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Red Wings' Abdelkader building off breakout season

by Paul Harris

DETROIT -- Justin Abdelkader had a breakout season in 2014-15 and is off to an even better start in 2015-16.

After a career-high 23 goals and 44 points last season, the Detroit Red Wings left wing has four goals, five points and a plus-4 rating to lead them to a 2-0-0 start.

That performance, highlighted by the second hat trick of his NHL career in the season opener Friday, a 4-0 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Joe Louis Arena, earned Abdelkader, 28, the NHL's First Star of the Week.

"I'll take a star here," Abdelkader said after practice Monday. "It's two games, still a long ways to go. Our line did a lot of good things out there, created a lot of scoring chances and we had fun doing it."

The Red Wings play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports) at Joe Louis Arena. Tampa Bay eliminated Detroit from the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs in seven games in an Eastern Conference First Round series.

Abdelkader, 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, and in his ninth NHL season, has provided a physical presence and a full-ice game for most of his career. His goal output last season more than doubled his previous high (10) and his point total surpassed that previous best by 16.

A couple of seasons ago, then-Red Wings coach Mike Babcock began using Abdelkader on offensive lines with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg when they were playing together, and with Datsyuk at center when he and Zetterberg played on separate lines.

"I think every player has different assets and I think he's got great combination of physicality and skill set and he's got offensive smarts to go with it," first-year Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. "I think one of those things of having a physical type presence on a line, sometimes those guys don't have offensive smarts to play with elite offensive thinkers. He does."

With Datsyuk still recovering from June 26 surgery on ruptured tendons in his right ankle, Abdelkader has played on a line with Zetterberg at center and rookie Dylan Larkin on right wing for most of the first two games, and the unit has been dominant.

Zetterberg has a goal, four assists and a plus-5 rating. Larkin, 19, has a goal and two assists, and is plus-6.

"Obviously, [Zetterberg] being the centerman, controlling a lot of the play, [Larkin] skates so well and has a great skill set," Abdelkader said. "I'm just trying to be around the net, be on the forecheck for those guys. I think we all bring something different to the line and that can make for some good chemistry."

Abdelkader is from Muskegon, Mich., in the western part of the state. He played high school hockey through his junior season (when he won Mr. Hockey, which goes to Michigan's best high school player) and spent a season in the United States Hockey League with Cedar Rapids. He was taken in the second round (No. 42) of the 2005 NHL Draft by the Red Wings and then played three seasons at Michigan State.

After splitting a couple of seasons with Detroit and its American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids, Abdelkader made the Red Wings for good in 2010-11.

"I've known Justin for a long time. I coached him when he was 16 years old. He's been a high-end offensive guy through lots of his career," Blashill said. "I think what he's done at this level is learn how to be very good defensively and build his offensive game back up. He's certainly done that, not only last year but this season."

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