TORONTO – Justin Abdelkader was a beast Thursday night.
The Red Wings’ forward helped spark the Red Wings’ comeback victory, scoring the tying goal and setting up the winner against the Winnipeg Jets.
It was Abdelkader's third multi-point game of the season.
“Abdelkader has turned himself into a real good pro who’s heavy on the forecheck, at the net, knows how to play,” coach Mike Babcock said.
In his sixth full NHL season, Abdelkader is beginning to live up to the reputation that he earned as a heard-nosed collegiate player who led Michigan State to a national championship in 2007
“He’s playing in good position for him to be successful,” Babcock said. “He’s playing a good amount of minutes. The other thing about Abby is he’s a work guy, he comes to work every day. As long as he does that his career’s going to get better and better.”
Abdelkader is having an outstanding start to the season, producing six goals and eight assists with a team-best plus-7 rating after 19 games.
“It’s been really good,” Abdelkader said. “I credit it to having a real good summer. In this league it takes time to become the player you’re capable of being. I know before I could bank off the success I had in college and the American League but it’s still a different league and I felt like I had more to bring. Over the past few seasons I think I’ve shown potential but it’s one thing to show and one thing to go out and do it.”
Confidence plays a big role in a young player’s development, and Abdelkader is certainly feeling good about his game right now.
“I just think I feel the most confident I’ve been on the ice,” he continued. “I think my preparation, whether in the off-season or training camp or even during the season, I think I’m learning from the veteran guys how to prepare night in and night out, learning what kind of role I need to be in each and every night. It’s not always going to be points. It’s going to be being physical, being around the net, being in the hard areas. I think that’s important to me as a player. I’m fortunate to be able to put points up at the same time.”
Abdelkader’s work ethic and productivity have been rubbing off on his new linemates, too.
“He’s awesome and to be playing with him right now, he’s a good guy to get energy from and how hard he plays,” center Riley Sheahan said. “He brings some leadership to the team and it’s definitely been pleasant playing with him and he’s just a great guy off the ice, too. You can communicate with him and (that) helps a lot.”
This week Babcock had to make a decision when Pavel Datsyuk was sidelined with reoccurring groin soreness. The Wings’ coach paired Abdelkader on the second forward line with Sheahan and Tomas Tatar.
The lineup move seems to have worked as the Wings have won two in a row and three of the past four, and the Sheahan line has been hot during that run. Tatar has four goals and two assists, while Sheahan has two goals and two assists during that stretch.
“The big thing is they all have a dimension,” Babcock said. “Tatar’s game is rounding out. Tatar has a chance to be a real good player in the league if he keeps working and developing, taking care of the puck. Sheahan’s a guy who’s got to get his feet going and get through the neutral zone but knows how to play with and without and the puck. … So they got the makings of a good line.”