DETROIT -- On the surface, it kind of looks like a demotion for 24-year old Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader -- who was moved from left wing of the third line to center the fourth line against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.
That's where Abdelkader will start Friday night's game against the San Jose Sharks, between left winger Drew Miller and right wing Tomas Holmstrom. Meanwhile, Todd Bertuzzi flips from right wing on the third line to the left side of that line in order to make room for right wing Patrick Eaves.
Rather than a demotion for Abdelkader, however, Detroit coach Mike Babcock sees the move as merely the result of fitting puzzle pieces together. Babcock didn't like the prospect of pairing Holmstrom and Eaves on a line, so he needed to figure out a way to get them both playing on separate lines.
Moving Abdelkader -- who played center almost exclusively in junior and at Michigan State -- seemed like the most logical thing to do.
"I had to move some stuff around and I needed a center," Babcock said. "I don't know if it's the best thing for Abby, but it's the best thing for our team."
Babcock also played Abdelkader at center during a first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes last season, when the Wings were without injured center Henrik Zetterberg. He didn't produce much offensively, but Abdelkader's 6-foot-1, 219-pound frame was a help defensively and he was pretty good in the faceoff circle, too.
"He's a center iceman," Babcock said. "The only time he hasn't (been) is when I wanted to get him more minutes. He wasn't getting the minutes I thought he deserved as a player (on the fourth line). I think he needs top-nine minutes. Even tonight, just because he's centering the fourth line doesn't mean he'll get less minutes."
Abdelkader said he's not looking at it as a demotion and just wants to use his versatility to play wing or center to the Wings' advantage.
"Wherever the team needs me, I'm just going to go chip in and help out," he said. "Whether it's third line, fourth line, wing or center … whatever it is, I'll do to help the team win. It's a little different game when you're playing up the middle of the ice. You handle the puck a little more and in the D-zone you're coming down low a little more, but it's nothing new to me. I've played center the majority of my career."