Red Wings forward Joe Veleno has always been projected to become a solid second or third-line center at the NHL level, but the Detroit Red Wings’ roster is well-stocked in the middle right now. As such, The Athletic’s Max Bultman wonders whether Veleno’s most direct path to the NHL involves taking (to the left or right) wing:
Looking at Detroit’s roster — with Larkin, Pius Suter and Michael Rasmussen all roster locks, and Carter Rowney and Mitchell Stephens among those battling for the fourth-line center job — I’m left wondering if Veleno’s quicker path to the NHL might be on the wing.
So, this weekend, I posed this question to Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill: is there a world in which Veleno is battling for a job on the wing this fall? Or is he exclusively competing down the middle — with the fourth-line center spot the most conspicuously vacant.
“There’s a world where he’s competing on the wing, for sure,” Blashill said. “There’s no doubt that I think if he ends up a much better player than some of the guys that we foresee in those spots, and he’s a better player than those guys and we can find him a spot in the top nine somewhere, then I think it’s a discussion. The discussion for fourth-line center, we’d have to talk what’s best for Joe Veleno at that point, too. Not just necessarily is he a little bit better than another guy; is that the best thing for our organization and the best thing for him in terms of his development? And those are talks that Steve and I will have as we go through exhibition season. And obviously, there’s unforeseen things like injuries. So let’s see where it goes. I think the biggest thing is he just needs to make a statement every time he’s on the ice, that he’s going to make us better.”
Not only was that a clear “yes” on the possibility of Veleno competing at wing — it actually sounded more plausible to me that Veleno makes the team at wing than he does at fourth-line center. Reading not-so-thinly between the lines, there’s a clear implication that Detroit wants Veleno to be a top-nine player if he’s going to make the team, whether that be down the middle or on the wing.