Detroit — There was a bit of uneasiness for Red Wings’ prospect Cross Hanas, and it was entirely understandable.
For Hanas, last weekend’s NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City was his first live test after undergoing shoulder surgery around midseason, while playing in Grand Rapids.
Hanas wasn’t sure what to expect once the puck dropped last weekend. But the end result was impressive, with Hanas scoring four goals and notching six points (two assists) in the three games.
“I’ve been out for a while, it’s been a long time since I felt like I’ve scored a goal in a hockey game,” Hanas said. “I did feel in the first period those little on the mental side that you’re back in it,” Hanas said. “But once you get that first bump, or maybe hit someone for the first time, you kind of realize, everything’s good.
“We’re ready to roll.”
The injury cut into what had been a positive rookie pro season for Hanas. In 30 games, Hanas (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) had nine goals and eight assists for 17 points and was showing glimpses of being the goal-scoring winger the Wings projected when drafting Hanas in the second round (55th overall) in the 2020 Entry Draft.
But the injury ended Hanas’ season, and became a challenge on different levels.
“I never had actually been hurt before until last season, especially a long injury like that,” Hanas said. “I’m a real big competitor and I want to be out there all the time. I couldn’t tell you how bad it was killing me to sit up in the crowd every single time we were at home at the games and having to watch and feeling useless, kind of.”
Along with getting healthy, Hanas learned from the experience.
“Probably the biggest thing is you just have to be patient with it,” Hanas said. “Time is your best friend for injuries like this, just to let it heal. The last few months has been more once everything started getting back together and the hurting was gone, just getting everything around all the muscles stronger.
“The first couple of months were pretty tough . The rehab is no joke. It’s a lot of work, a lot of time.”
New Griffins coach Dan Watson coached the Wings’ prospect team in Traverse City, and now likely will get to see Hanas regularly in Grand Rapids.
Watson was impressed with Hanas in the tournament, who took on more of a leadership role on the young roster.
“You can tell he plays with some energy,” Watson said. “He’s a shooter for sure. We put him in a leadership role here for this tournament, which is important for his personal growth. I like Cross. He’s very vocal. We just have to make sure he plays with emotion and not emotional. At times he can get too emotional about things and maybe his game goes off. That’s something we’re going to have to direct him to.”
Watson has known Wings coach Derek Lalonde since Lalonde was head coach of Toledo in 2014 and Watson was an assistant coach under Lalonde.
The two are reunited in the Wings’ organization this season, with Watson now head coaching the minor-league affiliate Grffins.
“It’s been a unique scenario for the past couple years,” Watson said of Lalonde coaching the Wings, and Watson guiding the minor-league affiliate Toledo Walleye. “We’re tight. It’s a great relationship at the arena and away from the arena. We’ll feed off each other real well here.”
Much as in Toledo, going up a level to Grand Rapids in the American League, Watson feels developing players is the key factor for himself and his staff.
“We have to make players better, we have to make sure they’re doing the right things away from the arena and at the arena, because that’s what it takes,” Watson said. “It’s hard, it’s hard to make the NHL. But we want to make sure our guys are developing in the right areas so when they get the call (from the NHL) they’re prepared and ready.
“We want guys to have success and not take steps backward. If Detroit needs them, they’re ready and they’ll help your lineup. That’s our job.”
Marco Kasper, the Wings’ 2022 first-round draft pick, had the reputation of being one of the most competitive players in his draft class.
Kasper showed that passion throughout the tournament, including getting into a third-period fight Saturday, with the game slipping away for the Wings.
“You see the emotion side of it, getting in a fight there at the end,” Watson said. “He’s a competitor, he’s hungry for it. He wants to do the right things to help the team win.”
Kasper had two points (both assists) in the three games, both in Sunday’s loss against Dallas. But Watson liked other areas of Kasper’s game that were apparent.
“He does go to those hard areas, the net, the corners, and he’s physical about it,” Watson said. “He’s not scared or looking to shy away from that type of game. That’s what’s going to help propel him to a long pro career.”