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WJSS Notes: Wings prospect Kivenmaki building toward season in Finland

Eliasson, Berggren played Saturday; Veleno to suit up for Team Canada

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- Although Detroit Red Wings prospect Otto Kivenmaki has played center most of his life, he did not last season while playing for Assat.

Some things are apparently not like riding a bike.

"I suck at face-offs!" Kivenmaki exclaimed after Team Finland's 7-1 loss to Team USA Blue Sunday afternoon at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich. "That's the thing that I gotta work on. Last year, I wasn't playing center so I wasn't doing any face-offs. That's a thing that I gotta work on."

Kivenmaki, 19, struggled in the face-off circle against Team USA's 6-foot-2 center Shane Pinto, 6-foot centers Jon Gruden and Owen Lindmark and 5-foot-11 center Alex Turcotte.

At 5-foot-8 and 154 pounds, Kivenmaki is still working to gain strength one year after being drafted by the Red Wings in the seventh round, 191st overall.

"Of course he could be better at that but he's still not the strongest guy on the ice, but he's talented," Team Finland head coach Raimo Helminen said. "Talented kid and we really like him. I hope he gets stronger and stronger every month and week. He will be playing against men, men's games in Finland, and he will be stronger and stronger."

Kivenmaki has actually put on 17 pounds since the draft and continues to focus on that during his offseason training.

Another thing Kivenmaki must work on is playing without the puck. It's very common for young, offensive-minded players to struggle when they don't have the puck.

"I've had a lot of difficulties with that," Kivenmaki admitted. "I've had to train that a lot. But I think I'm getting better at it every year. I just always go where the puck is and want the puck so just trying to find open spot has been a difficult thing for me."

Helminen believes Kivenmaki can learn that with practice, especially playing this upcoming season in Liiga, the top professional league in Finland.

"Of course he could skate even more," Helminen said. "He's a good skater. Of course everybody can work harder without the puck. He's the kind of guy who has always played with the puck. This level, of course you have to start playing more without the puck, too, that kind of game. There is a lot to prove but like I said, I'm happy with Otto, too."

Kivenmaki assisted on Team Finland's first goal in their 3-2 victory over Team USA White on Saturday.

"I just saw an opening in the middle and just went for it, saw Eemil (Erholtz) on the boards and just gave it to him and he scored."

Those are the kind of instincts that led the Wings to take a chance on Kivenmaki in the seventh round.

Now it is up to Kivenmaki to maximize his ability to try to earn a shot in the NHL.

"He will be playing against the men in Finland and I think he'll develop a lot in this season," Helminen said. "He's coming on. You never know but we have really good hope."

TOUGH START FOR ELIASSON BUT GOOD RECOVERY: Games in the middle of the summer are often a challenge for players who aren't quite in mid-season form.

That seemed to be the case for Team Sweden goaltender Jesper Eliasson, who allowed three goals in the first period of a 4-2 loss to Team USA Blue on Saturday.

"The first goal, of course it's on me," Eliasson said. "It was on the first post. I didn't know where the puck was so of course that's on me. Then he has the breakaway and a redirection. I think of course I can take the first one and the two other goals were, like, pretty hard ones. Like I said before, it was my first game of the season."

Tweet from @antonj85: John Beecher f��r ett fril��ge men Jesper Eliasson r��ddar. #WJSS

Blake McLaughlin, John Beecher and Turcotte were the goal scorers.

Eliasson held Team USA Blue off the board the rest of the way, making 20 saves, but his teammates couldn't tie the game.

The fourth goal, scored by Cole Caufield, was an empty-netter.

"I think it was a tough first period for him," Team Sweden head coach Tomas Montén said. "It was his first game as well early in the season. The second goal was a breakaway and the third goal, we didn't help him a lot. I think he battled good from that. Second period and third period, he made some good saves. He gave us a shot in the end to be able to tie the game, so I think as I said, he bounced back. He should be happy with the second and third periods for sure."

Tweet from @antonj85: Bra r��ddning av Jesper Eliasson. #WJSS #LGRW

The Red Wings were pleased with Eliasson's progress last season after they took him in the third round, 84th overall, in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

Eliasson, who is three days older than Kivenmaki, was also satisfied with the steps he took.

"Just my speed and comfortable in the net, my position and technique," Eliasson said. "That's the most I have improved, I think."

Two years ago, Team Sweden brought three goaltenders to the World Junior Summer Showcase, including Filip Larsson, the Wings' sixth-round pick, 167th overall, in the 2016 Draft.

Larsson has since excelled for the USHL's Tri-City Storm, earning Goaltender of the Year honors, and for the University of Denver, leading the Pioneers to the Frozen Four and earning NCAA All-Rookie Team honors.

The Wings signed Larsson to a three-year entry-level contract on April 15 and Eliasson has definitely taken note of his fellow Swede's success.

"He signed with the Red Wings and I hope I do it as well," Eliasson said. "Just keep on pushing. Of course it was like here with the national team he showed himself. Hopefully I do the same during this."

BEING CAUTIOUS WITH BERGGREN: Team Sweden is not taking any chances with forward Jonatan Berggren.

Berggren, who missed the majority of the 2018-19 season with a back injury, suffered a minor knee injury in the 4-2 loss Saturday.

Tweet from @ArthurJRegner: #RedWings prospect Jonatan Berggren fell awkwardly in the last minute of Team Sweden's 4-2 loss to Team USA Blue at the #SummerShowcase. Berggren was trying to prevent an empty net goal. Sweden's coach, Tomas Monten says Breggren should be fine, a relief for Wings fans.

However, even if that had not happened, Montén said Berggren wouldn't have played Sunday.

"I don't think that's serious," Montén said. "He just twisted the knee a little bit when he fell. I talked to Skelleftea about his (back) injury and being away and I promised them that he's not going to play back-to-back in the start. I know we play back-to-back Friday-Saturday, so we'll see.

"We'll evaluate then. But we didn't want to play him two games straight up. We're gonna give him two days off and then we'll see. Hopefully, he can come back."

Berggren did not record a point against Team USA Blue.

"This game (Saturday) was his first game since November," Montén said. "Coming back and playing these guys I think was pretty tough. This is a pretty high-paced game early in the season. In practice I think he's been looking good. He's strong on the puck, He creates plays. We would like him to shoot more, to be like the finisher. Today, I don't think he managed to make plays and couldn't play at the same speed that the U.S. did. I think it was a good game going forward."

VELENO WILL PLAY SOON: Center Joe Veleno, the Red Wings' first-round pick, 30th overall, in the 2018 Draft, is expected to play Tuesday night when Team Canada faces Team USA.

Tweet from @michaelcaples: As if you needed another reason to come to Plymouth for the World Junior Summer Showcase...Canada just showed up. #WJSS📸: Potential 2020 No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere and #RedWings prospect Joe Veleno

Veleno was in attendance for Saturday's games.

Defenseman Jared McIsaac, who was also on Team Canada with Veleno during the World Junior Championship, underwent shoulder surgery in early June and missed development camp and will miss this tournament.

Other Wings prospects missing the World Junior Summer Showcase are Team USA forward Robert Mastrosimone, who broke his ankle during the Red and White Game on the last day of development camp, and Team USA defenseman Alec Regula, who has been dealing with a knee issue.

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