Red Wings’ 2023 top pick bracing for new challenges as a pro

DETROIT – Nate Danielson did not look out of place last year at Detroit Red Wings training camp as an 18-year-old three months removed from walking onto the stage at the NHL draft.

His poise with the puck, skills and maturity impressed the team enough to keep him around until the final cuts before sending him back to his junior team.

“I believe in myself and I believed I could make it,” Danielson said last week at Red Wings development camp.

“I thought I had a good camp and I thought I got more comfortable as camp went on and into the preseason. I just kept on getting more comfortable, more familiar with it. It gives me confidence going into this year, too. Going into camp this year knowing I can have success and play at this level.”

Could the 6-2, 188-pound center selected ninth overall take the next step and earn a roster spot this season?

Danielson, 19, wouldn’t be the first pleasant camp surprise to force his way onto the roster. Lucas Raymond did it in 2021 as a 19-year-old.

But the odds aren’t in Danielson’s favor. The Red Wings already have 12 NHL forwards projected to make the roster and a couple of AHL-seasoned prospects. Carter Mazur and 2022 eighth overall pick Marco Kasper, knocking on the door.

Danielson likely will need at least one season in Grand Rapids to continue developing. He made his pro debut last spring in two playoff games with the Griffins, after his junior club, Portland, was eliminated in the WHL Championship by Moose Jaw.

“It was a good experience, making that jump to pro next year and just kind of knowing the speed of the game,” Danielson said. “Obviously, everyone’s older, bigger, heavier, and stronger.

“Just feeling how much guys are stronger on pucks and things like that, it definitely kind of gives you a little extra motivation to be in the gym and really work on that aspect of it.”

Danielson tallied 24 goals and 67 points in 54 games split between Brandon and Portland last season. He led the Winterhawks’ playoff push with seven goals and 24 points in 18 postseason games.

“Nate had a tremendous season,” Danny Cleary, Red Wings assistant director of player development, said. “Mike Johnston (Portland coach) can’t say enough good things about Nate. His test is probably No. 1. When you have all those components in play, Nate’s a driven, serious kid. We talked about this last year but he’s starting to come out of his shell. He works hard, he looks good.”

Danielson said his overall game has improved since his first development camp.

“Just overall as a person and a player I’ve improved in the past year with the new experiences,” he said.

Has any particular facet of his game gotten better?

“Not really anything specific,” Danielson said. “I try to work on every year my skating, my shot, stickhandling, so I don’t know if there’s any one thing that I feel like I’m that much better at.”