DETROIT -- Xavier Ouellet finally gets a chance to show what he can do starting tonight in Boston.
Ouellet, who had been limited by an upper-body injury, will make his preseason debut against the Bruins.
"First preseason game for me, so getting excited and just can't wait to get going," Ouellet said.
Ouellet has played in 25 regular-season games the last two seasons, including 21 last season, but he's not the only young defenseman fighting for a spot.
"He’s somebody that with the whole group of young defensemen, we got a group that are good players," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "Now what they got to do is be better than guys that were here a year ago. That’s what the goal is. Xavier to be at his best has to be extremely efficient. He’s got to do a great job of using his smarts not to give up chances and create chances through moving the puck in an efficient manner. That’s when I think he’s at his best."
Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Mike Green and Danny DeKeyser are considered to be the top four defensemen.
Along with Ouellet, the other defensemen in the mix for the final two spots are Kyle Quincey, Brendan Smith, Alexey Marchenko, Jakub Kindl, Brian Lashoff, Nick Jensen and Ryan Sproul.
"I think that if I really want to establish myself here, I gotta be really solid defensively," Ouellet said. "That's going to be the main thing. Make sure I don't give anything defensively. I think I have a little offensive ability and that's going to show with time and ice time, so really focus on the defensive side of things."
Ouellet said he could tell right away that the young guys had worked hard over the summer, something that he did as well.
"Worked on my legs, a little more explosion in skating, something I work on every summer but I kind of focused a little more this summer," Ouellet said. "The first couple days of camp I felt great, skating around and stuff. Timing takes a little bit more time but we'll see tonight."
Like most young players, Ouellet has to learn to be as consistent as possible on a nightly basis.
"I think having your 'A' game as many nights as possible and when you don't have your 'A' game, having a 'B-plus' game," Blashill said. "All these guys are trying to find that, especially on the defensive end, especially when you're not a high, high-end offensive guy, with the exception of Sproully, the rest of them are going to have to be great two-way defensemen. I think X, when he plays, he's going to have to have those nights where he's great and have the other nights when he's not great be real good still."
Green (groin) skated for part of practice, Teemu Pulkkinen (upper body) did not and Darren Helm (concussion, slight shoulder separation) may skate at some point this week.
"Not throwing him into a full practice, that was the plan," Blashill said of Green. "It’s a day-to-day thing. Whether it’s Wednesday, Friday or Saturday, we’d like to get him in one of the games, preferably Friday."
The timeline seems similar for Pulkkinen.
"I would say later, mid-week we’d like to have him skating," Blashill said. "We’d still love to be able to get him in a game, a preseason game, so that’s going to be a little bit on the pain thing, and he’s a little bit day-to-day. But we’d like to have him skate here this week if we can."
Blashill said Helm was also day-to-day but the coaching staff was hoping Helm might skate this week.
Meanwhile, things are still progressing for Johan Franzen, who played in both Thursday's game against Pittsburgh and Saturday's game against Boston and practiced Monday.
"Everybody, obviously, is concerned about the head but the other part of it is just getting his body back to play in games, then he practiced hard here today," Blashill said. "So we hope to get him in Wednesday."
Pavel Datsyuk won't be ready to skate for a couple of weeks but continues to do strenuous off-ice workouts.
Tonight, the Red Wings (2-0-2) will play their fifth of eight exhibition games this season. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask is expected to play the whole game in what will be his first preseason start.
Here are the Red Wings line combinations and defensive pairings:
Tomas Tatar-Dylan Larkin-Tomas Jurco
Tyler Bertuzzi-Andreas Athanasiou-Anthony Mantha
Zach Nastasiuk-Tomas Nosek-Mitch Callahan
Drew Miller-Joakim Andersson-Dan Cleary
Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson
Xavier Ouellet-Alexey Marchenko
Brian Lashoff-Nick Jensen
Blashill said Howard will play the entire game.
Nastasiuk is making his NHL debut.
"Nasty has played for me a little bit in GR in the playoffs the last couple of years," Blashill said. "He has been a real good penalty killer. He’ll get a little time on the penalty kill tonight. He’s very, very smart. I think he plays faster than he skates, so he gets the puck and he moves it up right away. He plays faster that way. He’s a real good defensive player, so he’ll have to be that tonight."