Taro Hirose has been a work in progress for the Detroit Red Wings since his 2018-19 late-season acquisition. He was a pleasant discovery fresh off the NCAA circuit and, since then, has been trying to find his way at the NHL level.
After kicking off his professional career in Detroit with 10 NHL games, the leadership decided it’d be advantageous for him to spend some time with the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins. With several players still out of the Griffins’ lineup due to callups — players like Filip Zadina and Givani Smith — Hirose has been presented with an enormous amount of ice time to focus on the task at hand. (from ‘Filip Zadina is back with the Detroit Red Wings. Here’s how long he might stay,’ Detroit Free Press, 12/06/2019) Granted a valuable learning experience at the AHL level, Detroit appears to have him on a clear developmental path.
A Focused Power Play
One of the biggest reasons Hirose has found himself with Grand Rapids is to work on his power play game. Head coach Jeff Blashill specifically stated that “He’s made a couple of unreal plays on the power play that haven’t been rewarded with goals that probably should have been.” (from, “Red Wings’ Taro Hirose Isn’t Pressing but Hasn’t Been Able to Produce Much,” The Detroit News, 10/27/2019). The lack of goals or finishing setups on the power play has dramatically impacted the respective teams. Both Detroit and Grand Rapids have been battling special team consistency all season.
Having a defined area of improvement has enabled Hirose to not only focus more on the task at hand, but muster a little confidence with each positive step. With the Griffins power play struggling at 19.9%, Hirose has seen much more ice time in man-advantage situations to help boost their offensive power.
Detroit hopes that this will become Hirose’s greatest asset in time according to Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News, “It’s on the power play where Hirose is expected to thrive, with his ability to find open players and dissect seams and openings on the ice.”
Another area of focus Detroit is zeroing in on with Hirose is his need to be more independent. Meaning that he needs to be able to complete plays without requiring a bigger body on the rush with him. Prior to his Dec. 3 reassignment, Blashill stated, “He has to play with other guys when he gets the puck and self-creates…”
Leadership’s concern surrounding Hirose is that he has become almost dependent on the others instead of having the confidence and strength to push ahead on his own. Since arriving in Grand Rapids, it appears as though he’s garnered a bit more confidence with each rush and is making bolder moves to the net. In a recent post-game interview, he summarized that his confidence has been a huge development with the Griffins. He explained how he felt more comfortable putting pucks on the net.
Though there’s no indication of when Hirose can expect a call back to Detroit, having a few areas of improvement has given him clear guidelines in order to get that call. He’s been competing hard and seems like he’s getting stronger in those areas. The power play is absolutely critical to both clubs right now, and if Hirose can learn how to channel his skill and push harder, he will be an incredible tool on the special teams.
Following his stint with the Griffins, the Red Wings are hoping Hirose can find a way to use these abilities at a more advanced level to become a sniper for the power play unit back in Detroit. He’s fighting for a roster spot just like everyone else, so using his time well with the Griffins will be paramount for his future.
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.