DETROIT -- In today's NHL, young forwards can't afford to simply be elite players on the offensive end of the ice. Modern-day forwards need to develop 200-foot games and be strong defensively to make it at the highest level, and 21-year-old center Joe Veleno knows he has to continue developing his two-way game to succeed in Detroit.
The Red Wings' 30th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft became the second player from Detroit's 2018 draft class to make their NHL debut when he donned the Winged Wheel last Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Veleno turned pro last season, earning 23 points in 54 games for the Red Wings' AHL-affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins, but with the AHL season on pause to start the 2020-21 campaign, Veleno was loaned to the Malmo Redhawks of the Swedish Hockey League to continue his development.
The Kirkland, Quebec native said he took a huge step in his development last summer with a longer offseason and with his experience in Sweden.
"I needed to put on some weight, get a lot stronger, which I did," Veleno said. "I never had a summer like that. I got to work out a lot. I always had short summers cut off because of tournaments or international play. In a way, I took a step forward in my development."
Veleno recorded 20 points in 46 games in Sweden's top league, and Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said Veleno's experience in Europe was a big factor in being ready to compete in the NHL.
"(It was) critical," Blashill said before Veleno's debut last Tuesday. "Your best way to get minutes in the NHL is to earn them with trust. When we put you out there, we (need to) trust that you're going to be accountable at both ends, that you're not going to give away easy chances."
Veleno said his time in the SHL opened his eyes to how important it is to be a two-way player.
"The hockey is really good, it's competitive, a hard-working league," Veleno said. "Something I take from it is how good everyone is defensively and focused on playing a 200-foot game. It's something I found I needed to improve a lot. To be a 200-foot centerman in the NHL, you need to be relied upon defensively and be able to produce offensively."
Blashill said that he and executive vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman are on the same page in developing two-way players who can play in all situations.
"I know that Steve, without a shadow of a doubt, understands that these players have to learn to be all-around, 200-foot players if they want to be part of this solution moving forward here to try to build into a team that can win a championship, and you can't win championships without 200-foot players," Blashill said. "That's something that we've tried to continue to install in our players and it's going to be critical for Joe."
Veleno held his own in his NHL debut against the Blue Jackets last week, earning 14:59 of ice time with two shots, a 57-percent face-off record and an even rating.
"He was strong on the puck, strong on his stick, played a 200-foot game, had some opportunities," Blashill said. "I thought he played a good hockey game. He looked like a guy who's played two years pro and was ready for the opportunity to skate in the NHL. His strength really showed."
Veleno said along with developing a 200-foot game, he's also coming in with a positive attitude and letting the game come to him as he adapts to competition in the NHL.
"I'm not putting tons of pressure on myself," Veleno said. "I want to play the game right. Guys are going to help me along the way. But obviously, I want to help the team win every time I step on the ice. I want to be a difference-maker for this team, if it's scoring a goal or blocking a shot or whatever it is, I want to be important in all aspects of this game and help this team win."
Blashill said Veleno has earned the opportunity to prove himself at the NHL level and said the organization expects the rookie to be part of the Red Wings' revitalization in the near future.
"We think he's ready to have a chance to play, we wanted to see what he's got, and I thought he did a good job," Blashill said. "He got a decent amount of ice time and he earned it. Ultimately, Joe would like to be a big piece of this organization. We'd like Joe to be a big piece of us becoming a great team, a winning team."