At the start of this season, Riley Sheahan wasn’t exactly a marquee name on the Detroit Red Wings roster—in fact, he wasn’t on the roster at all.
However, over the past dozen games, the 2010 first-round draft pick (21st overall) has elevated his game and his name to be counted among the more promising players—and there’s been many—to come up from Grand Rapids this season and take a bite at the proverbial apple.
With the mounting injuries to Red Wings regulars decimating a roster that only ever really existed on paper, Detroit’s minor leaguers have been thrust into regular duty and that with a desperate need to win on a nightly basis.
For his part, Sheahan has been up to the challenge and has been living up to the promises he made to the team on draft day.
When asked what assets he thought he’d be able to bring to the Detroit Red Wings organization, Sheahan was direct and emphatic in his response.
"I'm a big player, I like to use my size. I'm a pass first, shoot second guy, I like to make my teammates better, I like to be responsible in my own end and be part of the physical play. I like to be a leader in the dressing room and have the respect of my teammates."
A little less than four years ago, all of this was just talk. Strong words from an 18-year-old kid who was repeating this mantra for the umpteenth time on the most important day of his young life—the chances of him living up to these lofty promises were slim.
Nevertheless, Sheahan’s description of his skill set and style of play has thus far proved prophetic as the rookie has eight points (3G, 5A) and a plus-three rating in 12 games played.
Now, just as Sheahan’s post-selection commentary could easily have gone down as nothing more than adrenaline-fueled hopefulness, Sheahan’s on-ice performance to date may prove to be a fleeting thing.
Still, Sheahan’s success seems to be more than just a kid getting a few lucky breaks.
Like his fellow rookies in Luke Glendening and Tomas Jurco, Sheahan appears to understand the role he’ll be expected to play regularly as his NHL career evolves.
Glendening seems at home playing a gritty, fourth-line checking role, Jurco hasn’t been shy about demonstrating the kind of skill and flash that should make him a standout scoring winger and Sheahan has the makings of a quintessential power forward.
It is a role Sheahan seemed ready to play on the day he was drafted and is now being required to play for the foreseeable future.
Head coach Mike Babcock made it clear when discussing his team’s youth-laden roster with Mlive.com’s Brian Savage, “It's not going to have anything to do with age, it's just going to be what have you done here lately.”
If and when Detroit actually finds itself returning to health, Sheahan will likely have to hit the pause button on his NHL career when he returns to Grand Rapids (along with Jurco and Glendening, Sheahan will not have to clear waivers to do so).
However, what Sheahan has done lately is prove to be exactly the kind of player he promised he would be when the Detroit Red Wings drafted him, and his team has been better for it.