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On the Wings of Tomorrow

Rybar emulates Mr. Hockey, Veleno starring in the Quebec League and more in the March prospect report

by Bob Duff @asktheduffer / Special to

If you were going to pick a Detroit Red Wings legend to emulate, Mr. Hockey isn't a bad choice.

Grand Rapids Griffins goaltender Patrik Rybar and Gordie Howe share a similar trait. Retired after 25 seasons as the greatest Red Wing of all-time, Howe came back to play two years later, returning to pro hockey to play alongside his sons, Mark and Marty.

Rybar shares a similar family tie, although he did it in reverse order and at the opposite end of his career path. He turned pro to play with his dad.

On Dec. 3, 2010, with seven minutes to go in a Slovak Extraliga game, Slovan Bratislava netminder Pavol Rybar, 39, surrendered the goal crease to his backup.

That second-string goaltender who came in to keep a clean sheet the rest of the way, stopping both shots he faced, was Pavol's 17-year-old son Patrik. They shared the shutout in a 6-0 victory over HK Orange 20.

"I'd been watching him since childhood," Patrik said of his dad. "He was my role model.

"I wanted to be a goalkeeper, just like him."

Nearly a decade later, Patrik, 25, has emulated his dad in so many ways.

Both were Slovakian goalies in the Winter Olympics -- Pavol in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City and Patrik at the 2018 Olympiad in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Now, the son seeks to do something his father never got the chance to do -- perform in the NHL.

After posting a 1-1 record with a 2.49 goals-against average and .906 save percentage for Slovakia at last spring's world championship, Rybar signed as a free agent with the Red Wings and has spent the 2018-19 AHL season with the Griffins, sharing netminding duties with Harri Sateri.

"I'm glad to be here," Rybar said. "I really appreciate that I get this chance to play in the Red Wings organization.

"I just want to improve and be a better goalie."

Passed over in the NHL entry draft, what you learn quickly from a conversation with Rybar is that he's not someone who uses that as motivation, as a chip on his shoulder, looking to prove the skeptics wrong.

He's rather philosophical about how his career has evolved.

"I wasn't drafted but I think I just didn't have the quality I needed before," Rybar states matter of factly. "I got experience in the Slovak League and the Czech League. It's helped me so much. A couple of years and I improved so much.

"Now I think I am stronger and a little better in the games. I think I have a better chance to be a good goalie here in North America."

At 6-3 and 190 pounds, Rybar carries the requisite size to be an NHL puckstopper, and he's carried himself well during his first taste of the North American pro game.

Rybar's 2.26 goals-against average ties him for second overall in the AHL. His .918 save percentage is good for seventh overall.

Rybar has faced a league-high 22 shootout attempts and stopped 15 of them.

"He just has a calmness," Griffins coach Ben Simon said. "It's not only on the ice but off the ice. He just has a calm demeanor to him. He doesn't panic.

"You can kind of sense that in just how he handles himself at the rink every day. He's just a cool, calm, collected guy. Just a good kid. He works hard, he plays a pretty clean game.

"He's not really all over the place, he doesn't scramble. He seems to have a pretty simplistic attitude."

The first season in a new country and a new style of hockey is proving to be an adjustment but it's a change of pace that Rybar figures will only do him good.

"It's really different, the rink," Rybar said. "It's thinner here. Everything is faster than in the Czech or Slovak League. I have to improve my speed.

"I needed to lose a couple of pounds and then I improved my speed. The style is different here. It's more north and back. There's more chances, more rushes, more turnovers. In the Czech League it was so much defense.

"I like the style. It's very important for me to get more chances. As a goalie, you can improve so much. I can improve even more here than in the Czech Republic or Slovakia or in Europe.

"The NHL is the same style, so this is far better because I want to play here and be in the NHL."

NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOE: Joe Veleno (30th, 2018) is trending toward a place that would put him in rare company among the all-time list of Red Wings draft picks, but if he manages to get there, oh, the company he will be keeping.

Drummondville Voltigeurs center Veleno is currently third in the QMJHL scoring race with 41-61-102 totals in 56 games.

He's seeking to become just the fifth Red Wings draftee to lead one of the three Canadian Hockey League loops in scoring, and the other four who've done it were quite accomplished on the ice.

And interestingly, all of them, like Veleno, were first-round draft picks of the Wings.

The most recent to do so also topped the QMJHL scoring race. That was current Detroit right-winger Anthony Mantha. Playing for the Val D'Or Foreurs in 2013-14, Mantha won the Jean Beliveau Trophy by producing 57-63-120 totals in 57 games. Selected 20th overall by the Wings in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Mantha led Detroit with 24 goals last season.

In 1990, the Wings made Keith Primeau the third player chosen in the draft. He'd just won the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy as the OHL's top scorer in 1989-90, finishing with 57-70-127 numbers in 65 games for the Niagara Falls Thunder. Primeau was a 31-goal scorer for the Wings in 1993-94.

A little over a decade earlier, Sudbury Wolves right-winger Mike Foligno led the OHL with 65 goals and 85 assists in 68 games. The Wings made Foligno the No. 3 overall choice in the draft in 1979, and he responded with a 36-goal rookie season and was runner-up to Boston defenseman Raymond Bourque in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.

The other Wing to lead a major league in scoring did it twice along a path that would lead to induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. With the St. Catharines Black Hawks in 1969-70, center Marcel Dionne was good for 55-77-132 numbers in 65 games to win the OHA Jr. A series scoring title. The following season, his draft year, Dionne again wore the scoring crown, this time recording 62-81-143 digits in only 46 games.

Chosen second overall by the Wings in the 1971 NHL draft, Dionne set a franchise rookie record with 49 assists in 1971-72. He led the Wings in scoring in 1973-74 and 1974-75, posting 121 points in the latter campaign. At the time, it was a club record and today, remains the most points recorded in a season by a Detroit player not named Steve Yzerman.

Veleno, 19, has his work cut out for him in order to join this elite club. He trails QMJHL scoring leader Peter Abbandonato of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies by six points, but Veleno has proven capable of explosive offensive outbursts all season long.

February was Veleno's best month of the season. He recorded 25 points in 12 games. He recorded at least one point in every game of the month. He went on point streak rolls of 11 and seven games in earlier stretches.

Veleno has recorded a six-point game, a pair of five-point outings, three four-point games, a dozen three-point performances and 14 two-point showings. He's only gone 12 games without a point all season and just once did he go as many as two games in a row with registering on the scoresheet.

The 6-1, 190-pound center is also third in the league in assists and sixth in goals. Veleno shares the QMJHL lead with seven shorthanded goals and is one off the lead with eight game-winners. He's also netted seven insurance goals and is No. 2 in the league with an impressive plus-64 rating.

Veleno has also scored on both of his shootout attempts.

KIVENMAKI SHINES: Center Otto Kivenmaki (191st overall, 2018) was the star of Finland's under-19 national team during a Five Nations tournament held Feb. 6-10 in Kupitta, Turku, Finland.

Kivenmaki produced 3-2-5 totals in four games to lead the Finnish team in goals and points and end up third overall in tournament scoring.

Goaltender Jesper Eliasson (84th overall, 2018) helped Sweden go 4-0 and win the tournament title. Eliasson won both of his starts, a 5-3 victory over the Czech Republic and a 2-1 verdict against the Finns.

He finished the tournament with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage, with 49 stops on 53 shots.

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