All season, Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has begged his young players to grab hold of something in order to make a statement at a time when the team was ravaged by injuries.
Swedish sensation Gustav Nyquist took that message to heart.
Nyquist turned out to be another gem uncovered by the organization, chosen in the fourth-round (No. 121) of the 2008 NHL Draft. Now in his second NHL season, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound forward has been an absolute force during the absence of offensive linchpins Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to injury for much of the season.
SOG: 153 | +/-: 16
"He's got some skill, he's obviously a real good player,'' Babcock said. "He's led everywhere he's ever played in scoring. The problem with the NHL is you have to come up and grab hold of something. We called [Joakim Andersson] up for a game, and he stuck with us because he grabbed hold of something. That's what Gus had to do.''
Datsyuk has returned, but Nyquist will need to continue his offensive mastery in the Stanley Cup Playoffs if the Red Wings are to have any shot at reaching the Cup Final. It doesn't appear that a letdown is imminent, since Nyquist has been among the team leaders in goals, points, plus-minus rating, game-winning goals and takeaways all season.
He realizes that must continue when it matters most.
"I don't think [Datsyuk] is going to come in and just save the whole team," Nyquist said. "We've still got to work. Obviously he's going to be our best player out there, but us other guys, we've still got to keep playing the way we've been doing."
Nyquist has been a regular on the highlight reels this season with his ability to make plays at top speed, and Babcock would prefer him playing left wing on the second line despite the temptation of having him ride shotgun with Datsyuk. It enables Babcock to spread the wealth and field four offensive lines.
"My thought process is Nyquist is playing great where he's playing, and so I don't want him deferring and giving the puck to [Datsyuk]," Babcock said. "I want him shooting it in the net.
"He's quick, generates offense, and has given us another skilled player to play on our top six."
Nyquist has had a six-game goal streak in November and a 10-game point streak (12 goals, 14 points) from March 16-April 2, the longest streak in team history since Zetterberg went 11 straight in 2011.
Nyquist is not only entertaining, but capable of leaving an opponent flat-footed. He did it to Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara earlier this month, capping a spectacular end-to-end rush that gave Detroit a 3-2 victory. He gave his teammates and coaching staff a sign of things to come in his debut on Nov. 21 this season, scoring two goals in a 4-3 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes.
"I think he's really confident and really knows how to play all areas of the ice and not just scoring goals," veteran forward Daniel Alfredsson said. "He's been great at that, but I like his work ethic, his attention to details, and just being a young guy who is leading by example for everybody."