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 eighth blog entry of 'From the Q to the D.'
From the 'Q' to the 'D' - Entry 8
by Joe Veleno
Hi everybody, what a difference a year makes!
A year ago I remember writing in my blog about my experience at the World Junior Tournament as a member of Team Canada. It was my first time at the tournament and it didn't work out so great for us, a little bit of a disappointment and a shock, I guess, for all of Canada, since we didn't win a medal, especially with the tournament being held in Canada. So I was very grateful to get the opportunity to represent Canada for a second time this year.
My role this time around was different than it was my first year. I was very aware of that. I try to embrace any role I'm given and this year I was lucky enough to provide more offense and play in all situations, play power play, penalty kill and get a lot of ice time 5-on-5. Obviously you feel good as a player when you get that much ice time. You feel real confident on the ice, you have the coaches' trust, you're placed in opportunities to get points and to obviously play really well. I was really happy with the ice time I got and I think with all that ice time, it really helped me with confidence. It was really nice to always be out there in important situations and helping my team whatever way I could.
After what we had gone through in Vancouver last year, there were some of us that were returning for our second year and we all remembered how we felt when we lost. It wasn't a good feeling. So we wanted to spread that message along to the rest of the group of guys that weren't there, just to make sure we're going all out every game. I think we did a really good job in doing that this time around. I think every game we managed to get better and faced a little bit of adversity but we managed to stick with it and ended up with the gold medal, which was nice.
Winning the gold medal was a thrill and there are so many great memories, but the one I'll always remember is the gold medal game itself, we were down 3-1 with 11 minutes left and we had scored right after they scored their third goal. We just never stopped believing after that. I think when they made it 3-1, we all stayed calm on the bench, coaches did a really good job with that. Then we answered back right after with kind of a lucky bounce off our shin pad to go in the net. Then we got a the power play so we scored right away, I think 10 seconds in. I guess from there we had all the confidence we needed, we had all the momentum and the Russians were kind of backing off a little bit. We just put the foot on the gas even more and we got a good bounce with Akil Thomas, really nice goal by him, 4-3. I guess that was it. When that fourth goal happened, we all were sure that we were going to win this hockey game because the way we were playing, there was no way that the Russians were going to score on us. It was just a great feeling, obviously, but the comeback made it even better.
For those of you that are wondering, the gold medal is not with me here in Grand Rapids. It's at home with my parents, they're keeping it with all my other trophies that I've received.
As I said, the world juniors helped my confidence. Playing big minutes over there and playing in all situations again, just gave me a lot of confidence. I know what I'm capable of, I was able to play in all situations on the ice and that's the player I want to become, a complete player that's able to do everything. I just kind of brought that experience from the worlds back with me and have implemented that more into my game on a more consistent basis here in the pros.
Now that I've gotten a taste of pro hockey, I realize you have to put in extra work. It doesn't come easy. I know I have a lot of good talent and I work hard, but I think it's all about doing the little extras and staying after practice or doing an extra workout, just little things like that, I think it'll help me in the long run.
I would describe my first pro season as a learning curve. It took me a while to get it going. It's definitely been an adjustment but I think the start of the second half, I've been a lot better at being more consistent in my play and playing better hockey. I just have to be patient with it. I'm trying to get better every day, working to be the best version of myself. But a lot of people are helping me with it and I'm really happy with the progress that I've made since the end of last year and I've no doubt that it'll continue to get better.
Strength plays a major factor on the ice. When you're in juniors, you're bigger than most kids and older than most of the kids, so it's a lot easier for you to win puck battles. Now that you're playing against men, you have to work extra hard. I'm not saying that younger players are weak and older players are that much stronger than us, but you just have to have the right mindset. I'm a big kid, I'm the same size as a lot of the guys in this league. I just have to have the proper mindset to win those battles and be strong on your feet. I think if you do that, then the majority of the time you win those battles. It does play a huge factor to build up that strength and that's one thing I've definitely noticed so far in this league.
As many of you already know from having read my blog, my personal goal is to play in the NHL and to be very, very good, play in all situations and a difference-maker every night. I'm starting to become that kind of player. Obviously, to play in the NHL would be a real good dream come true. To be on the ice in all situations and to play big minutes would be really, really good.
So, it would be awesome to get that nine-game call-up this year. But it's nothing that I can really control. I just have to keep doing well in Grand Rapids and hopefully I can get the call for those nine games and as I said, it'd be a real dream come true to play my first National Hockey League game, to play in the NHL. Just right now I'm focused with my games in Grand Rapids and trying to get us into the playoffs and trying to help the team win as much as I can and contribute. But if it happens, it happens. I'd be real glad to play in the NHL for sure.
Playing in Grand Rapids has been really cool. It's a good young group that we've got around here and we're all pretty close with each other. We hang out quite often and find things to do. The other night I attended my first ever concert. I had never gone to a concert before. What made it even better was my first one was a Post Malone concert. I really like his music. I listen to him a lot. I thought that it was pretty incredible to be out as a team. I think we were about 15 guys. So, more than half the team was pretty much there. It was really fun; I really enjoyed his performance. The vibe that was there was really cool. The whole crowd was into it, was screaming and dancing. His music's unbelievable so we were all kind of singing and jumping around at times, dancing. It was just pretty much that all night, just dancing and singing and yelling. Even Ras (Michael Rasmussen) loved it, he enjoyed himself. He was smiling, I can tell you that. We all enjoyed it. I think for the most part, it was our first time seeing Post Malone perform live. We were all pretty ecstatic when he showed up on stage and started singing. It was joyful for all of us.
You have to build some chemistry off the ice and I think it'll translate really well on the ice. I think we've done a really good job of building team chemistry with off-ice activities. The Post Malone concert is a really good example. We've had times that we were able to kind of enjoy ourselves as a team, just us, and have a good time. You can really see that it helps in the locker room, guys are getting along better and guys getting to know each other a little more. I think that's really important on a team.
Each and every one of us in Grand Rapids wants to be a Red Wing, to play in the NHL, but whatever happens down the road, I'll never forget my first pro season playing for the Griffins. They're a great group of guys and we are a team. It's one of the best feelings in the world.
In 44 games for Grand Rapids, Veleno has eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points. He is minus-24 and has scored two game-winning goals for the Griffins.