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Yzerman encouraged by progress, focused on big picture with Red Wings

'We've got a long way to go,' GM says as young talent develops in Detroit, minors

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

TORONTO -- Steve Yzerman is just getting started. He's a little more than a quarter of the way through his first season as general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, focused on building for the long term.

"How much we're going to win and lose, where we're going to finish in the standings, I'm not going to predict that," Yzerman said at the NHL general managers meetings Tuesday. "But I think [coach Jeff Blashill] and his staff are doing a really good job of preparing the players, of practicing. I like to think we're improving from training camp to the start of the regular season.

"As we speak here today, I think you're seeing good progress in our team."

The Red Wings are 7-13-3, last in the NHL in point percentage (.370), goals per game (2.35) and goals against per game (3.70). They play the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m. ET; FS-O, FS-D, NHL.TV).

But after a 1-11-1 stretch in which they were outscored 57-21, they went 3-0-2 in five games -- defeating the Boston Bruins and Vegas Golden Knights at home, then taking four of six points against the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks on the road.

"Even during that stretch where we lost a lot and gave up a lot, I can't say it was because we weren't competing," Yzerman said a few hours before a 4-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators. "I'm encouraged by the speed of play and the enthusiasm and the work ethic that the team has, and I think we're seeing progress. … I think collectively as a team, the team plays fast, the team plays hard, and it's a competitive group.

Video: OTT@DET: Duclair scores in 2nd period

"So obviously we've got a long way to go, but I like the atmosphere within the locker room, within the coaching staff. I think it's very good."

The issue is talent.

Yzerman has made two trades, acquiring forward Brendan Perlini from the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman prospect Alec Regula on Oct. 28 and forward Robby Fabbri from the St. Louis Blues for forward Jacob de la Rose on Nov. 6.

Each was a first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Perlini No. 12 by the Arizona Coyotes, Fabbri No. 21 by the Blues. Each is 23, around the same age as forwards Dylan Larkin, 23; Tyler Bertuzzi, 24; Andreas Athanasiou, 25; and Anthony Mantha, 25. Each has a fresh start and more opportunity in Detroit.

Perlini has one assist in 10 games with the Red Wings. Fabbri has seven points (three goals, four assists) in six games, including two power-play goals. The Red Wings have gone 3-1-2 since the Fabbri trade.

"We like to think they have some upside," Yzerman said. "How high that goes, time will tell. But they're young players, offensive-minded players, and we'll see if they can't kind of grow with our core of young players."

Yzerman will not rush the Red Wings' top prospects: forward Michael Rasmussen, 20, the No. 9 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft; forward Filip Zadina, 19, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft; forward Joe Veleno, 19, the No. 30 pick in the 2018 draft; and defenseman Moritz Seider, 18, the No. 6 pick in the 2019 draft. Each is playing with Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League.

Video: Red Wings draft D Moritz Seider No. 6

"The message to them all at the start of the season was, 'Go get a place in Grand Rapids. Get focused on playing, and don't worry about being called up. And having said that, doesn't mean you won't be called up,' " Yzerman said. "There's nothing set in stone. ...

"It's where we feel at the end of training camp or at this stage of the season where they're all best suited to play. We want all of those young kids playing in a league where they're improving, where they're playing, where they're having some success but it's hard for them. So, you kind of decide: Is that in junior? Is that in Europe? Is that in the American Hockey League? Or in the NHL, for that matter? So, I don't want to say it's by design. We're just trying to figure out, where's the best place for each of these players to play now and develop and get better."

Yzerman has watched them a lot. Zadina has 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 16 games, Rasmussen nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 10 games, Seider eight assists in 17 games and Veleno seven points (three goals, four assists) in 17 games.

"It's not easy, but they're all progressing and all improving and having varying degrees of success," Yzerman said. "I think they're all in a really good spot, because the league is a real challenge for them and most of all they've all kind of embraced it that, 'Hey, we understand this is a hard league, and there's good players, and I have to work hard.' So, I think it's good for them."

Which is good for the Red Wings in the long run, which is what matters most.

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