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Michael Rasmussen is on the rise

How the 2017 first-round pick has stepped up his game.

Detroit Red Wings v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

In hindsight, this headline is probably a play on words, but oh well.

Michael Rasmussen. Let’s talk about the big guy. It’s been almost five years since the Detroit Red Wings drafted Rasmussen at 9th overall. Since then, he’s played 171 career games, amassing just 53 points in the process. At 9th overall, many people expected Big Moose to develop into a much higher-potential player. To those people, I say this: despite Ken Holland and Tyler Wright’s best efforts, they managed to draft a competent player.

Just two of the players taken in Detroit’s 2017 draft have panned out into competent players. One is a bottom-pairing defenseman. The other is Michael Rasmussen. The gargantuan forward has had a strange career. After lighting up the WHL, Rasmussen was caught in Development Purgatory: too young for the AHL, but too talented to return to the WHL. Without another option, the Red Wings brought him in at the NHL level.

The results went about how you’d expect.

But that’s all in the past now. This piece isn’t about who Rasmussen was. It’s about what he’s become. In the last five games, Rasmussen has scored four goals. He’s hit career highs in points and has carved out a great role on the team’s bottom-six. While he won’t pan out to be a Martin Necas-caliber player, guys like Rasmussen are important for any NHL team. There’s a reason he earned his three-year contract extension — and a reason why head coach Jeff Blashill has deployed him in the way he has.

The start of the season’s woes

Things didn’t exactly go as planned at the start of the season. Rasmussen was a frequent victim of giveaways, often lost his footing in puck battles, and never truly lived up to his expectations. A hard reset was needed. Fortunately, my early-season analysis proved true. The shaky start was more of a fluke than it was a sign of something worse. Rasmussen is the type of player that has to get into a groove before he starts producing. After all, this is his first time playing a full NHL season — and the first time he’s been asked to punch at his weight.

Late season resurgence

While the last five games may be a microcosm of improvement, Rasmussen has made strides in his development in just about every metric. According to MoneyPuck, Rasmussen is a top-five player in takeaways on the Red Wings. He’s been deployed as somewhat of a militiaman on the roster. Over 50% of his starts are on-the-fly, meaning he’s often thrown into the fire and expected to make an impact. Rasmussen has played time on both the penalty kill and power play, as well as taken additional shifts in overtime. He’s become a not-so-Swiss Army knife, applied wherever his services are needed.

While a lot of his advanced stats have taken quite a hit, it’s important to note that much of this has been impacted by his rough start. Rasmussen’s been on the ice during some of the worst goals against the Red Wings — and it’s hard to place the blame squarely on him. Take a look at Rasmussen’s on-ice goals saved above expected below:

Outside the stat sheet, he’s made big improvements on the offensive end and has become more comfortable than ever with using his size. Take a look at this goal against the Winnipeg Jets:

It isn’t easy to score a goal like that. In addition to securing a spot in front of the netminder, Rasmussen had to muscle off two defenders and leave enough room to put the puck in the net. It’s a delicate balance that Tomas Holmstrom perfected many years past, and one that Rasmussen may be able to secure in the future.

Rasmussen: Risky or rewarding?

Earlier this season, Rasmussen signed a three-year, $1.46M/year deal with the Red Wings that will carry him through 2023-24. These next two seasons will paint a much clearer picture of the type of expectations they should have for Rasmussen. If he continues to develop, he may cement himself as a solid third-line center that takes part in the power play. If he falters like he did at the season’s start, a third-line center shouldn’t be too tough to find on the free agent market.

The future of Rasmussen’s time in Detroit will rely on how he continues to play. If these last five games are indicative of anything, it’s that he’s still got some development left. The only thing the Red Wings can do at this point is sit back and see how far he goes.