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Abby makes case to stay on top line

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Despite the loss, Justin Abdelkader led the Red Team with a goal and two assists in Sunday's Red and White game in Traverse City. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. Justin Abdelkader made another statement Sunday.

The veteran winger, who has played the majority of his young career as fourth-line center, made his case to remain on the Wings’ top line for the start of the upcoming season by producing a goal and two assists for the Red Team in the Red and White scrimmage at Centre ICE Arena.

Skating with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg can make any player look amazingly gifted, but Abdelkader was exceptionally sharp in Sunday’s game, working hard down low and retrieving pucks for the Euro Twins.

“The opportunity to play with both of them is just awesome, so I’m going to go out there and do my job and do my part,” Abdelkader said. “I know the areas that I have to go to, and just try to keep it simple.”

The White Team, led by the Red Wings’ second line of Daniel Alfredsson, Stephen Weiss and Johan Franzen, built a 3-2 lead on goals by defensemen Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet, and forward Patrick Eaves. But Mikael Samuelsson’s goal – set-up by Abdelkader – with 22-seconds left forced a special shootout, which featured 16 shooters. Jakub Kindl also scored for the Red Team.

Shootout goals by Alfredsson, Ouellet and Riley Sheahan lifted the White Team to a 4-3 shootout victory.

Abdelkader played much of last season with Datsyuk, who made it quite known at the time that he enjoyed playing alongside the former Michigan State standout. Encouragement coming from perhaps the best two-way players in the world certainly is a confidence booster for Abdelkader.

“For me, I just try to keep it simple, and obviously it’s always the best when him or Z have the puck on their stick. I know that,” Abdelkader said. “They’re so good whether it’s in the open ice or in the corners defensively, I just try to do my part and pull the rope. Like I said, I know the areas I need to go in and I know where my game needs to be, which is in the corners and down low in front of the net, strong defensively. So I try to build off of that. I know what I need to get better on each year and each game. I just try to better myself as I progress through my hockey career.”

Whether Abdelkader begins the season on the top line may hinge on how the Wings’ second line fares during the exhibition season, which begins Monday in Pittsburgh.

“We have to have more than one group going, we have to have a bunch of groups going, so we’ll see what happens here,” Wings coach Mike babcock said. “Everyone’s got to command their share of ice-time, and obviously Abdelkader is off to a good start. A lot of people can see he’s playing with good players, but he’s playing with a lot of heart every day. That’s what he does, so when you play hard, you work hard, good things happen for you.”

Sunday’s scrimmage also marks the end of the Wings’ training camp in Traverse City. The team announced that five players – forwards Tyler Bertuzzi, Philippe Hudon and Zach Nastasiuk, defenseman Michal Plutnar, and goalie Jake Paterson – have been re-assigned to the junior teams. Meanwhile, center Kevin Lynch was released. The Michigan graduate will re-join the Griffins when the AHL club opens their training camp in Grand Rapids a week from Monday. He is expected to play in Toledo this season in the ECHL.

SCRIMMAGE STANDOUTS: For Babcock, a couple of young defensemen, who are slated to play in Grand Rapids this season, stood out in the coach’s mind.

Ouellet had a goal and assisted on another for the White Team. He also scored in Sunday’s shootout.

“Well obviously, I thought Sproul and Ouellet, those are good, good players, and Nathan Paetsch, who plays for us in the minors is a real solid, solid player,” Babcock said. “I thought (Brennan) Evans did a real good job out here for us. We have good depth in those spots and (Alexei) Marchenko looks like he might be a good player, so over time we’ll get it figured out. (Adam) Almquist is a real skilled guy. Ouellet and Sproul look like they’re going to be ready for prime time pretty soon.”

GLUT OF FORWARDS: With 17 forwards still in Traverse City – including injured Darren Helm (groin, lower back) – the Red Wings’ coaches have some decisions to make in the next 15 days. Teams have until 3 p.m. (EDT) Monday, Sept. 30 to become salary cap compliant and register their 23-man rosters with the NHL offices.

The league’s cap for the upcoming season is $64.3 million. Detroit is currently $2.4 million over and has until the end of the month to get under the ceiling.

With the exception of guys like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss, who presumably are roster locks, 12 other forwards will be battling for jobs in the eight exhibition games, beginning in Pittsburgh on Monday night.

Certainly, having too many players at a particular position in camp beats the alternative and creates competition that coaches like to see.

“I guess you could say that if you want to say it,” Babcock said. “The other thing you can say is the best players are going to play. That's what we've done every year since I've been here. We're going to do the same thing.”

SOPHOMORE SEASON: Listen to the Wings’ coaches and players, the skies the limit for rookie Danny DeKeyser, but the smooth skating defenseman knows there’s a big hurdle to conquer in his first 82-game NHL season.

“It'll be a little bit of a jump, you just have to take care of your body every night after games,” DeKeyser said. “After practices make sure you're doing all the right things. The other thing is watching some of the older guys, how they take care of themselves.”

The most DeKeyser has played in a single season was a 58-game campaign with the Trail Smoke Eaters in the British Columbia Hockey League as an 18 year old. Last season, the Detroit native, played in 54 games between Western Michigan, the Red Wings and the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Depending on how far the Wings can extend their season into the playoffs, it’s conceivable that DeKeyser could double his games-played output from last year. But that will all take care of itself, he said.

“It's just something you have to go out there and play hard every night,” DeKeyser said. “Just because you make a team or do something good one night doesn't mean it's going to happen the next night.”

WHAT’S IN A NUMBER? Two days after newcomer Daniel Alfredsson agreed to surrender his jersey number to Daniel Cleary, who was re-signed to a one-year contract on Friday, the league apparently nixed the deal.

Seems the NHL has committed a large sum of money to Winter Classic merchandise, including Wings jerseys with Alfredsson’s name and No. 11 on them.

Cleary, who wore No. 11 for eight seasons in Detroit, wasn’t keen on having to pick a new number, unfortunately, he was powerless in the decision. He’ll now be the third player in Wings’ history to wear No. 71.

“They already have like $150,000 (committed) and somebody’s got to eat that, so, the heck with that,” Cleary said. “I’m alright with 71.”

always risky to trust this): Cleary will be third Wing to wear 71, joining the illustrious Wendel Clark (1998-99) and Jiri Slegr (01-12), pair of trade deadline acquisition who were shown the door after the season.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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