The Detroit Red Wings had gone more than 25 years without a top-10 draft selection, so when the franchise stepped up to the podium with the ninth overall pick in 2017, its fans were pretty excited. Detroit tabbed Michael Rasmussen, a big center who, at the time, was seen as more of a safe second-liner. The reaction was pretty anxious. Many fans wanted a player with a higher ceiling.
But with his 6-foot-6, 221-pound frame and increasing speed, Rasmussen is quelling those concerns. And he doesn’t have to do it as a center. “When he’s going up and down the wing,” said Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin, “using his size, when he’s great in front of the net, that’s where he’s so good.”
At the Traverse City Prospects Tournament in Michigan this fall, the Red Wings experimented with Rasmussen on the wing, playing on the left side with 2018 first-rounders Joe Veleno and Filip Zadina. It was a pretty smokin’ combination. Rasmussen said playing on the wing freed him up from different responsibilities he had down the middle, and, lest we forget, the Wings put Dylan Larkin on the wing at the beginning of his NHL career before sliding him back to center once he got comfortable.
Detroit was set to give Rasmussen a very long look this fall, and a roster spot was open for him to seize, though he has been impressing them since his first training camp in 2017. “He had the confidence in his ability where he wasn’t just a junior guy waiting to get sent back,” Martin said. “He was trying to make the Red Wings, and he almost did. He brought it right to the last exhibition game and made it a hard decision on us.”
In the end, the Wings wanted Rasmussen to have a big role, and he got that back in junior with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans. He made a modest offensive improvement in the regular season but caught fire in the playoffs, where the Americans qualified for the first time in three years. Rasmussen put up a staggering 33 points in 14 games before Tri-City was dispatched by Everett in the conference final. Rasmussen also wore the ‘C’ for the Americans and got stronger, so the time is right for him to take that next step, which he’ll do with a businesslike attitude. “I want to come in every day and work hard,” he said. “I’m a big guy, so I have to play well down low and in front of the net. Overall, just get better every day, work hard and be a good teammate. That’s me.”
As for the hype around the Red Wings’ rebuild, Rasmussen isn’t worried about the expectations of others. “We all feel pressure, for sure,” he said. “But the biggest pressure for me is what I expect of myself, so I just focus on that.”
This story appears in the November 5, 2018 issue of The Hockey News magazine.