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Red Wings' Nyquist sees accelerated development

by Brian Hedger /

DETROIT -- The numbers are impressive when you break down the tear Gustav Nyquist is on right now.

The 24-year old Detroit Red Wings forward has 25 goals and 17 assists for 42 points in 47 games, but that's only the big picture. Narrowing the scope shows Nyquist, who was named the NHL first star this past week, has scored nine goals with one assist during a career-high six-game goal streak heading into a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday at Joe Louis Arena (7 p.m. ET, TSN, RDS, FS-D).

That's Detroit's longest of the season and it topped his own mark of four straight games during a hot spell that began Jan. 20 with a goal in a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues. Since that point, Nyquist leads the NHL with 20 goals in 24 games, including his most recent two in a 4-2 loss Tuesday at the Columbus Blue Jackets. He's also tied during that span with Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux for most points in the League (31).

Gustav Nyquist started the season in the American Hockey League and had pedestrian numbers in mid-January, but since then the Detroit Red Wings forward has been a scoring machine to help keep them in the hunt for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Photo: Dave Reginek/NHLI)

"It's awesome to see," said Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, who's sidelined for the rest of the regular season following back surgery. "I think ever since he came up this year, he scored right away and basically hasn't stopped. It's fun. He's a hard-working guy and he's a big part of our group. He's the hottest player in the League right now and we hope it's going to continue."

Detroit needs Nyquist's hot streak to continue.

The Red Wings started Thursday tied with three Eastern Conference opponents at 80 points, but hold the second wild-card spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs based on having played one fewer game than the Washington Capitals and two fewer than the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Red Wings' 28 non-shootout victories are also three more than the Capitals and one more than the Maple Leafs.

The other part of what Zetterberg said, about Nyquist scoring consistently ever since getting recalled from the Grand Rapids Griffins in November, isn't entirely true. He scored three goals and had two assists in his first five games, but went ice cold between Dec. 1 and Jan. 18 (18 games). Nyquist scored one goal and had five assists in that stretch.

The difference between then and now?

It might be a tidal wave of confidence. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, asked after practice Wednesday if he learned anything about Nyquist the past six weeks, shook his head.

"Well, no, but maybe Gus found out that he can shoot the puck," Babcock said. "That's something we suggested wouldn't be such a bad idea, shooting the puck, and now he's on a roll and feeling good about himself."

Nyquist, who was taken by Detroit with the 121st pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, agreed with that assessment. The multitude of injuries to veteran lineup regulars, he said, has contributed quite a bit to his hot hand.

"It's given me more opportunity to play, obviously, and if you play more you get more comfortable out there and you get more confidence with the puck," Nyquist said. "I think that's what's happened with a lot of the other guys too."

That's true to an extent, but those "other guys" filling in for injured veterans aren't finding the net with nearly as much regularity. Nyquist is fourth in the NHL with a 19.2 shooting percentage and is scoring on more than a quarter of his shots since Jan. 20, when he scored the Red Wings' goal in a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

During his current goal streak, he has scored more than 40 percent of the time he gets a shot on goal. And he makes it sound like mostly luck.

"I'm playing with great players out there, so that helps a lot," Nyquist said. "Obviously, [I'm getting] some really good bounces for some goals. Let's be honest, some of my goals have been off some pretty crazy deflections. It's nice to see, but it probably won't happen all of the time, getting those deflections. But it's fun to see."

Gustav Nyquist
Right Wing - DET
GOALS: 25 | ASST: 17 | PTS: 42
SOG: 130 | +/-: 14
It's also a little perplexing, considering he's scoring at a 41-goal pace if extrapolated over an 82-game season. That's territory reserved for players like Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, who's internationally known.

Nyquist started the season in the American Hockey League because he was one of the only players who could've been sent to Grand Rapids without being exposed to waivers.

He missed the Red Wings' first 22 games after proving himself in the NHL last season. Nyquist was one of Detroit's best forwards late in 2012-13 and into the playoffs, when the Red Wings upset the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Quarterfinals before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime of Game 7 of a conference semifinal series.

He went back to Grand Rapids after that run and helped the Griffins win the Calder Cup. Some players might resent having to start the following season in the AHL, but if that's the case with Nyquist he does a great job hiding it.

"I've had a great experience with both of the teams," Nyquist said. "Grand Rapids, my time there taught me a lot. That's where I learned to play the pro game and I had great coaches down there helping me. Now being up here, this is obviously where I want to be and where I want to play. I want to be in the NHL, and it's fun to be up here."

Nyquist was a prolific scorer for the University of Maine in college and was a point-per-game player for the Griffins each of the previous two seasons, so from that aspect it's not too shocking to see him prospering in the NHL.

What's surprising, even to his teammates, is the massive growth in his development as a scorer in such a short amount of time.

"We knew he was going to be a great player one day," said 21-year old rookie forward Tomas Jurco, another Red Wings forward with a high ceiling. "Last year he won the Calder Cup with us [in Grand Rapids] and this year he'll probably have 30 goals in the NHL. We knew he was going to be big-time one day, but I don't think anyone expected it this soon. It's good for him and great for us. We have someone that can score goals when we need."

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