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Thomas Vanek: 'I'm here to help this team win'

Vanek has scored 25 goals or more seven times in his career

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - There's one thing that everybody agrees on when it comes to Thomas Vanek - he can score.

In Vanek's 13-year career, he has scored as many as 43 goals in a season (2006-07 with Buffalo). 

In the nine seasons in which Vanek has played 71 games or more, the fewest he has scored is 18 goals, which was last season in Minnesota.

Only three Wings had more goals than that last season - Dylan Larkin with 23, Tomas Tatar with 21 and Justin Abdelkader with 19.

Yet that was considered to be a down year for Vanek.

"I think some of that's expectation-driven and contracts and all that thing but he still scored 18," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "We need to be a team that can score a little bit easier. We went through a process last year where we obviously gave up lots of third-period leads. But really, if you look at the statistics, defensively we were really good in the third period. We just didn't get enough of that next goal. When you can score easier, it takes tons of pressure off you. If we can add another player into our lineup that scores easy, I think that helps us a lot."

When the Wild decided to buy out Vanek's contract, the Wings thought he could make an impact in Detroit and Vanek agreed.

"Just talking to them before I signed about getting back to the net front, getting back to the things that I think I'm one of the best at, that's getting into those dirty areas in front of the net and getting those ugly goals," Vanek said.

Blashill said he did lots of research on Vanek.

"I've heard lots of things," Blashill said. "I've heard great person, I've heard doesn't work hard enough, I've heard and seen that he scores 40 a year at times. I've heard all those things. For me, I told him I'm a stubborn person. Sometimes that makes my relationship with my wife difficult because I don't just believe everything I hear and I want it to be proven to me. I'm going to watch and he's going to get a chance to prove it to me every game and I'll make the decision based on what I see."

Vanek, 32, has heard the criticism.

"I'm my biggest critic," Vanek said. "I'll be the first one to admit last year wasn't good enough, but that's OK. For me, I think this is a good fit. I worked hard this summer. I definitely have a chip on my shoulder to prove a lot of people wrong."

One thing that Blashill saw last season was his team struggling to score at times.

Although the Wings made the playoffs, they scored just 211 goals, fewer than any team in the Atlantic Division except the Buffalo Sabres, who had 201, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had 198.

This is where Vanek comes in.

"We don't score easy, he scores easy," Blashill said. "By that I mean, he gets one shot, he can score. We've got a decent amount of guys that are volume scorers, they need 10 opportunities to score. I've said this a number of times, I just told him as well, work ethic on the track is not negotiable, work ethic to win puck battles is not negotiable, defense is not negotiable. If he does those three things, I think he could have a really good year. I watched him in the World Cup, I was excited. Some guys watched him and they're not. I was excited because he's got a real offensive ability."

Vanek said he welcomes Blashill's expectations for him to play both offense and defense with great effort.

"I know my game. I feel I got a lot left," Vanek said. "I'm not too worried about what's out there. I know I can play both sides of the rink. I'm not here to prove to you guys, I'm here to help this team win."

Blashill has said his initial plan is to pair Vanek with center Darren Helm.  

Helm has already been impressed in the short time he's seen Vanek.

"Just watching him in practice he has the ability to score unlike almost anybody I've seen so I'm definitely excited to be able to play with him," Helm said. "The puck goes in the net, I don't know. He's got a knack for it. I wish I had half that ability. He does a really good job. He definitely has a special talent there."

Vanek said he moved to Detroit in the middle of August and was able to meet most of his teammates then, even skating and working out with them.

He also played with Tatar and Frans Nielsen, a former teammate on the Islanders, on Team Europe in the World Cup.

"It was great. It was a ton of fun," Vanek said. "Again, I think the media thought we were a men's league team there but we proved a lot of people wrong and we had a blast."

Blashill said he expects Vanek, Tatar and Frans Nielsen to play in the final preseason game Saturday at home against Toronto.

 

"The practices are more important, I think," Vanek said. "The World Cup was more like at the end of the year like playoffs because you focus on the games. The practices are more about systems not as much about skating so it's nice to go out there and work on systems, skate again and get your legs underneath you and get ready for the game Saturday."

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