DETROIT – Xavier Ouellet will become the second Red Wings rookie to make his NHL debut this season when the San Jose Sharks visit Joe Louis Arena tonight.
Ouellet’s call up from Grand Rapids was necessary because defenseman Jonathan Ericsson’s finance delivered the couple’s first child on Monday afternoon. Evelina Hedman gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter that they've named Liv.
Ouellet, who played in five preseason games with the Wings in September, will be partnered with Brendan Smith on the blue line against the Sharks, who haven’t lost in regulation this season.
“Well, he’s a real good play. He makes good decisions,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s just got to get quicker. That comes with experience, so I think he’ll do that.”
A first-year pro, Ouellet has played in five AHL games, collecting two assists and a plus-1 rating with the Griffins. The Montreal native was a second-round draft pick in 2011.
Ouellet knows he’ll be judged by how he moves his feet tonight against the Sharks’ physical centers Logan Couture, Joe Thorton and Joe Pavelski. Ouellet can’t over-think things and play more of an overall game, limit mistakes and make good decisions with breakout passes.
“I’m a defenseman who the coaches can trust,” Ouellet said.
Without Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall (concussion) in the lineup, that means the Wings will deploy a top six that includes four defensemen with fewer than 120 combined NHL games with Smith (54 games) and Ouellet (1); Kyle Quincey and Danny DeKeyser (21); and Brian Lashoff (37) with Jakub Kindl.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for our guys,” Babcock said. “We talk about that all of the time. When someone gets hurt, especially when you’re a young NHLer, there’s opportunities for you. If you get stuck behind Cal Ripken for 20 years it’s not much fun, probably. So when you get your opportunity you’re allowed to establish yourself as a player and play every night. So that’s what that’s about.
“We have a real good team in here that plays, I think, right. They’ve got a north-south game going. They play heavy. They’ve got three centers, who play as good as anybody in the league, so it’s going to be a good test for our young D. It should be fun.”
SCORING WOES: Besides a 5-2 win over Philadelphia and a 4-2 win at Colorado, the Red Wings haven’t scored more than three goals in a game this season.
Babcock wants to see more offensive production out of all four lines, so with that, the Red Wings coach has shuffled the lines, inserting Tomas Tatar on the third line and returning Justin Abdelkader to the top line for tonight’s game against the Sharks.
“Let’s be honest, if I were the other team and I watched us play, I’d say if I get a hold of 13 and 40 and 11 I can shut this thing down,” Babcock said. “Depth in scoring hasn’t been there. We have to find a way to generate and have more offensive push than one line. You have to have it right through your group. We haven’t had it.”
WEISS’ SLOW START: Stephen Weiss has gone three straight games without producing a point, so Babcock has decided to move him to the third line where he will center Daniel Cleary and Tatar. Johan Franzen fills the second-line role, centering Todd Bertuzzi and Daniel Alfredsson.
“When you come in and get off to a good start and three bounce in off your leg and you get rolling you relax, and when you don’t you pressure up,” Babcock said. “So what I’ve done is I took him off the power play, put him on the penalty kill, and put him in the three hole and he can play against (Joe) Pavalski all night tonight. That will be a battle in itself. And just look after defense and once he settles down the rest will come.”
Weiss has scored two goals, including a game-winner at Carolina on Oct. 4, in nine games.
MUTANT NINJA HERTL: Rookie Tomas Hertl caught a lot of flack for his between-the-legs goal that he scored in a four-goal tonight against the New York Rangers earlier this month.
Many thought the Sharks’ rookie showed a bit of arrogance, but Babcock said Monday that he didn’t have a problem with it.
“To me, every time you get four goals you’re allowed to be excited. But I thought (Washington coach Adam Oates) had a good point. … He just said, ‘The No. 1 thing always is to show respect for the game.’ Sometimes when you’re a young guy and you first come in the league a little enthusiasm gets in the way. Usually your teammates grab you and get you under control and it doesn’t happen that often. But I think every time you score four goals in the NHL it’s a pretty big deal.”
Hertl leads all league rookies in goals (7), points (10) and plus/minus rating (+8).
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