Red Wings banking on healthy Michael Rasmussen carrying over breakthrough season

Detroit News

Detroit — Michael Rasmussen was playing well and the Red Wings were right there in the playoff chase. Then just like that, it all came to a halt.

Suddenly, shockingly, after taking a slap shot to his kneecap by Tampa Bay’s Zach Bogosian, Rasmussen was done for the season and the Wings, ultimately, were too.

That made Rasmussen’s throbbing kneecap, and watching his teammates endure the remainder of the season after that Feb. 25 game in which he got hurt, that much more painful.

Everything was going so well.

“It was frustrating,” Rasmussen said during his season-ending Zoom call with media last month. “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 games where I would have liked to be a part of.”

The Wings were 7-15-2 after the date of Rasmussen’s injury.

Now, losing Rasmussen by itself didn’t cause the Wings’ slide. There were a variety of reasons. The trade deadline the next week saw the Wings deal away forwards Tyler Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrana and Oskar Sundqvist and defenseman Filip Hronek, weakening the team’s depth and further making it difficult to manufacture offense.

But losing Rasmussen, and the versatility he’s developed in his repertoire, didn’t help.

“That stung,” coach Derek Lalonde said of Rasmussen’s absence. “Ras was a huge part of our team. He was part of our top-six (forwards), part of our penalty kill, and that physical push back we talked about that we missed, he was a big part of it.

“We’re excited to get a healthy Ras back next season.”

Rasmussen found some chemistry playing with veteran forward Andrew Copp during the season, with both players capable of playing a rugged, stifling defensive game, while contributing effectively in other areas. Copp felt the Wings weren’t the same without the 6-foot-6 Rasmussen in the lineup.

“He’s a huge piece,” Copp said. “You lose him and then you lose Bert and Fil (Bertuzzi, Hronek) in a week or two span, it definitely hurt our lineup quite a bit. We’re looking forward to having Ras for a full year. If we end up playing together, we’ll get a tough matchup every night and probably play against the other team’s top line.

“We’d welcome that challenge.”

Rasmussen’s first challenge is making sure he’s ready for training camp — and it looks like he easily will be.

Rasmussen didn’t need any surgery on his kneecap, instead relying on crutches and a brace to take weight off the knee. The patience and rehabilitation worked, as Rasmussen’s summer training will not be limited or impacted in any way.

“It wasn’t shattered, or in 100 pieces. It just needed some time and I needed to be off it,” Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen, 24, posted a career-high 19 assists and 29 points in 56 games and had a plus-2 rating (after a minus-25 last season).

There was increased consistency in Rasmussen’s game, which he felt was the biggest step forward taken this season.

“I’ve worked pretty hard on my tools, whether it’s skating or play with the puck, strength on the puck,” Rasmussen said. “It was just being consistent with those things and finding my area to help the team, try to play that same way every night.

“I felt good, confident with how I was playing and contributing.”

Lalonde and general manager Steve Yzerman both told Rasmussen there was improvement this season, but that Rasmussen shouldn’t be satisfied.

“There’s more improvement that needs to be had and can be had,” Rasmussen said. “I just have to have a great summer and keep working on my body, keep working on different things on the ice as far as what will make my game go to even another level.”

What made this season doubly enjoyable for Rasmussen was the relative success the Wings enjoyed for most of the season, and the joy it provided the team and fans.

Rasmussen has been through most of the losing seasons in recent years and out of the playoff chase before the new year arrives. This season was refreshingly different.

“Night and day,” Rasmussen said. “It doesn’t even compare to being out (of the playoffs) in late December, January or February. It was probably the most fun I’ve had playing hockey in a long time. That kind of stretch where we were really pushing and playing well and just having that feeling, really enjoying it and knowing we can do this and a goal in front of us, it makes everyone want to do it again.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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