Hockeyville USA on NBCSN: Red Wings’ youth movement continues

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season begins with Thursday night’s Kraft Hockeyville USA matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues from Calumet, Mich. Coverage begins at 7p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The transition of the Detroit Red Wings from a veteran-laden team to one full of youth is still an on-going process, but there’s clear core for the future that new general manager and franchise legend Steve Yzerman will be able to build around.

Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Bertuzzi are the established leaders of that young core, but there’s more coming. Along with the likes of Michael Rasmussen, Moritz Seider, Filip Hronek, and Dennis Cholowski, two players hoping to make the NHL roster this season are a pair of 2018 first-rounders in Joe Veleno and Filip Zadina.

The 19-year-old Veleno put up 42 goals and 104 points in his final year in junior with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Drummondville Voltigeurs. Ideally, he’ll eventually slot in as the second line center to strengthen the team’s spine down the middle. That may not be an option now with Valtteri Filppula and Frans Nielsen on the roster, but that’s the end game here. 

Veleno may start his professional career in the American Hockey League, but whether he’s playing in Grand Rapids or up with the NHL club, he’s been told what he needs to do in order to become a regular.

[RED WINGS-BLUES COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7PM ET ON NBCSN]

“My biggest message to him is become a great two-way center,” said Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill earlier in training camp. “It’s hard to be a pure point guy. You look at his points in junior, they were good, they weren’t astronomical, and so to think that all of a sudden you come here and go astronomical in points would be misleading.

“I told him the quickest way to the NHL is to earn trust. If you earn trust from the coach, you get out there way quicker. So be great defensively, transport the puck up the ice like he does and the produce offense. You have to do both if you want to be in the top two line center role.”

Unlike Veleno, Zadina, 19, has had a taste of the NHL. After spending majority of the season in the AHL where he scored 16 times and recorded 35 points, the Red Wings called him up following the February trade deadline, impressed with his game. He played nine games, averaging 15:23 of ice time, scoring once and handing out two assists.

Motivated to stick with the NHL roster to start this season, Zadina was asked during training camp where his confidence level was at entering the year. “I can’t tell you. I’ll show you on the ice,” the winger replied. Through four games he has three assists. Prior to camp, he posted seven goals and eight points in four games at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Mich.

The transition to pro hockey last season helped Zadina. That experience goes a long way and while he could begin the season in the AHL like Veleno, the opportunity to make the NHL roster out of camp is a realistic one.

“The game is going to be a little bit slower for me this year because I know what it’s going to be like,” Zadina said. “It’s about the space (on the ice), but it’s about patience. If you get the puck, you have to skate. Be smart, and a good skater, and the game will be easier.”

The Red Wings love his shot, but would like to see him find more opportunities in front of goal. That will come as he develops physically and adjusts to the NHL game.

“I think to get to the big numbers in goals, you got to get right around that net,” said Blashill. “You got to pick up what you’d term dirty goals. It’s something we’ve talked to him about and it’s something he’s continuing to work on.”

Brendan Burke (play-by-play) and Emmy Award-winning ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will call the action live from Calumet Colosseum. In addition, Liam McHugh (host) and Jeremy Roenick(analyst) will also be on-site to provide studio coverage and updates throughout the game.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.