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Red Wings prospect Veleno impresses in first WJSS game

Young forward had a chance to spend time with Yzerman last weekend

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

PLYMOUTH -- For the first game since development camp a month ago, Detroit Red Wings prospect Joe Veleno looked pretty good.

Veleno teamed up with Chicago Blackhawks prospect Kirby Dach (first round, third overall, 2019 draft) and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Nolan Foote (first, 27th, 2019) to score the game's first goal, on the power play, in Team Canada's 4-1 victory Tuesday over Team USA at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich.

"It was a sick pass," Veleno said. "I don't know, I never really played in the middle on the power play but I was just told to kind of go to the net. I know all the guys around me are skilled players and they'd find me, I guess, wherever I am and I was at the right spot at the right time and managed to put it in."

Tweet from @StevenEllisTHN: Kirby Dach makes a beautiful pass to Joe Veleno, who opens the scoring at 1-0. #WJSS

Dach said he was originally looking for Alexis Lafreniere, who is the early frontrunner to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

"I just heard Laf kind of yell for it so I was looking for Laf backdoor, then found Joe's stick," Dach said. "I think they were right beside each other so whoever's stick it landed on put it in. But I heard Laf kind of call for it so I just threw it back there."

Veleno originally started the game on a line with Lafreniere and Akil Thomas but Team Canada head coach Dale Hunter liked what he saw from the power play and changed the line to Dach centering Veleno and Lafreniere.

"They didn't start that way at the start of the game," Hunter said. "I just thought at the time that they were clicking, passing the puck around on the power play so I just thought I'd get Dach in the middle between them and see how they do.

"They had a good game, that line, tonight. They're big guys and they're creative and they can skate so they moved the puck well. When you move the puck, it's hard to defend."

Team Canada took a 2-0 lead over Team USA when Veleno found Dach on a delayed penalty at 10:16 of the second.

Tweet from @StevenEllisTHN: A reversal from the first goal ��� Joe Veleno with the nice move to Kirby Dach and Dach puts it past Dustin Wolf. Justin Barron with an assist. too. 2-0 Canada. #WJSS

"I kind of just came up the wall and gave Laf a pass in the middle and he had a nice drop pass to Joe and then Joe waited out three or four guys, kind of just laid it on the ice and all I had to do was stand backdoor and tap it in," Dach said. "I almost missed it but it went in. I was glad it went in because those two guys made a nice play."

Veleno was pleased with his first game of the World Junior Summer Showcase.

"I thought it was good," Veleno said. "Obviously I haven't played in quite some time but I thought it went pretty well. I was trying to keep some things simple and trying to use my speed when I could, try to make some plays and I think that's what I did tonight for the most part. I'm looking to improve that for later on."

Although just 19, Veleno has already taken to mentoring some of the young, draft-eligible players like Lafreniere.

"You've got some young guys and for him to have gone through it, he can relate to what he went through, how the anxiety was," Hunter said. "It's tough. You've got butterflies in it, especially tonight, first-time guys trying to impress. Again, with him talking to the young guys, it helps a lot."

Lafreniere said he appreciates the advice from Veleno, his fellow QMJHLer.

"I've talked to him a lot," Lafreniere said. "We try to help each other, two guys from the Quebec League. He's so good and off the ice, he's a real good guy. We're helping each other and trying to get better."

Veleno can draw on not only his experience at the World Junior Championship last year but on being an exceptional status player in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a 15-year-old.

"I think it made me a lot more mature as a person, as a player, and obviously looking back at it, it was something I really wanted to be the first one in the QMJHL," Veleno said. "I guess it doesn't really matter now at this point in time but yeah, I learned a lot from that, the maturity level from a lot of older players, it made me a better person today."

Since Red Wings development camp ended at the end of June, Veleno said he has remained in the Detroit area, working out and skating with a few other players.

On Saturday, before Team Canada officially arrived, Veleno was in one of the USA Hockey Arena suites and got a chance to talk to general manager Steve Yzerman.

"It's obviously an honor to be around him, he's one of the best to ever play the game," Veleno said. "He knows his hockey. You know when you exchange words with him, you're kind of a sponge a little bit, take everything he says and that's what I'm trying to do, from the whole staff, management, from top to bottom, just kind of listen to what they say and try to apply it on the ice."

While this tournament is considered a proving ground of sorts to help Team USA, Team Canada, Team Sweden and Team Finland select players for their World Junior Championship teams, Veleno would of course prefer to be playing for the Red Wings come December.

"For sure, that's the main goal," Veleno said. "I think it's a good opportunity though as well to kind of show where I am with my own age level. If I'm ready to take that next step in Detroit, obviously they're all little steps to get there but I think it starts here at this tournament, showing what I can do with all the other prospects. I thought today went relatively well and going to continue getting better here."

Last year, Filip Zadina was playing for the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins and left to join Team Czech Republic for the World Junior Championship.

That could be an option for Veleno, who is eligible to play for the Griffins as he has already completed four seasons in the QMJHL.

"When Canada calls, it's always a pleasure and an honor to play for them," Veleno said. "If I come back here or not, it's not really my decision. All I'm going to focus on every time I step on the ice is try to play the highest level possible, if it's Detroit, Grand Rapids, so be it. But every time Canada calls, I'd be glad to participate."

While playing for Team Canada this week, Veleno is wearing No. 9, a venerated number in Wings history thanks to Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe.

"I always had 9 from when I started with Hockey Canada, I wore 9 in Saint John," Veleno said. "They kind of just gave it to me at every Hockey Canada event. I've always wanted No. 9."

Wings fans would love it if Veleno could be even half the player that Howe was, but Veleno just laughed at the idea.

"It's a big step," Veleno said. "I gotta get there first."

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