The clock is ticking on Ville Leino
's time in Detroit this season, but the Finnish forward is doing all he can to convince the Red Wings' top brass to wind it back up.
Leino, who is playing in the NHL these days largely because Tomas Holmstrom
can't as a result of sports hernia surgery, is proving why the Red Wings weren't the only team chasing him when he chose to cross the ocean last spring.
The 25-year-old left wing came out of the weekend with three goals and two assists in eight games since being recalled from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League. He has shown his versatility by playing with Kirk Maltby
and Kris Draper
on a checking line as well as Pavel Datsyuk
and Marian Hossa
on a scoring line.
No matter where the Wings put him, Leino looks like an NHL player.
"It's really going to be in the neighborhood of six weeks before Holmstrom can play, so Leino is going to be here at least until the end of March," Red Wings GM Ken Holland told NHL.com. "Then you're down to the last six or seven games of the regular season and by then Mike Babcock is going to know what he can do, where he fits in and how he best wants to use him."
Leino thought he was going to start the season in the NHL after choosing the Wings on May 10, but less than two months later Marian Hossa
also chose the defending Stanley Cup champs, leaving little room for Leino both under the cap and in the top 12.
Despite a strong preseason, when Leino had 6 points and a plus-3 rating in eight games, he was sent to ride the buses in the AHL. Babcock called Leino the best player he has ever sent down to the minors.
Leino played 44 games and recording 37 points in Grand Rapids, but he found playing in the AHL to be difficult both because of the bus trips and the skill level.
"The AHL is just a different kind of hockey compared to the NHL," Leino told NHL.com. "It doesn't always make sense. It's kind of a mess, but it was OK for me. I think you still have to be fast there and you don't have much time."
He's found the NHL game, even with far superior competition, suits him better.
"You have such good players around you and the game is more clearer," Leino said. "You know when the situations are going to come, when you are going to have a 2-on-1 or a 3-on-2. You know when you can move the puck and where you can move it to."
Leino was recalled Jan. 29 when defenseman Brad Stuart
went on injured reserve with a back injury. Two days later he had his first NHL goal in his debut game while playing with Hossa and Datsyuk. He had an assist and a plus-2 rating two nights later before Babcock made him a healthy scratch for the Wings' Feb. 4 game against Phoenix.
The coach's explanation left reporters scratching their heads, but Leino hasn't sat since.
"He's been so good, goal and an assist, plus-2, so I scratched him," Babcock said, according to the Detroit Free-Press. "That doesn't really make any sense, but he'll be back for the next game. He's been really good -- good puck skills, good determination on the puck. As he gets used to the League, he'll get quicker, but he's an NHL player, and he's going to be a point producer who can play with good players."
The Wing's scouting staff, specifically Assistant GM Jim Nill and Finnish scout Ari Vuori
, liked Leino last season because he played like a forward who could fit into Detroit's puck-possession system.
"The skating was one of our concerns coming in, and it appears to be fine," Holland said. "He's not going to blow around people but he has enough pace to his game where he can be effective player."
Holland listened to Nill and Vuori praise Leino's physical tools, but the GM, who didn't scout the Fin, also liked the fact that he was the second leading scorer in Finland's top league, SM-Liiga, last season with 77 points in 55 games.
Leino was named the League's regular season MVP and a few weeks later signed a one-year contract with the Wings.
"The AHL is just a different kind of hockey compared to the NHL. It doesn't always make sense. It's kind of a mess, but it was OK for me. I think you still have to be fast there and you don't have much time."-- Red Wings rookie Ville Leino
"Last year I was doing really well in the Finnish league and I won the championship there," Leino said. "I wanted to try it here and play with the best players in the world. That was the main thing why I wanted to come here. I'm just 25 so there are a lot of things I can learn and improve on to get better."
Fellow countrymen Valtteri Filppula
and Swedish defenseman Niklas Kronwall
have helped integrate Leino into his new culture. Leino lived with both players during the preseason and is now shacking up with Kronwall again. Filppula bought his own pad.
"They don't talk about a lot of stuff with hockey. They let me figure it out myself," Leino said. "They tell me other stuff, like where to go eat and just life, day to day living. They have been so helpful."
Leino is aware of the looming decision Holland and Babcock will have to make, but he's not deterred by it. Instead, he's taking the expect nothing, gain everything approach.
It might just be enough to keep him in Motown.
"You can have an affect on (the decision) because if you score in every game they have to keep you up," Leino said. "But I think I was doing good in exhibition games and still it didn't help, so I will just do my best. I can't think of those things."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com