If the recent Detroit Red Wings games have shown us anything, it’s that the youth are here to stay. Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider have acclimated themselves to the speed of the NHL and are both scoring at a point-per-game pace. With Raymond, Seider, Michael Rasmussen, and Filip Zadina on the roster, four of the past six first-round picks have made the roster. One, Simon Edvinsson, is playing it out in the Swedish Hockey League this season. The other, Joe Veleno, looks like he’s on the verge of breaking out. Even head coach Jeff Blashill has remarked on Veleno’s readiness:
Jeff Blashill on Joe Veleno: “Its important for guys to be in spots where they have a chance to thrive. We want him to be in important roles. There is going to be a time where Joe plays for us this year, bet on that.” #LGRW @DetroitRedWings
— Daniella Bruce (@daniellabruce_) October 18, 2021
By all accounts, it looks like Veleno is ready to take the next step. With that said, how should the team utilize Veleno — and when should he make the cut?
Joe Veleno Nearing an NHL Role
Joe Veleno Visits Canada
The Red Wings’ leading scorer, Tyler Bertuzzi, will not play nine games of the season due to his status as an unvaccinated player. This prevents him from crossing the Canadian border, shutting him out from games against division rivals like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. With this in mind, someone will have to replace Bertuzzi on the lineup. Enter Joe Veleno. While he won’t start off on the first line, he can settle in at a depth role, boosting a player like Robby Fabbri up to line one. He’ll either wind up alongside Rasmussen on the third line or receive a very unique opportunity on the second. This middle-six time will give Veleno plenty of chances to make an impact. With fellow first-rounder Zadina on his wing and Pius Suter as his centre, he can do some serious damage.
As far as opportunities go, this may limit his consistent time in the NHL. However, the limited time may do him some good: he can return to the AHL with plenty of confidence. In all likelihood, Veleno will follow the path Zadina did in 2019-20. For those who don’t remember, Zadina didn’t crack the Opening Night lineup two seasons ago. He joined the Red Wings midway through the season after going on an outstanding 11-point streak with the Griffins. As of right now, Veleno is off to a great start. He exploded out of the gate this season with three points in two games and has driven the offensive production in Grand Rapids. Sooner or later, he’ll force general manager Steve Yzerman‘s hand.
With this in mind, one question comes to light:
Where Will Veleno Play Long-Term?
Things start to get really complicated once you factor in Jakub Vrana‘s return. With Vrana out for another couple of months, Veleno should have ample time to show his NHL chops. But what happens when he makes his return? Who is the odd man out among the Red Wings? As far as the roster is concerned, Veleno might be the first on the chopping block. Barring an outstanding performance, his contract still contains an entry-level contract slide. If Veleno plays under nine NHL games this season, his contract won’t be due for an extension until the end of the 2024-25 season.
However, if Veleno shows he’s ready for a full-time job, another player might be moved out. Forwards like Vladislav Namestnikov might be an affordable option for teams that need depth scoring. Namestnikov’s departure from the lineup would open up a 3LW position — a perfect place for Veleno to insert himself. While Veleno naturally plays centre, the Red Wings will more than likely take the approach they took with Rasmussen and captain Dylan Larkin — start him out at the wing, then gradually transition him to centre.
As of right now, Joe Veleno is the first name on the Griffins’ depth chart to warrant an NHL call-up. How he continues to perform – and what he does at the NHL level – will be key factors in his future.