The Red Wings drafted Joe Veleno in the first round, 30th overall, in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. The 6-foot-1, 191-pound center is one of four Red Wings prospects writing a blog for our Taking Flight blog series, which chronicles the ups and downs of each player as they work their way to becoming Red Wings. During the 2018-19 season, Veleno played for the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). He is currently in his first season as a pro, playing for the Grand Rapids Griffins, Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate. Here is his seventh blog entry of 'From the Q to the D.'
From the 'Q' to the 'D' - Entry 7
by Joe Veleno
Hi everybody, I know it has been a while since my last blog entry, but I have been adjusting to life as a professional hockey player. It has been a fun learning experience with highs and lows, yet there is nothing I would rather be doing than playing pro hockey.
Honestly, when I was sent down to Grand Rapids I was a little disappointed but at the same time, it's kind of the process. Sometimes it happens for good reason. It's a good spot to be in. Grand Rapids is a really cool city and guys are kind of spoiled over here in the AHL with our team. Everyone's really friendly, everyone's willing to help each other and we're all willing to get better and to hopefully one day go to the big club. Everything's been good so far, I like it. Things are going well.
The difference between NHL players and AHL players, there's not a tremendous difference. It's a really good league down here. You've got guys here that have played a while in the NHL and guys who are capable of playing in the NHL. It's a good a good step in my development playing in Grand Rapids. Though I thought I had a really good training camp, I still have a lot of things to improve on and in order to improve, I must play a lot. The Red Wings know there is a lot more minutes for me down here in Grand Rapids. They figured that probably in the NHL, I wouldn't be playing as much. As I said, it's part of the process and I'm really okay with that. Obviously I want to play, I want to play hockey and I want to be on the ice as much as possible, like every hockey player. I'm still a young kid and when I think about it, I got a lot of work to do ahead of me. Being here, it's a good step in the right direction.
In Grand Rapids I am learning what it takes to play at the pro level. You're playing against men and it's a whole different level. Guys are getting paid to defend offensive players. Guys are getting paid to do a certain particular job. That's what you learn. Once you get the experience, you learn that whenever you show up to the rink, you have to come to work and perform, you can't just take days off. It's an everyday league and you try to learn that as the games go on and as you practice. You know you have to show up and always give your best every day.
It took me quite some time to kind of get my feet wet and kind of get used to things but I think at this point, I'm slowly getting into that transition, getting more comfortable with the guys, getting more comfortable with the systems and everything just kind of seems to fit together. As long as you keep working every day, good things will always come when you put in the work and when you're committed to getting better. It's been pretty good for the most part. For me, it will just take some time.
One adjustment I haven't had to make is living away from home; I did it in juniors for four years. There's a billet so they're cooking some meals. But this summer, I put a lot of commitment into learning a lot of new things outside of hockey, learning how to cook and learning how to do other stuff that'll be handy for when I'm on my own. My parents helped me a lot with it. I sacrificed most of my summer learning how to do these things and the transition's been pretty good so far. Cooking for myself is probably the biggest difference. I like eating good food so it was important for me to learn how to cook and to learn how to make food for myself when I'm hungry because obviously you don't want to always eat out and always pay. So I learned how to cook. I like a lot of food but the things I like to cook are pretty simple. Rice, pasta, meatballs, broccoli, steaks, chicken, just kind of the simple stuff. I like eating anything so whatever I want to eat, I'll learn how to cook it. I'll read the instructions, whether they're in the back, or call my mom or whatever.
As many of you know from my blogs, I spent the summer in Detroit getting ready for this upcoming season, training with several of the Red Wings players and a lot of guys I'm now playing with in Grand Rapids. We all know each other pretty well after spending the summer together. I've known most of those guys for a while now. We hang around, talk to each other, we have some good laughs. We connect with one another so it's nice to see. They're also really good hockey players so there's a lot of things I can pick up from that. I guess it's always nice to be a part of that, watching and being on the ice at the same time with some elite players during practices and games, just learning from each other. We're pro hockey players so we observe and we watch other players, always looking to get better.
Also, playing for Ben Simon is a benefit. It's been really good. He's a real good character coach and really easygoing. He's a coach that likes to interact with his players and have some fun. It's always good to have that kind of attitude around the rink and with the players. I really like him. I loved him at rookie tournament for my first two years and really like him as a coach. I think he gives a lot of players opportunity and is really fair with the players. He's just a real good coach to have around the locker room. It's a really loose kind of mentality, during practice, during the day. When it comes time to work, guys are working hard and guys have the right mindset. He's prepared for whatever and helps us out through bad times and good times. Anyone can go talk to him, his door's always open for players. He's always open for conversation so that's nice.
If I'm going to be playing for the Red Wings anytime soon, I realize I will need to improve in many areas, but as Steve Yzerman has told me, developing a 200-foot game is something I must excel at for sure. I guess you can't really harp on it enough. As a centerman, being really good defensively is really important and always being on the ice at important times and having the coaches' trust is huge. I'm trying to develop my game into that and at the same time, work on my offensive ability, too. I have offensive instincts, too, and combining both of those things would really help. I guess that's what the organization wants me to work on is just being strong defensively, a good two-way player, and putting up pretty good numbers at the same time. Just working hard, being intense and creating chances for my linemates and for myself.
You want to do your best every night and some games you just won't have your legs or you won't feel that good. Obviously it's a lot of hockey so you try to find ways to be effective every night and just find a way to contribute. It's tough to score every night or to put up points every night but when you're not doing that, you must be able to contribute to the team by doing other stuff. Being physical or keeping things simple, just little details, little plays that will lead to big plays. I guess that's how you have to manage it. You're not going to feel great every day. You're not going to always have the same energy every night so obviously you want to do your best to have that but when it's just not possible, you have to find ways to contribute.
I'm working hard, I'm doing a lot of good things on the ice, and sometimes it's just a matter of not getting the bounces your way and sometimes you might not be doing the right things but still getting rewarded with some points. I feel like I'm being patient right now, not getting too frustrated and just kind of staying composed and still learning how to improve my game and create more chances and I feel like that's coming along slowly but I feel really confident with it.
My goal is just to improve every game. Improving every game and finding ways to get better, whether in practices or just learning from other guys and watching hockey, watching other guys play the game. Just contribute as much as I can, bring my best every night. It's not always about getting points but just creating chances and just giving it my all every night, every opportunity that I get. Just benefiting from that.
Finally, I can't thank all you fans enough for believing in me and showing so much support. I look forward to the day when I am wearing our sweater, the red and white of the Detroit Red Wings.
In 18 games for Grand Rapids, Veleno has three goals and five assists for eight points. He is minus-14 and has scored one power-play goal and one game-winning goal for the Griffins.