Joe Veleno is thriving centering the third line for the Detroit Red Wings

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Earlier this summer, I nominated forward Joe Veleno as a player to monitor closely to begin the regular season. It seemed premature to suggest 2023-24 being a make-or-break year for the Detroit Red Wings forward, but I couldn’t resist.

Veleno, 23, had been coming off an ‘ok’ year last season, scoring a career-high nine goals and 20 points in just his second full season as a regular in Detroit’s lineup. The young forward appeared as a potential odd-man out heading into training camp this summer, with all of the off-season additions set to join the organization blended with some of the young prospects chomping at the bit to earn a bottom-six role.

Don’t look now; Veleno is off to a tremendous start, scoring in three straight games, totaling four goals and five points through Detroit’s first seven games. It took a long time for general manager Steve Yzerman and Veleno’s camp to agree to a contract this past summer, but the two sides eventually settled on a one-year $825,000 deal near the end of August. I wouldn’t say anyone was or should have been concerned with the length of time it took for the Detroit Red Wings and Veleno to agree on a new deal. Still, as the summer days continued to pass and he eventually became the last remaining piece left unsigned, it got my wheels turning. Is Veleno becoming an afterthought? Last season, Veleno went pointless for a 20-game stretch from mid-February to the end of March. He also failed to score in 25 consecutive games. Maybe Elmer Soderblom, Marco Kasper, or Nate Danielson will edge him out for a final roster spot. Is Yzerman upset about the whole ‘stomping incident’ at the World Championships last spring? Unlikely, but sometimes a person’s mind can begin to run amuck.

Joe Veleno is off to a hot start with the Detroit Red Wings thanks to an expanded role.

It also can be considered a make-or-break year for Veleno, knowing three regulars are pending unrestricted free agents. David Perron is in the final year of his current deal; at his age, he may become a candidate to look for employment elsewhere next summer or, at the very least, perhaps willing to accept a lesser role. The other two are newcomers Christian Fischer and Daniel Sprong.

Veleno began the year as Detroit’s fourth-line center but found himself bumped up in a top-nine role centering Detroit’s third group between Perron and Sprong. Head coach Derek Lalonde has elected to play Andrew Copp, J.T. Compher, and Michael Rasmussen on a line together. That trio has embraced a shutdown role but has also become efficient in creating offense.

I initially thought that the Red Wings would split up Compher and Copp to ensure they’d have three reliable two-way centers down the middle of the lineup. As of late, Veleno is settling in as an efficient third-line option, and it’s evident watching his play early on this season that he spent time focused on being a two-way centerman over the summer.

Next. Justin Holl is off to an impressive start with Detroit. dark

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It’s noteworthy that Veleno will still be a restricted free agent next summer, which leaves the Red Wings with flexibility. The hope is that Veleno excels in his new role as the third-line center and continues to flourish offensively as he has of late.