Young, big-bodied players strengthening Detroit Red Wings’ lineup
Detroit – Three of the Red Wings who caught sight of the ice last week have something in common.
In a league where speed has been valued and largely adopted, large bodies can still be effective, dictating a game in their own way.
Michael Rasmussen (21 years old, 6-foot-6, 229 pounds), Givani Smith (23, 6-2, 210) and Adam Erne (25, 6-1, 212) have used their strengths recently to make an impact take games and add another dimension to the Wings lineup.
“Size still matters,” said coach Jeff Blashill of the huge impact these days are having in the NHL.
A tall, strong, immobile player has certain advantages on the ice that a smaller, lighter player cannot have in certain situations, with or without a puck.
“There are several ways to split up,” said Blashill. “One is by speed, one by size, and one is likely by competitiveness and hockey intelligence.
“Obviously when you have all three you are a special player. If you don’t have any of them, you will find it difficult to cause any type of insult.
“(But) size is definitely important. When you’re taller and taller, it’s like an NBA defender that’s long – they are hard to play against.
“Ultimately, you want good players in these big packages and these guys (Erne, Smith, Rasmussen) are great players.”
The Wings’ size and willingness to fight and win confrontations in Tampa on Net Sunday was one of the main reasons the Wings succeeded in an impressive 5-1 win.
The wings carved space around the gate and went strong into the net. On the defensive, they kept the lightning off goalkeeper Thomas Greiss.
“That’s what Blash is always talking about, winning the net front, and that goes for both sides,” said Rasmussen. “Many of us have done a good job in front of their network and also in front of their network and brought bodies to us.”
Here’s how these three big, young wings impacted the recently completed road trip that ended positively:
►Rasmussen: With every passing game, the selection for the first round of 2017 looks like the player the Wings envisioned when they selected Rasmussen as ninth overall.
Rasmussen is evolving into a big, giant center that is tough, has a handful on the net, and is taking steps to become a shutdown center.
“Ras has made some real progress as a player there is no doubt about that,” said Blashill.
Rasmussen has two goals and five assists in 24 games, but the two goals have been scored in the last five games, including one in Sunday’s win.
A sure sign that the coaching team trusts Rasmussen more? He played 19 and 16 minutes, respectively, in the two Tampa games.
“He’s got more responsibility for penalties and five-on-five and (Saturday) was one of his best games of the year,” said Blashill. “He was solid again (Sunday) on the back end of a back to back. He is a great man. He’s a very good defender because he’s long and makes things difficult for the other team and he’s good at the net. “
Blashill believed the goal Rasmussen scored would help in a multitude of ways too.
“For these guys, goals are important, points are important. That’s just the reality, ”said Blashill. “You feel better about yourself.”
This latest Rasmussen hockey track is arguably the best he’s seen in the NHL – and Rasmussen doesn’t disagree.
“A lot grows, just my game grows and grows as a person,” said Rasmussen. “I’m just trying to get better every day and the guys in the room are really helping me. I can’t put a finger on it. I just enjoy playing hockey. “
And be healthy for a change.
“In any case, I’ve had some physical injuries (in the last couple of seasons) and it’s never fun,” said Rasmussen. “It (being healthy) brings out your best game. I feel strong and mentally I feel good. “
►Blacksmith: He received high marks and lots of praise in the locker room for the way he stood up for Dylan Larkin after Larkin was met by Florida’s Riley Stillman on Thursday.
“It’s proof of who Smitty is,” said striker Luke Glendening.
As Smith refines and expands his offensive play, his size, physicality, and toughness could make him a real line-up force.
“If he gets into the offensive zone, he’s a load,” said Blashill. “He’s hard to check and has pretty good hands in these (tough) areas and he knows he needs to get on the net. He’s a burden. “
►Erne: He’s not as big as the other two, but he’s bulkier, strong on his skates, doesn’t back down on the net and has already hit a career high with eight goals and 13 points.
Erne has carved out a role in the power game and has continued to earn the trust of the coaching staff.
“He’s playing hard, playing the right path and going into the right areas at the right time,” said Larkin. “He has great timing in front of the net and a great shot. He always stuck to it and everyone can learn from it. “
Predators at Red Wings
Allusion: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV / radio: BSD-plus / 97.1
Outlook: The Red Wings (13-22-5) and Nashville (20-18-1) open a fast two-game homestand and series. … Nashville climbed to fourth and final playoff seed thanks to an 8-2-0 rise. … Goalie Juuse Saros (11-7-0, 2.27 GAA, .928 SVS) has been excellent lately.