Michael Rasmussen’s rookie season was spent with the Detroit Red Wings due to a conflict with his age at the time. Overall, it was a pretty productive season for the towering forward who put up 18 points in 62 games – not a terrible first season for a rookie on a not-so-great team.
This season, Rasmussen was assigned to the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins and has taken on the role of a centerman. The fact of the matter is, Detroit wants Rasmussen to play center, and Rasmussen wants to as well. So the switch was made. Transitioning from the wing to a center lane is a huge adjustment, but it’s one that Detroit is confident he’ll excel at.
Well into the season, Rasmussen is showing very positive signs of growth. Bringing light to why he’s a worthy investment, he continues to prove he doesn’t belong in the AHL for good.
Competing for the Top Center Spot
A lot of the future of the Red Wings will be majorly affected by the off-season and the trade deadline, which according to Art Regner, a Red Wings insider, will be a very busy one (from ‘Detroit Red Wings mailbag: Does it make sense to trade Luke Glendening?’ Detroit Free Press, 01/27/2020). The center position is being scrutinized rather intently in Detroit and with Rasmussen developing well, there may be a move on the horizon for him. The competition is fierce and he seems to be measuring up to the challenge.
I spoke with Regner, who works closely with Yzerman, about the future of Rasmussen. “He’s competing for that top center spot…” he told me, “…Detroit wants him to be that top-line guy – able to compete with (Dylan) Larkin for the spot…”
The goal of switching Rasmussen’s lot so-to-speak is to groom him for the top. They need consistency and power on the front end and they feel they’ve found that with Michael.
Larkin’s future with Detroit seems set, but players like Robby Fabbri, Frans Nielsen, Valtteri Filppula, are on limited short term contracts and their futures aren’t so secure. That being said, Rasmussen stands a good chance, if he plays his cards right, to be that top piece to replace the latter.
Body and Brains: The Best of Both Worlds
Rasmussen’s size is an obvious plus. At 6-foot-6 without skates, he towers over everyone. Watching defenders try to mow him down is almost comical to watch. That size also gives him an incredible reach to try risky plays around other skaters and quick zone entry in a rush. Size is useless unless the player knows how to work it to his advantage and Rasmussen does.
His size is a major factor in the decision to move him into more open ice, but according to Regner, so is his high level of hand-eye coordination and IQ, “He has the best coordination I’ve seen in years… he can deflect any puck perfectly…” His ability to see the play unfold and place the puck is mature beyond his years.
The maturity is also reflected in his demeanor. The Red Wings haven’t failed to notice his laser-focus on and off the ice. He’s a very intentional player whether he’s taking a faceoff or in a special team situation and is always 100% keyed into what’s happening on the ice. His intent focus largely contributed to his recovery this season and quick progression. (from ‘Finally healthy, Red Wings’ 2017 first-rounder Michael Rasmussen aims for big second half,’ Detroit News, 01/28/2020)
The combination of knowing how to use his size and his overall control of the mind are key reasons he’s been able to adapt to the center position so smoothly.
I spoke with Rasmussen following a home game in Grand Rapids and was pretty stunned to find that he actually wanted to be in the AHL. He said that he was, “looking forward to learning at a slower pace” and was excited about the gradual growth. What truly took me back was the complete no-nonsense way he said that.
An extremely valuable quality that Rasmussen has is his willingness to embrace the path he is on. On the contrary, he thought he should have been in the AHL his rookie season and was sad he missed out. As a result, he’s not pouting in the locker room about not being in the NHL this season. That’s not to say other prospects do, but his expressed wish is to develop from the bottom up so-to-speak and at a healthy pace.
His attitude towards taking correction and acknowledging areas of improvement shows him to be a pliable prospect. He’s not stuck in a rut and is very open to change. That alone will be huge as the team continues to fluctuate and move closer to a new era.
Setting Rasmussen Up for Success
Detroit will be needing strong bodies running the center position in seasons very soon to come. With Rasmussen taking very well to his new role in Grand Rapids, the hopes are very high that he’ll fill that top line or second line slot.
He’s got the body and the maturity required to plant roots in the NHL. He hasn’t been discouraged by injury or being “sent down.” He welcomed the opportunity and has a focused drive to do what has been asked of him. Rasmussen’s future with Detroit is almost secured. Though Yzerman won’t show his hand, Regner says that he’s very impressed with Rasmussen and his future with the team is very bright.
He has a bit of work yet to do in the AHL. He hasn’t “made it” yet but he is intently tuned in to where he personally wants to be and what he needs to be for the team. Embracing his role as a centerman, he won’t be too long in development should he continue his current pace. The Red Wings of next season will look very different – likely including a new face occupying the center slot.
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I am a Detroit Red Wings prospect journalist for Access Hockey MI covering the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toledo Walleye prospect development. Draft analyst for USHL hockey with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.