The Detroit Red Wings knew they had some major holes to fill on their blue line by the time the middle of June rolled around.
They had traded Brad Stuart, who played more than 21 minutes a night, to the San Jose Sharks. In addition, the day also had arrived that the organization and its fans long feared when seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom retired in May.
Many expected the Red Wings to go after a big name like 2012 All-Star Ryan Suter -- and they did, but he chose to sign with the Minnesota Wild. From there, the Red Wings chose homegrown talent along with a couple of free agents to fill out the roster.
One of the players who has risen to the top is one of those former farmhands, rookie Brian Lashoff, whom Detroit rewarded Monday with a three-year contract extension. Typical of the Red Wings' ability to find talent where others do not, the organization signed Lashoff as an undrafted player out of Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League in October 2008 following a tryout.
Lashoff, 22, is playing on Detroit's top pair with Niklas Kronwall and averaging 18:54 per game in time on ice, sixth on the team and fourth among defensemen. He averages 2:56 per game shorthanded, third on the team.
Earlier this season, the Red Wings considered sending Lashoff back to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League. But Lashoff has stuck around and made the most of his chance as injuries have beset the Red Wings, who nonetheless remain eighth in the Western Conference with 21 points entering their game at the Los Angeles Kings as part of Wednesday Night Rivalry presented by Coors Light (10 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network).
"It's been exciting ever since I got here, playing with a guy like Kronners," Lashoff told NHL.com last week in Nashville. "He's definitely helped me out, slowed things down for me, and he's made things a lot easier -- the transition up here. Playing against other teams' top lines and stuff like that has been a big confidence booster ever since I got here."
A native of the Albany, N.Y., area, Lashoff is the younger brother of Matt Lashoff, who played 74 games in the League for the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs and currently plays in the Swiss League. During the 2009-10 season, Brian Lashoff helped the United States win the World Junior Championship; they defeated Canada 6-5 for the gold medal.
At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, Brian Lashoff brings some size to the Red Wings' back line. He describes himself as steady and solid in his own zone. In some respects, his quiet game makes a nice complement to Kronwall, who is known for his big slap shot and bigger hits. But Lashoff can hit too -- he leads the team with 23 hits in 15 games and ranks third in blocked shots with 21, a skill that can be essential when shorthanded.
"Penalty kill is something I take a lot of pride in," he said, "especially in Grand Rapids, for sure."
Grand Rapids is where Lashoff learned for years how to ply his trade. For a player who is shy of his 23rd birthday, Lashoff has logged parts of five seasons with the Griffins. In 2008-09, he played six regular-season games with Grand Rapids then eight Calder Cup Playoff games following his junior season. He returned to Kingston of the OHL, where he had been traded from Barrie, for the following season. He played six more games for the Griffins in 2009-10 before turning pro in 2010-11.
Last season, he recorded eight goals, 11 assists and 41 penalty minutes. Earlier this season, during the lockout, he was plus-4 in 36 games with two goals and four assists.
During his time in Grand Rapids, Lashoff was helped in his development by coach Curt Fraser, who left this year to become an assistant with the Dallas Stars. Fraser, who has served as an assistant with the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues, also was the first coach of the expansion Atlanta Thrashers.
Lashoff also credits his time with the Red Wings as a "black ace" for his development. Black aces are minor-league players teams call up during the Stanley Cup Playoffs who can benefit from extra practice time.
During some of Lashoff's previous training camps and playoff stints, the Red Wings' blue line might have looked impossible for a prospect to crack.
"I think when I first got in the organization it was Lidstrom, (Brian) Rafalski, obviously, [Stuart] was still there," Lashoff said. "It was a good learning process for me to watch those guys and be a sponge when I was a black ace and in training camp, and I think that's kind of translated to my time when I finally got my opportunity to come up.
"I've used what I've learned by watching those guys. Yeah, you do kind of look at it and wonder when you're going to get your shot. As long as you stay patient like I was and take the things you learn, it definitely helps."
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