NEW YORK -- Valtteri Filppula never thought he'd play 1,000 games in the NHL. Not after how his debut went Dec. 15, 2005.
"I didn't play much, but it was obviously exciting," he said, referring to the 4:05 of ice time he received in the Detroit Red Wings' 3-2 overtime loss at the Florida Panthers.
But the 35-year-old has since evolved into one of the game's more responsible two-way centers and will achieve the milestone when the Red Wings play the New York Rangers at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; FS-D, MSG 2, NHL.TV).
"The first game, you're just hoping to get a few games," Filppula said before playing game No. 999, a 4-2 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Friday. "Obviously now, 15 years later, it's still good to be able to play. But I haven't really thought about it until this season, to be honest, that I'm getting pretty close. I'm excited about it."
Filppula earned more of a full-time role in the NHL during the 2006-07 season and was a mainstay in Detroit for seven seasons. But he said it took time before then-Red Wings coach Mike Babcock felt comfortable playing him in all situations.
"You needed to be good defensively so he had trust to put you out there," Filppula said. "I had quite a few of those meetings too that [he'd say], 'I can't trust to put you out there.' It took a while, but I think it made me a better player as well."
Video: DET@NYR: Filppula flips the puck home to in the 3rd
Filppula helped the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 2008 with 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 22 postseason games.
"Obviously that's a great [memory]," Filppula said. "Even the year before when we lost in the [Western] Conference Final to [the Anaheim Ducks], that was a good year. We were so close. There's a lot of good memories."
Filppula went on to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning (292 games), Philadelphia Flyers (101) and New York Islanders (72) before signing a two-year contract with Detroit on July 1, 2019. The Red Wings (12-36-4) are last in the NHL standings, but Filppula said he's happy to be back where it all started.
"Obviously I hoped we'd be in a little better circumstances, doing better with the team," he said. "But I guess personally, it's something positive for the year.
"It's great that it happened that way. I didn't really plan on coming back ever. I didn't know if it was going to happen. I obviously left on good terms. [Last] summer, when the opportunity came to come back, I was really excited about it."
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said he's been pleased with the impact Filppula has had on Detroit's younger players, six of whom are 23 or under. It will be his 535th game for Detroit.
"I had a chance to coach Val as an assistant 10 years ago, and I was really impressed with so much about him back then," Blashill said. "He's a great pro, works extremely hard, has probably an underrated skill set.
"In coming back he's done an excellent job at being a great model for our guys. I think it's extremely important at anything in life, certainly in the situation we're in, to have great models for guys to look up to and see how they do it. He prepares right, he goes out and practices hard. He's a very, very smart player, so I've been able to pick his brain on a number of things and get his opinion. … He's been a great addition."
Durability naturally has played a role in Filppula's ability to reach 1,000 NHL games; he hasn't missed more than 11 in a full season since 2009-10. He's played in all but one game for the Red Wings this season and has 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) after scoring a goal Friday.
"I've been able to be healthy, so that's a good thing," he said. "Obviously I've been able to play for a while in a great league, so I'm proud of that part."