DETROIT – Xavier Ouellet will become the second Red Wings rookie to make his NHL debut this season when the San Jose Sharks visit Joe Louis Arena tonight.
Ouellet’s call up from Grand Rapids was necessary because defenseman Jonathan Ericsson’s fiance delivered the couple’s first child on Monday afternoon. Evelina Hedman gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter that they've named Liv.
Ouellet, who played in five preseason games with the Wings in September, will be partnered with Brendan Smith on the blue line against the Sharks, who haven’t lost in regulation this season.
“Well, he’s a real good play. He makes good decisions,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s just got to get quicker. That comes with experience, so I think he’ll do that.”
A first-year pro, Ouellet has played in five AHL games, collecting two assists and a plus-1 rating with the Griffins. The Montreal native was a second-round draft pick in 2011.
Ouellet knows he’ll be judged by how he moves his feet tonight against the Sharks’ physical centers Logan Couture, Joe Thorton and Joe Pavelski. Ouellet can’t over-think things and play more of an overall game, limit mistakes and make good decisions with breakout passes.
“I’m a defenseman who the coaches can trust,” Ouellet said.
Without Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall (concussion) in the lineup, that means the Wings will deploy a top six that includes four defensemen with fewer than 120 combined NHL games with Smith (54 games) and Ouellet (1); Kyle Quincey and Danny DeKeyser (21); and Brian Lashoff (37) with Jakub Kindl.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for our guys,” Babcock said. “We talk about that all of the time. When someone gets hurt, especially when you’re a young NHLer, there’s opportunities for you. If you get stuck behind Cal Ripken for 20 years it’s not much fun, probably. So when you get your opportunity you’re allowed to establish yourself as a player and play every night. So that’s what that’s about.
“We have a real good team in here that plays, I think, right. They’ve got a north-south game going. They play heavy. They’ve got three centers, who play as good as anybody in the league, so it’s going to be a good test for our young D. It should be fun.”
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