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Notes: Five rookies set to make NHL debut for Wings tonight

It is the first time it's happened in the league since 1985, also for Detroit

by Dana Wakiji and Art Regner @Dwakiji and @ArthurJRegner / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- None of the Red Wings rookies were born the last time this happened in the NHL.

The last time five players made their NHL debuts in the same game was on Oct. 10, 1985 when Christopher Cichocki, Tim Friday, Doug Houda, Petr Klima, Adam Oates and Ray Staszak all appeared in their first game for Detroit.

Houda is now one of the assistant coaches for the Wings.

It is expected that forwards Michael Rasmussen and Christoffer Ehn, along with defensemen Dennis Cholowski, Filip Hronek and Libor Sulak will all make their NHL debuts in the Wings' home opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Little Caesars Arena.

"I think part of making it, being an elite athlete, is mental toughness and the reality in humans is there's going to be nerves," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "There should be. But managing it is focusing on the task at hand, especially shift by shift, so hopefully our guys do a real good job of it. One thing that's good is I don't think there's a guy who's playing tonight who's afraid to make a mistake. We realize there's going to be mistakes, let's just make sure our positives outweigh our negatives."

Young Joe Hicketts is also expected to play but it is not his debut as he played in five games last season for the Wings.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: .@Hicksy_2 ready. #LGRW pic.twitter.com/kCHD7JeaYQ

Injuries to veteran defensemen Niklas Kronwall (lower body), Mike Green (virus) and Jonathan Ericsson (upper body) have opened up spots for a few of the young defensemen.

In part due to that uncertainty surrounding the injured players, the parents of Hronek and Sulak were not able to make it over from the Czech Republic but they'll be staying up late to watch their sons.

Hronek said his dad was excited, "maybe more than me."

Sulak, who heard from many of his friends back home, said he is excited to play.

"I think I cannot be nervous. It doesn't help me," Sulak said. "I can feel good confidence. Good skating and good gap and good physically, that's the way I play today."

Blashill is looking forward to seeing what the 6-foot-2, 207-pound Sulak can do in the regular season against the top players.

"I'm intrigued by Libor because his skating is elite, his body and strength and reach are elite," Blashill. "I think he's got to learn a number of things in positioning to make sure he's on the right side of the puck so he's not giving up easy chances. We've talked to him about it through this week. He seems to want to learn it and has the capacity to learn it. That'll be the biggest thing for him, can he play from the right side of the puck? If he does that he's going to be a real good player in the league."

Hronek was also thrilled to be making his first appearance in the NHL.

"I feel good, excited," Hronek said. "Closer to my first NHL game so of course you feel excited. It's amazing. It's a great feeling, first NHL game, home game, home opener. Everything is nice."

Cholowski said he would have quite a few people in town for the game.

His parents, John and Natalie, his older brother, Frederick, his aunt, Carrie Light, and his girlfriend, Brooke Kudirka, are all here.

"It hasn't really hit me yet but I'm sure tonight when I get out there, the nerves will start going a little bit," Cholowski said. "Get that first shift in and then just play hockey."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: .@dcholowski27 ready. #LGRW pic.twitter.com/iwu1PC8zeO

Ehn's parents, Lars and Ulrica, and younger sister, Rebecca, came over from Sweden, arriving in Detroit Wednesday.

"They got in last night, so we had dinner together and obviously it's really fun for them to be here as well," Ehn said. "Really excited. I've been waiting a couple days now for this opening night. It's going to be a lot of fun. I can't wait 'till tonight."

Rasmussen will have his parents, Paul and Denise, his two sisters, Jacqueline and Samantha, and his girlfriend at the game.

"I was talking to my old billet dad the other day, he just said it's a big step, really no one can it away from you that you played in the NHL," Rasmussen said. "I really took that to heart. I think for anyone who's ever played that first game, I think it's a big thing. I'm just ready to compete tonight and help the team."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "I'm just excited and ready to go."@mrasmussen16 ahead of his NHL debut. #CBJvsDET #LGRW pic.twitter.com/0VazMTCXSQ

Because that is a lot of youth on defense with just Trevor Daley and Danny DeKeyser in the mix, Blashill has DeKeyser with Cholowski and Daley with Sulak.

"We had the opportunity to put DeKeyser with Daley together but that leaves all four kind of on their own," Blashill said. "Sulak and (Hicketts) have at least North American pro experience and so we just felt Sulak has a good mentor in Daley, every time he comes to the bench he can help him and same thing with Cholowski and DK. The biggest thing DK and Daley can do is play great hockey and the better they play, the better off the other four can be."

