With Jonathan Ericsson unavailable tonight, Xavier Ouellet will draw into the lineup tonight as the Detroit Red Wings take on the San Jose Sharks. This is a big-time opportunity for a player to make an impression on a team that isn’t in the habit of utilizing 20 year-olds on the blue line.
Brendan Smith has been the odd man out so far for the Red Wings and has failed to impress with his chances. With him struggling to find his game in all three zones, Ouellet will get the chance to show why he’s among Detroit’s most highly-touted prospects. In most cases, the Wings would likely ease the kid into the game, but they won’t have the luxury against the Sharks.
Niklas Kronwall is on the shelf for at least one more game as he recovers from a mild concussion, leaving Detroit without its top defensive pairing. That means that Ouellet will be playing against some of the most effective forwards in the league as he lines up against San Jose’s second or third line.
Neither assignment is any easier than the other. The third line for the Sharks features the NHL’s second-leading scorer in Joe Pavelski, to give you an idea of how deep the team is at the moment. Patrick Marleau is tied with Pavelski with 12 points and is on the team’s second line.
While Ouellet has the reputation as a guy that is outstanding in the offensive zone, his two-way game has improved dramatically since Detroit drafted him in 2011. He’ll need every bit of that defense accumen tonight as the Wings will likely ice him for at least 16 minutes against the Sharks.