Michael Rasmussen’s Confidence Matching His Size

The start of Michael Rasmussen’s NHL career was anything but a smooth transition, as the rookie seemed like a spectator with ice level tickets early on.

Playing among the game’s greatest is far from easy, especially for a 19-year-old coming straight from juniors. Learning on the fly against faster, stronger, and more experienced players poses challenges, but Rasmussen bears one glaring characteristic of his own — size.

Standing at 6-foot-6, only four current NHL players stand taller than Rasmussen, according to NHL.com. The immediate advantages that come with such a frame include reach, creating space, and a difficulty to defend.

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Now 18 games into his career, Rasmussen is discovering those advantages and gaining confidence that’s showing through on the scoresheet.

Rasmussen’s Draft Profile

Heading into the 2017 NHL draft, the NHL’s final rankings pegged Rasmussen fifth overall for North American skaters. The Red Wings called his name at No. 9, making him the team’s highest selection since Keith Primeau at No. 3 in 1990, at the time.

There were several negatives when it came to Rasmussen, notably the NHL’s transition to smaller, faster players and Rasmussen’s heavy percentage of power play points.

The big-bodied center may not have game-breaking speed, but a long stride coupled with his previously mentioned reach help him cover more ice quicker. But still, his body will continue to mature and it’s not too late for a player his age to work on adding a little bit of foot speed.

As for his production percentage, 29 of his 55 points (32 goals, 23 assists) came on the power play during his draft season — a prominent 52.7 percent. Various scouts questioned his all-around effectiveness before spending a high draft pick on him. Given that teams spend more time playing five-on-five than they do with the man advantage, it was fair criticism.

Michael Rasmussen
Rasmussen was a power play ace as the net front forward for Tri-City (Judy Simpson / courtesy Tri-City Americans)

Yet, players from every team through every league of every age are regularly put in the similar position Rasmussen was in and few generate offense he did. So long as Detroit — who had a declining power play — felt he could sustain that success while rounding out his game, his selection was an easy one.

His first preseason in Detroit showed just that, as the then-18-year-old recorded four goals in seven exhibition games in 2017 and made a case for an immediate roster spot before being returned to the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans for just one more year.

Finding His Form

Rasmussen’s 2018 preseason may not have been as statistically successful as last year’s, but he had nothing left to learn in juniors and captured a roster spot as a 19-year-old this fall.

There were mixed reactions from fans; some enjoyed the addition to the youth movement, some preferred his spot go to 2018 sixth-overall pick Filip Zadina, and others just felt Rasmussen wasn’t ready.

The latter crowd welcomed other fans, as Rasmussen looked in over his head rather quickly. Through nine games, the rookie had just one assist, a minus-1 rating, seven shots, and averaged 12:39 of ice time per game. Detroit went 2-5-2 in that span. He was approaching his tenth game, where his entry-level contract would officially start running, sparking a debate about his long-term destination and the eventual expansion draft.

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Rasmussen ultimately suited up for his tenth game as management announced he’d be in Detroit for the long haul. Its decision sparked something in Rasmussen, who scored his first career goal and had four shots in that game en route to a 5-3 victory.

He’s been confident and visibly more involved since that first goal. Over the next eight games, Rasmussen added five more points (four goals, one assist), ten more shots, and has upped his physicality while skating to a plus-1. The Red Wings have gone 6-2 in that span.

Rasmussen has been a large factor in a resurgent Red Wings power play. While he’s registered just two power play points (two goals) of his own, he’s been an effective net front presence, screening the goalie with his large, immovable frame while his team goes to work.

Confidence is key for a young rookie and Rasmussen is finding out how to play among the best and play effectively with a three-game goal streak heading into Wednesday’s action. His self-assurance is reaching his size and his potential for the Red Wings.