Hicketts and Hronek are also a pair.

"You just try and make those guys feel comfortable and they know how to play and they're good players," DeKeyser said. "They'll be quick learners if they make mistakes out there. Mistakes are going to happen you've just got to shake it off and just go out there the next shift and keep playing hard. These guys are great players and they're going to be fine tonight."

Cholowski is happy to be playing alongside a veteran like DeKeyser.

"It helps a lot," Cholowski said. "A great guy with a lot of experience, it's definitely going to help me out there. I'm very grateful to be playing with a guy like that."

In the morning skate, Cholowski was running one power play while Hronek and Daley took turns running the other power play.

MORE ON EHN: One of the main reasons Ehn earned a spot on the team was with his excellent defensive prowess paired with his skating ability.

Someone who knows a lot about being a contributor as a fourth-line player and penalty killer is Kris Draper, the assistant to general manager Ken Holland.

Draper spoke a little bit about the 6-foot-3, 181-pound Swedish center at the Detroit Sports Media's Red Wings Day at Sinbad's Restaurant on Wednesday.

"Even last year talking to (director of European scouting) Hakan Andersson, he was really high on him and high on his development, with getting a little bigger and stronger," Draper said. "His skating, he's an unbelievable skater. He's a guy that's going to get up and down the ice real fast. With the way the game is being played right now, it's so important to be such an elite skater. That fourth line, I know Glendening is going to play with him. (Blashill is) going to have a lot of confidence in Christoffer Ehn and Glendening to play some shifts against the other teams' top lines. They feel that there's going to be the opportunity and the ability to create some offense. The one thing when you're playing against another team's top line, you want to try to make them play defense as much as possible. I think they're going to have that mindset to be able to do that. I think it's going to be a fun line, it's going to be a line that Blash can trust and when you have trust in your players, as a player you feel that. I think that's going to be something important for them."

Ehn said that while he knew there were jobs available when he came into camp, he was just focusing on playing well and not thinking about making the team.

"He came in, there was a lot of people talking about a lot of different players that were going to make the Detroit Red Wings, Christoffer Ehn just came in unheralded, not a lot of expectations and he just continued to play and play well," Draper said. "Very responsible hockey player, you can tell that he's had some great coaching throughout his career. He knows how to play in his own end and the hard part is us kind of encouraging him to be a little bit more offensive. We feel with the way that he skates, he's shown the ability that he's going to get scoring chances because he is such a good skater and we're hoping that he can chip in with some offense. But he's going to be a player that Blash can rely on on the penalty kill, 5-on-5 situations and have trust playing against other teams' top lines. I think he's going to be able to handle that. We're excited and it's a great story, coming in and all of a sudden this kid just comes in and earns a spot in the National Hockey League for the Detroit Red Wings. It's a feel-good moment, there's no doubt about it. So good on him for doing that."

DETROIT'S DEKEYSER: Most children who grow up as sports fans fantasize of someday playing for their hometown team.

Detroit-born DeKeyser was one of those kids as a youth in the Motor City. He reflected on wearing the winged wheel after the Wings' morning skate.        

"Being from Detroit and growing up here and playing hockey for this team, it's a dream come true," DeKeyser said. "I definitely had posters in my room of guys I grew up watching around here. I was lucky enough to play with a few of them from the guys that were still here from those teams.

"It's definitely a lot of excitement, there was a lot of buzz in the building today, a lot of energy. It's going to be a big night tonight."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "They're young kids but they know how to play the game. So you just remind them of that, tell them to go out there and play their game and they'll be just fine." #CBJvsDET #LGRW More from @DeKeyser5 at morning skate. 👇 pic.twitter.com/EAa8ZCFVPt

A hardcore Detroit sports fan, DeKeyser said that playing for any of Detroit's four pro teams would have been an honor, even the Lions.

"I'm a diehard Lions fans," DeKeyser said with a laugh. "If I was a football player, I would have loved to be maybe a receiver or something if I was good at football, that would be awesome, so I would definitely play for them, that's for sure."

Last season DeKeyser missed 17 games due to a fractured bone in his ankle.

Once he returned to the lineup he has a difficult adjustment period but turned his season around in the second half to finish the year at plus-2.

DeKeyser was one of five Wings players to be a plus player last season and he's hoping to build off the confidence and momentum he gained during his positive finish to last season.

"I came into the season wanting to start off on the right foot," he said. "We had training up in Traverse and that went well and I'm feeling in great shape. I am excited to get out there and play just to show what I can do."

And doing it in his hometown only makes it better.

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