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Notes: Red Wings getting ready to finalize fluid 23-man roster

Veleno soaking up the atmosphere

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- By all accounts, the Red Wings have had a competitive and spirited training camp and preseason.

Players have competed hard against each other and the Wings preseason games have been highly energetic and entertaining.

But with only two preseason games left, tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Little Caesars Arena and Saturday night in Toronto at Scotiabank Arena, it appears the Wings' 23-man roster is beginning to come together, though head coach Jeff Blashill says Detroit's roster could change from day to day.

"It's fluid. A roster set means that's the decision you're making on that day, but it's fluid as we go through the course of the year," Blashill said. "I think we make a bigger deal, it's not like a junior team where a guy goes somewhere else to play after you cut him.

"We make too big a deal about Monday or Sunday or whatever. Will we have our decisions made after tomorrow night's game? Yeah, we'll have our decisions made. A lot of it depends on health. We'll see if we get through these games healthy.

"Once we know where we're at health-wise, we'll make our decisions and we'll make them with two things in mind, what's going to give our guys the best chance to win hockey games in Detroit and also what's best for each young player's individual development."

The Red Wings must submit their 23-man roster by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 1 and there has been some speculation they may go with 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies.

"I don't know that yet," Bashill said about the roster breakdown. "I'd say some of that depends on health, some of that depends on waivers. There's lots of things that play into that."

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Since several young Red Wings players have played well during the preseason, Blashill was asked if cut-down time will be especially difficult.

"We'd like all of them to play great. They've all had moments of good and moments of not good, just like the other players," Blashill said. "We'll just keep evaluating and watching. We got a game tonight and tomorrow and then make some decisions for Monday but as I said last night, it's a relentless league, so whether you're on the team or not on the team on Monday doesn't mean you're on the team on Friday, Saturday or the next week. That's just the reality of it."

Defense has been a glaring issue with the Red Wings, primarily because the Wings defensive corps has had trouble staying healthy and is getting a bit long in the tooth.

And certainly the Wings will take the next two games to evaluate their blueline, but Blashill again stressed each player has strengths and weaknesses and a lot depends on the team's needs and how the players perform.

"Each guy is a little bit different. You got to be great at what you bring to the table," Blashill said. "Dennis Cholowski is a puck-mover, he's a power-play guy who we want to see be our fifth penalty killer. We want to see a guy who defends, who recognizes danger, doesn't give up chances. I think he's done a way better job of that so far. He's trying to fill that type of role.

"A guy like Madison Bowey is trying to fill that … if Dennis is in that spot, who is his partner? A guy like Madison Bowey wants to make a statement that he can be that good defender, one of the top-four penalty killers, hard to play against, that kind of role.

"Dales (Trevor Daley) has done a good job in his career of being a good penalty killer. We got a whole bunch of guys in that mix. For me it's just being really good at what you are and we got to see how it fits. You got to have enough guys that are good penalty killers, otherwise you have no chance of having a good penalty kill, so that's one thing we have to look at, and potentially we could use three defensemen on the power play, especially if it was a Cholowski, (Mike) Green and (Filip) Hronek. "

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VELENO TAKES IT ALL IN: In five preseason games thus far, Red Wings rookie center Joe Veleno has not scored a goal, has doled out three assists and is minus-2 with six penalty minutes.

Yet the 6-foot-1, 198 pound 19-year-old has savored every minute being in Red Wings uniform.

"It's been really fun, I'm enjoying it a lot playing with different players and playing against some of the best players in the league, so I'm really enjoying it," Veleno said after Friday's morning skate.

In preseason games against the Blackhawks and Blues, the first-year pro had to go up against Jonathan Toews and Ryan O'Reilly, a difficult task but a tremendous learning experience.

"Just the little details, being on the defensive side of them, seeing how much skill they have, how elite they are with the puck and without the puck," Veleno said when asked to elaborate on what he's picked up playing against Toews and O'Reilly. "The little things they do well gives them the opportunity offensively and obviously learning from the best playing against them, being on the same ice with them is a real treat to see."

