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Wings happy with their prospects at World Junior Summer Showcase

Front office members also got a look at some draft-eligible players

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- When Detroit Red Wings prospects Joe Veleno, Jonatan Berggren, Jesper Eliasson and Otto Kivenmaki played at the World Junior Summer Showcase last week at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich., several members of the front office were there to observe.

Among them were general manager Steve Yzerman, assistant general manager Pat Verbeek, assistant general manager Ryan Martin, director of player development Shawn Horcoff, player development assistant Dan Cleary, director of player evaluation Jiri Fischer, director of statistical analysis and hockey administration Bryan Campbell, coach Jeff Blashill and assistant to the general manager Kris Draper.

Joe Veleno, the Wings' first-round pick, 30th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, had remained in metro Detroit after development camp to train with some of the other prospects, so he did not have far to go.

Veleno, 19, played for Team Canada, recording two goals and an assist in just two games.

Tweet from @BradGalli: Red Wings prospect Joe Veleno has quick hands and great vision. He put Canada ahead 3-2 in today's #WJSS finale in Plymouth.

"Joe played great," Horcoff said. "I think he only played two games. He played the first one, sat out the next two, played in the last one, scored in both games. He played a little bit of center, a little bit of wing in both, which I like. I like his versatility, he's starting to be able to learn to do that. We'd love for him to learn all those positions and turn into a guy that you could play anywhere in the lineup, up and down, both center and both wings, even though we view him as a center. It never hurts to learn to play every position.

"He looked good. He came into Detroit, stayed after development camp, knows that there's some work to be done there in terms of physical conditioning and strength and explosiveness but he's putting the work in and we're looking forward to see how he looks in prospect tournament."

Jonatan Berggren, the Wings' second-round pick, 33rd overall in the 2018 draft, suited up for Team Sweden and had one assist in three games.

Tweet from @Dwakiji: #RedWings prospect Jonatan Berggren heads up the ice on the Team Sweden power play. #WJSS

Although Berggren is fully recovered from a back injury that limited him to 16 games in the 2018-19 season, Team Sweden coach Tomas Montén held him out of the last game against rival Finland just to play it safe.

Berggren, who just turned 19 on July 16, is still expected to have a very good chance to make Sweden's World Junior Championship team.

"Actually I liked him," Horcoff said. "I liked him in development camp, especially for a guy that missed so much time in the second half of the season, which limited his training. I think he's getting some of his quickness back, he's on a better strength program, conditioning program and all that's coming together. So he's continuing to work hard. I look for him to have what is hopefully a good, healthy first half of the season and obviously to make that team would be a big part of it."

Horcoff thought it was probably a good idea for Berggren to take it a bit easy during a midsummer tournament.

"He feels good, he's healthy again for the first time in a long time," Horcoff said. "But he's been off for a long time, especially coming off an injury like that, you never kind of want to really rush yourself back into it. Having not played any competitive games in essentially, four or five months, it's probably the right and smart approach."

The numbers did not look so pretty for Team Sweden goaltender Jesper Eliasson, who was very impressive during development camp in the 3-on-3 tournament and Red and White Game.

Eliasson played in three games, starting two and finishing another after Olof Lindbom was hurt.

Tweet from @Dwakiji: #RedWings prospect Jesper Eliasson ready for the third period. #WJSS

He faced 58 total shots, stopping 48 of them for a 4.32 goals-against average and .828 save percentage.

"He looked just OK to me," Horcoff said. "The problem with that Summer Showcase is it's right in July so a lot of times when I watch I'm hesitant because first off, a lot of Europeans, that's their month off. They get their time off right in July away from their team, especially the Swedes. They're not skating that much, so it's a little unfair. The North American guys, they're kind of right in the middle of their summer training. The training nowadays is really specific so they're training to peak in September for the start of prospect tournament, not for the end of July."

Otto Kivenmaki, the Wings' seventh-round pick, 191st overall in the 2018 draft, played for Team Finland.

The 19-year-old had two assists while playing in all five games.

Tweet from @Dwakiji: Team Finland and #RedWings prospect Otto Kivenmaki (#13) at the end of a Finland PP.

"He's a kid that came into development camp, he put on another 12 pounds, which sounds like a lot but it's not when you weigh 140-something, low 140s during your draft year," Horcoff said. "But that's a credit to him. He's got a whole new strength program, he's got a nutritionist back home, he's putting the work in. He knows he needs to get stronger and I thought you saw that out there.

"No one's doubting his skill. He's a slick player, really, really good edges, good vision. But in order to play pro hockey, and even just play at an elite level in that men's league over there in Finland, he's got to get bigger, faster, stronger and he's working towards that."

As he did throughout the season, Horcoff kept in touch with the four players during the World Junior Summer Showcase.

"I talked to them throughout the tournament, obviously being there during the week and they all felt good," Horcoff said. "They should have. They all played well. Like I said, it's not easy to step into tournament games like that. Sometimes it just goes great, right off the bat, you have confidence and everything's fine. Other times, it takes you a little while to get up to speed but I thought all of our guys did well."

DRAFT-ELIGIBLE PLAYERS: Although the vast majority of the players at the World Junior Summer Showcase had already been drafted, there were a few 2020 draft-eligible players to watch.

Forward Alexis Lafreniere played on a line with Veleno and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Kirby Dach and did not look out of place at all, contributing two assists in two games.

Tweet from @AdamZHerman: Hell of a sequence between Kirby Dach (17), Alexis Lafreniere (12), and Joe Veleno (9) to create a hell of a goal that ultimately gets credited to Dach.

"I watched him before," Team Canada coach Dale Hunter said. "I think his hockey sense is off the charts. He sees what some people don't see. He can set up guys in open areas, knows where everybody's on the ice. That's why he hits the guys from behind that no one sees coming."

For Team Sweden, forwards Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond played in all five games, each recording one assist.

Tweet from @lassialanen: Lucas Raymond with a sneaky between-the-legs play to setup Holtz. His awareness and skill are so high-end. #WJSS #2020NHLDraft

"They're different," Montén said. "Alex is more - he's not scoring here but he's more of a shooter. He wants to be the last guy on the puck. He's the guy who sneaks up to the far blueline and finds open spaces.

"Lucas is a little bit more - he wants to come down low, he wants to carry the puck a little more. I think he's almost like a center but he plays on the wing. He wants to carry the puck, he wants to set up plays."

Forward Anton Lundell played in two games for Team Finland before suffering an injury.

"He's pretty stable," said Team Finland coach and former NHL forward Raimo Helminen. "He can play everything. He's an all-around player. He's pretty good on offense. He's pretty good on defense. "I think he looks like he's getting better every day."

Lafreniere, Holtz, Raymond and Lundell are all expected to be high picks next summer in Montreal.

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