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Wings ready to roll with rookie fourth line

by Brian Hedger /
CHICAGO -- The label people like to put on the Detroit Red Wings is "aging," as a number of their star players are getting into the latter stages of their careers.

However, the Wings' average age will drop for Friday night's game against the rival Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center (8:30 p.m.) thanks to an all-rookie fourth line.

Regular third-line center Darren Helm and fourth-line right wing Tomas Holmstrom are out with groin injuries, so Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is ready to go with Gustav Nyquist, Cory Emmerton and Joakim Andersson as his fourth line on Friday night.

That makes the 23-year old Emmerton the veteran of the trio -- as both Nyquist and Andersson will be playing just their second NHL games.

"They're good hockey players, but I'll just try to calm them down the first couple of shifts," Emmerton said after Detroit's morning skate on Friday. "I'm still young, so I'll try to do the same thing for myself. But I'm the oldest guy and I've got the most games played. It's a weird feeling, but I think we’ll be fine."

It could also be fun for them, trying to prove they belong in a heated rivalry game against the League's top team.

"Chicago's a great team, so it's going to be a real good test for us," said Emmerton, who has just 28 NHL games under his belt. "It's kind of fun for there to be a young line to just go out there and do what we can and help the team. It's one of those games it's pretty easy to get excited for."

Nyquist, who's from Sweden, is thrilled for a couple of reasons.

It's a second chance to try and impress Babcock after not making much of an impression in his NHL debut against the Minnesota Wild on Nov. 1, but it's also going to happen in front of his parents and brother -- who'd planned to see him play in Grand Rapids and celebrate New Year's with him this weekend. Now they'll see him in the Windy City on Friday night.

"My parents and my brother are in town, so it will be a great time for them up in the stands," he said. "They were here for three days in Chicago and drove back to Grand Rapids to see me over New Year's. Right after practice I got called up, so I went right back with them to Chicago."

The decision to play all the rookies on the fourth line means that Justin Abdelkader -- who'd been centering the fourth line -- moves up to take Helm's spot in the middle of the third line between Drew Miller and Danny Cleary.

"He'll do good," said Helm, who made the trip despite the groin issue and having 20-stitches in his lip after getting hit in the face with a puck during the warm-up for Tuesday's game against St. Louis. "He's played in a lot of different situations and a lot of different spots and he's always done really good. He's a good player and when he gets a chance with those two guys he'll be able to jump right in there and contribute."

The Wings will miss Helm, though. He's not only the fastest skater on the team, but he's become a pest on the penalty kill and regularly gets breakaway chances off his work on that unit.

"It’s a loss all over," Babcock said. "Helmer's a tenacious, hard-working, great player for us and him and Cleary have given us a line a lot like what (Dave Bolland) does for (Chicago). It gives you a third group that’s really good and it wears on the other team. That's an opportunity for Abby. I've never met a player that wanted to play less. Here's an opportunity for Abby here tonight. Grab hold of it and do something with it."
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