One of the encouraging signs to come out of this past Detroit Red Wings season was the play of Michael Rasmussen.
It ended with him limping off the ice in late February, but until that point, Rasmussen really had come into his own as a versatile, top-nine forward.
“It was a positive year for me,” said Rasmussen on Monday, his 24th birthday. “Definitely I improved on some things in the summer and took it into this season and just kind of got to a point in my game where I felt good and confident with how I was playing and contributing.”
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Rasmussen had 10 goals and 19 assists through 56 games when he suited up for the Wings on Feb. 25. That included a goal and an assist in his previous game, helping the Wings climb inside the playoff picture with his seventh multi-point performance of the season. But during the first period of the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rasmussen was hit in the right knee cap by a puck fired by Zach Bogosian, who has a heavy shot.
“It was frustrating,” Rasmussen said. “It was tough with where things were at with the team and how well everyone was playing. To be removed from that was really tough. It was upsetting to watch and not be out there with the guys. Tough to watch some losses and some games where I would have liked to be a part of.
“I just have to focus on getting myself back to 100% and pick up where myself left off.”
Rasmussen couldn’t do much more than watch games from the press box for a while, stuck wearing a brace and using crutches. But nearly two months later, Rasmussen is nearly healed — and that is good news for next season.
“I’m almost to the point I’ll have no limitations and will be good to do the usual summer training,” he said. “I’ll be 100% for camp.”
Rasmussen, 6 feet 6 and 221 pounds, has played 238 games for the Wings since they drafted him at No. 9 in 2017, the year their 25-season playoff streak ended and they picked inside the top 10 for the first time since 1991. The appeal has been to use him at center, which is what he played going through juniors, but time and again Rasmussen has played more effectively on the wing. This past season, he started out centering the third line, but as the coaching staff experimented with how to get the most out of the lineup, Rasmussen was promoted to wing on the top line in mid-December. In early January, he was put on a line with Andrew Copp, a combination that brought out the best in both players.
“Having Ras’ forechecking ability really helped kind of get pucks back and we produced really well,” Copp said. “I’m definitely looking forward to him being back healthy with our team, whether it’s with me or someone else. He was a huge piece. We’re looking forward to having Ras for a full year and if we end up playing together, we’ll get a top matchup every night and probably play against other teams’ top lines, and we’d welcome that challenge.”
Rasmussen called Copp, “an easy guy to play with. He’s a good player in every area of the ice, and makes the guys he’s playing with jobs easier. We are both predictable and know where each other are going to be, and where we will succeed together, and try to focus on those areas of the game. We just work well off each other, kind of have the same mindset as far as how we play.”
Rasmussen’s size and hand-to-eye coordination makes him an ideal net-front player. He has, quietly, developed into the type of forward whose value is in his versatility — center, wing, power play, penalty kill. Although his season was cut short, he showed he is ready to take on a bigger role to help the Wings out of their rebuild.
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.