted on one during the 5-0 victory in Montreal, it gave Veleno a personal-best nine goals through 76 games despite going 25 games without a goal.
“I have some offensive upside in me, I’ve had it my whole career,” Veleno said. “I think it’s just working on it and being consistent and making sure I focus more on those breakaways and make sure I capitalize on those chances. I’m still trying to improve as a player, still trying to evolve my all-around game. I’ve been fortunate to get some more minutes I’m just trying to take advantage of that opportunity. ”
Veleno is a pending restricted free agent. The Wings like his speed and size (6 feet 1, 203 pounds) but questions remain regarding his potential.
“I still think with Joe, he’s still finding his way,” Lalonde said. “It’s a lot to ask of these young players. At times you want more of Joe, you want him to develop in certain ways. He is still growing as a player. I think he is going to have to start defining what he is going to be, not only in this league, but for us as a team.
“I would like a very responsible player. I want him hard to play against. He’s shown signs of that. I think the offense can come with playing the right way. He’s shown some signs of that, too.”
This is Veleno’s second full NHL season. Lalonde pointed to how important it is for young players to go through the grind of an 82-game season to learn how to fight through the fatigue that inevitably sets in. It’s what Berggren is learning, too. He is in his first NHL season (shortly after he was drafted, his development was set back by injuries) and recently had an 11-game goal drought. Through 62 games, he had 14 goals and 12 assists; the 12th helper came in the Montreal game, when he took the puck to the net and got knocked down.
“If you want to score, you need to take it to the tough areas, so that is a part I need to work on a little more,” Berggren said. “But, it was a reward we scored.
“When good players left, it’s meant some players need to step up so it’s big opportunity for me to show them I can have a bigger role. I know what I am capable of doing and am capable of that.”
Coaches preach the benefits of going to the net, so a finesse player such as Berggren (5-11, 197 pounds) getting his hands dirty is a good sign.
“When our offense is clicking, it usually starts with plays like that — going to the hard areas, even for some players where it’s maybe not instinctive,” Lalonde said.
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.