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Abdelkader looking to build on last season

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Justin Abdelkader set career highs in goals with 23 and points with 44 last season. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT -- If the Red Wings gave an award to most improved player, it probably would have gone to Justin Abdelkader last season.

Abdelkader, 28, more than doubled his career best in goals with 23 (previous high 10, done twice) and added 21 assists for 44 points in 71 games.

That's 16 points more than Abdelkader's previous high in points.

So what will Abdelkader do for an encore?

"Just build off last year," Abdelkader said after a recent informal skate at Joe Louis Arena. "Obviously I had a really good year. Confidence has grown each and every year and I think just gotta keep doing things right to put myself in position to succeed. Working hard every day, working on individual skill set during practice and bringing that during the game. I think just building off last year and working hard, doing whatever I can to put myself in that same position."

Now that Abdelkader has surpassed the 20-goal mark, it could be expected of him every season, especially now that he's considered to be in the prime of his career.

But Abdelkader doesn't shy away from heightened expectations.

"Especially as I've gotten older, taken on a bigger role with this team, even in the locker room leadership-wise, I look forward to that," Abdelkader said. "Obviously expectations will be higher but all I can do is work hard, try to put myself in those same positions and see what happens."

Abdelkader is not one of the players who knows new coach Jeff Blashill from Grand Rapids, but he does know him from Blashill's time as an assistant to Mike Babcock in the 2011-12 season.

Abdelkader said he has talked to Blashill a little bit since Blashill got the head coaching job.

"More than anything, just talking about the team and how excited he is about this year," Abdelkader said. "He's done a terrific job in Grand Rapids there and knows a lot of the personnel. I know he's excited, we're excited to have him and look forward to the start of the season."

This upcoming season is the final one of Abdelkader's current contract.

Although there haven't been any discussions yet about a new deal, Abdelkader is not concerned about it.

"It'd be nice. We'll see," Abdelkader said. "But at the same time, just focus on having another good year. I think I set myself up with last year having a good year so I don't think there's tons of pressure. I think I proved last year and even in years past what type of player I am and what I can bring to the team. I just want to build off that and help the team in any way that I'm capable of and let the business side take care of itself."

Since Abdelkader took a huge step last season, it seemed only fitting to ask him which of his teammates might follow in his footsteps.

"With our young players, I think (Tomas) Tatar and (Gustav) Nyquist have really come into their own," Abdelkader said. "I think Riley Sheahan, now another year, I think he's capable of producing even more. He's a good center iceman for us, good guy on the power play and I think he's a player that definitely can take another step. A guy like Petr Mrazek, he's another goalie, we had a little taste of what he can do but given more opportunity, I think he could take another step, too."

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