Thomas Vanek is a perfect 4-for-4 in shootouts and Detroit’s top scorer after another strong game Wednesday night. He scored the Red Wings’ first shootout goal and assisted a goal in the second period of the 6-5 victory over Boston.
Vanek has been one of the Red Wings’ leading scorers the past two months and one of the league's best the past six games with five goals, five assists and two game-winning goals. The former Wild winger and Gophers star leads the Red Wings with 12 goals and 31 points in 34 games this season.
Vanek’s success and the Red Wings’ seventh-place standing in the Atlantic Division make the veteran an attractive option for teams looking to add depth for a playoff run. The Red Wings signed Vanek to a one-year deal in July, and he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
“I always liked the way he plays,” Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg told The Detroit News. “He’s a creative player and he wants to create stuff all the time, and that’s something we need on this team.
“You have to have guys who want to go outside the box a little bit and are allowed to go outside the box a little bit. The way we play, with our structure, you need guys to find those plays and he’s really good at it.”
Vanek, who turned 33 Thursday, left Minnesota after two disappointing, and somewhat injury marred, seasons. The Wild bought out the final year of his contract in June and parted ways with the veteran winger.
“I'm very disappointed, especially with the new staff and coach [Bruce] Boudreau's style, I think it would fit my game a lot better,” Vanek told the Star Tribune in June, “but at the end of the day, that's the business we signed up for. But overall in my two years, I'm grateful I got the chance to play for the Wild. It was a dream of mine.
"Before I was a free agent, I had a couple offers. But I wanted to come here and see if we can make it work. It just never panned out the way we both envisioned, and now here we are."
The native of Austria had 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) in two seasons with the Wild. Though he was disappointed about the buyout, Vanek said he had no regrets about returning to Minnesota, where he won a national championship with the Gophers in 2003.
“It's always easy to look back, but at the end, no, I don't. I really don't [regret it]," said Vanek. "I wanted to play here. Even though I'm not from here, I call this place home. Minnesota's close to my heart. This is something I wanted to do and I wanted to try out. I had my doubts. Is it the right fit, the right system? But it was a dream of mine to come back to the State of Hockey and to fulfill that, but obviously it finished not the way I was hoping it to."
The Wild are on pace to make the playoffs and possibly a deep run into the postseason. Maybe Vanek could find his way back to Minnesota and redeem himself. He did say Boudreau’s style would fit his game better.
Detroit coach Jeff Blashill has been impressed with Vanek since his return from a hip injury suffered early in the season.
“His battle level is real high,” Blashill told The Detroit News. “This is the only year I’ve ever had him, I can’t speak to any other year, but he’s a great person who wants to win and wants to do great things.
“I bring him in and show him things all the time and he’s receptive and tells me when he disagrees, he’s receptive to coaching and getting better. He wants to be the very best he can be. The skill set, with his compete level, has made him a real good player for us.”