Since being drafted by the Wings in the first round, 30th overall, in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Veleno has been extremely diligent about developing a 200-foot game.

"I think I got a lot better at that, the player development guys (Shawn Horcoff and Dan Cleary) this year really hassled on me for that to become a 200-foot player, being good on the defensive side of the puck," Veleno said. "In my game now I've noticed that a lot, being that 200-foot player creating offense and being good defensively."

It was difficult at first to transition to a 200-foot game for Veleno, especially after a very good training camp with the Red Wings in 2018. Before being sent back to his junior team in Drummondville, he played in a few preseason games and didn't look out of place.

"In juniors, at the start of the year when I first got back (last season), I was cheating a lot on offense, I really wanted to put up points, but I felt it wasn't working so well," Veleno said. "So, I focused a lot on defense that actually led to more offense for me and just the type of game I play, my work ethic and my speed are my two biggest attributes so without that I don't have as much success."

Blashill has been encouraged with Veleno's development.

"I think he's had a strong camp. He's a way better player today than he was a year ago. I think the one thing Joe is learning is it's a relentless league, it's an every-night league," Blashill said. "I think his first game against the Islanders when he was facing a real tough lineup and he was the guy … (he) wasn't ready for it in the first at all. To (his) credit, after we talked about it after the first, (he) was way better.

"In junior, when your skill set is generally better than the guys you're playing by the time you're an older player and if you're 50 percent of your best you're still one of the better players on the ice. In the NHL if you're not 100 percent close to capacity, you get eaten alive. So it's just consistency and he's learning that, but that's a learned process. I've been real impressed with his approach and real impressed with his play."

Veleno's work ethic and the way he embraces what he is being taught has put him on the fast track to the NHL.

"Joe and I talked this summer and I told him the quickest way to get to the National Hockey League is be a guy that the coaches trust. He had that same message last year," Blashill said. "I know Steve Hartley, his coach in junior last year, did a real good job with him. I know he's worked with Horc (Horcoff) and our development crew and I think he's making a concerted effort to be a really good two-way centerman.

"In the league it's really hard to be a successful team if you don't have really good two-way centerman, it's super-hard to play in the league if you're a centerman and you're not good defensively. We played against one of the better ones last night (Thursday) in O'Reilly. I think Joe has done a pretty good job of that."

Whether he makes the Wings this coming week or not, Veleno will take this experience to make himself a better player and person. He has absorbed a lot in a short period of time being around the veteran Red Wings.

"(Watching) the older guys and see what they do and seeing all the little things they do well, what it takes to be a pro on and off the ice. Seeing it day-by-day I'm learning," Veleno said. "I'm becoming a better player, I'm becoming a better person, these guys really lead the way with that."

Someday soon, Veleno will no longer be learning, he'll be leading and he's proving it already.

INJURY UPDATE: Several Red Wings remain banged up and may not see action in the final two preseason games against the Leafs, but except for rookie Chase Pearson who's been out since the first preseason game with a mid-body injury, all the wounded should be able to play once the season begins on Oct. 5 in Nashville.

"AA (Andreas Athanasiou) is dealing with a little bit of a tweak. I don't know if he'll play tomorrow, I'm hoping he will. He'll go out a little bit for practice today and then he'll come off, he's not going to spend the whole time out there," Blashill said. "(Jacob) de La Rose (lower-body) is going to go out and test it, see where he's at. I don't think he'll be ready for tomorrow. I don't think it's anything long-term.

"(Jonathan) Ericsson (soft tissue) is the only one come Monday I'd be worried about whether he's ready to go, (Frans) Nielsen (soft tissue), I'm hoping he can play tomorrow, we'll see after practice. Abby (Justin Abdelkader) should be fine We pushed to get Abby in three (games) but it just couldn't work with the injury."

Blashill did say he expects Abdelkader to be Saturday's lineup in Toronto.

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