With a Prospects Tournament trophy in the books, the Detroit Red Wings have begun to gear up for the 2019-20 season. Last night, the preseason got off to a roaring start as the Red Wings toppled the Chicago Blackhawks in a rousing 5-3 game. For some, the preseason is just a conditioning exercise to get back up to speed with the game’s rigorous schedule. But for prospects looking for a spot on the roster, it’s do-or-die. This is their one shot before the season begins to prove that they’ve got what it takes to make it in the big leagues.
Many will push for a roster spot, but only a few will be chosen. Today, we’ll look at seven players that seem poised to fight for a chance at the NHL. Whether they’re highly touted prospects, new faces, or eager underdogs, the preseason will play host to a slew of prospects ready to make a name for themselves this season.
1. Evgeny Svechnikov, LW
The Red Wings’ first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft remains one of the most positive, hard-working players in the league despite his history of bad luck. Svechnikov was seemingly a lock for the 2018-19 season before a tragic knee injury ended his season. Nevertheless, he persisted through it, returning to the ice as soon as he could. His positive attitude, nearly unbeatable work ethic, and his high-energy play style have earned him high regard from the Red Wings’ coaching staff. He’s already spent time with the Red Wings and is familiar with head coach Jeff Blashill’s style. Out of all the prospects listed, he seems the most likely to be given an extended look.
Having said that, Svechnikov is already 23 and is no longer waiver-eligible, which means that he could be claimed by another team if he were demoted to the Grand Rapids Griffins. In a recent interview, he mentioned that his knee pain from his season-ending surgery last year still aggravates him after games. Lingering pain bodes hesitation, especially in a league as fast-paced as the NHL. Barring a jaw-dropping performance in the preseason, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him start the season with the Griffins to get acclimated with the pace of the game again.
2. Michael Rasmussen, C
Picked ninth-overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Rasmussen got his first taste of NHL action last year after enduring the majority of the 2018-19 season with the Red Wings. In that time, he was able to score 8 goals and 18 points as a 19-year-old — a feat that few players that age can say they’ve accomplished. Standing at 6-foot-5, he towers above his competition. In the preseason opener, he scored a late goal, propelling the Red Wings to victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. If he pans out, he has the potential to center one of the Red Wings’ top three lines, using his body and positioning to lift his team above the competition.
Unfortunately, his lack of speed and force last year was made very apparent during the end of the 2018-19 season. He was frequently knocked off the puck by tougher players, shaking his confidence and putting more pressure on him when he had the puck. It would likely do Rasmussen a world of good to have him start in Grand Rapids, playing top-line minutes while readjusting to the toughness of the big leagues. The probability of him making the Red Wings’ roster at some point this season is very high; it’s just a matter of effort on his part to secure his spot.
3. Oliwer Kaski, D
A recent signing from the Lahti Pelicans of the Finnish League, Kaski seems to be one of the most NHL-ready candidates on the roster due to his age and experience. The 24-year-old defenseman shocked the Finnish League last season, scoring 51 points in 59 games. He’s an offense-minded player with a cannon of a shot. If he makes the roster, he’ll play on one of the bottom-four defensive pairings while serving as a lethal threat on the power play alongside Mike Green. If he doesn’t make the Red Wings’ roster out of the preseason, he’ll lead the power play effort in Grand Rapids, likely playing on one of their top-four units.
While Kaski has played time on North American ice at Western Michigan University, it might do him a bit of good to get adjusted with the Griffins before getting called up. Kaski will need to outplay a defenseman on the Red Wings’ current roster if he wants to secure his place in the NHL. If he doesn’t make the roster, he’ll be an inevitable call-up when a defenseman suffers an injury. If he can impress like Filip Hronek did last season, he’ll be a lock on the team for the foreseeable future.
4. Filip Zadina, LW
The sixth-overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft seems poised to make the roster out of the preseason. He’s shown an elite hockey IQ with all facets of his game, from offensive awareness to defensive positioning. Last season, he scored 35 points in 59 games with the Griffins. He took advantage of his nine-game call-up with the Red Wings, putting up three points in nine games. With an opening on the roster after the departure of Thomas Vanek, it seems likely that the Red Wings’ front office wants to give Zadina a chance to secure his spot in the NHL.
On the other hand, his biggest struggle is his confidence. During training camp, he appeared to get visibly upset when he wasn’t able to score a goal. In a sense, he is his own worst enemy; he gets in his head and overthinks everything, costing him the chance at scoring or putting a good play together. It seems incredibly likely that he’ll make the roster out of camp. Zadina’s got everything he needs to become a solid player in the NHL. All he needs is a little bit of confidence and a few good mentors and he’ll be in a great place.
5. Dennis Cholowski, D
Cholowski spent 52 games with the Red Wings last year, logging 16 points in his rookie season. Near the end of the season, he was sent down to the Griffins, where he managed 12 points across 25 games. He’s incredibly smart with his play and was rarely beaten in training camp. He seems to be one of the most likely candidates to seize a spot on the roster, but he’ll need to outplay one of Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson or Madison Bowey to secure his spot. With his NHL experience last season, it seems like he’ll have the most consideration for a roster spot out of all of the Red Wings’ defensive prospects.
Despite this, Cholowski is still waiver-exempt, which means he’s also one of the safest bets to spend time in Grand Rapids. It seems more than likely that he’ll split his season between the Griffins and the Red Wings as he works to round out the aspects of his game. If he does start the season with the Griffins, he’ll likely be the first defenseman called up if and when an injury occurs on the blue line. Having said that, a strong preseason showing may earn him a full-time spot on the roster if he shows he’s got what it takes to make it in the NHL.
6. Joe Veleno, C
Veleno has been a standout candidate for a roster spot since the beginning of the Prospects Tournament, where he led the team in goals and scoring. For the last four years, he’s played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), developing every aspect of his game in preparation for his chance at the spotlight. Now that the preseason is underway, all eyes are on him. He’s been lights-out in scrimmages and training from the start, and he’ll have all the opportunity in the world to show off during the preseason, as well.
Like Cholowski, he is also waiver-exempt, which may put general manager Steve Yzerman in a tough spot when laying out the roster. At the very least, Veleno will earn a nine-game call-up sometime during the season to show off his skills in the NHL. As far as best-case scenarios go, having him on the roster during opening night doesn’t seem unlikely. He’s an insanely intelligent player with a knack for a two-way game, playing similarly to fellow Red Wing Dylan Larkin. It seems more of a question of “when” rather than “if” Veleno will make the roster.
7. Taro Hirose, LW
Last year, Hirose signed a contract with the Red Wings at the end of the season, tallying 7 points in just 10 games. The Michigan State graduate is poised to fight for a spot on the roster this season after his spectacular debut, using every tool in his wheelhouse to secure his place in Detroit. He’s a shifty, quick-footed playmaker with a knack for a good pass. It seems like he’s the perfect match for a speedy goalscorer like Andreas Athanasiou. During camp, he spent most of his time on the second line with Athanasiou and Frans Nielsen, two players that match his play style to perfection.
With the Red Wings’ limited roster space, he’ll have to face up against a little bit of competition. Zadina plays the same position as Hirose, which means the two will likely be battling for the same spot. If they can both show that they’ve got what it takes to make it, though, it wouldn’t be a shock to see another player on the roster nudged out of their role. Realistically speaking, it seems likely that it’ll come down to a battle between Zadina and Hirose. Either way, we will inevitably see one or both of them don the Red Wings’ colors this season.