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Andersson ascends to top-line center

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Known more as a defensive center, Joakim Andersson will be asked to help create more offensive Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Getty Images)

NEWARK, N.J. Joakim Andersson knows what’s at stake tonight when the Red Wings try to stretch their post-Olympics winning streak to three straight games.

For the sixth time this season both Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are out of Detroit’s lineup tonight against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.

Down three centermen – Stephen Weiss is still recovering from sports hernia surgery – the 25-year-old Andersson has ascended to the top forward group where he will center a line with Gustav Nyquist and Johan Franzen, who was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week on Monday.

The expectations for Andersson are be exceptionally high. He’s a capable centerman in the face-off circle but he doesn’t have a point in his past 11 games. The Red Wings need the two points in a tightly-contested Eastern Conference playoff race and Andersson will be looked upon to get the puck to a pair of wingers who have been on hot streaks lately.

“Well he’s just gotta be a guy who gets some pucks back, gotta be a guy who wins faceoffs and plays well in detail and the rest will look after itself,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Just play and do what he does.”

Playing on a line with two wingers who are playing extremely well right now should give a boost to any centerman, Andersson said.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun with two great players,” he said. “I haven’t played with Mule much but Nyquist I’ve been playing with him before and it’s going to be a lot of fun.

“We’re missing some top centermen, so it’s an opportunity for me and a couple of other players to get some of those minutes that they usually get.”

Since returning from a concussion last week, Franzen produced three goals and five points in road wins at Montreal and Ottawa. Though he missed 27 games, Franzen is still fifth in team scoring with 12 goals and 28 points in 33 games. As for Nyquist, since mid-January, the 24-year-old Swede has collected at least a point in 11 of the past 13 games, producing 10 goals and 18 points and a plus-7 rating during that span.

As for Andersson joining his line, Nyquist believes the transition from fourth line center to the No. 1 hole will be a smooth one.

“He’s such a good player, such a complete player, I don’t think that’ll be too hard for him,” Nyquist said. “He was first line in Grand Rapids pretty much all his time down there. Obviously, he’s known as a very (good) defensive center but he can really make plays, he’s smart, he’s got a good shot. I think he’ll fit right in.”

Andersson, who has seven goals and 13 points in 54 games, hopes the switch will breathe some life into his game.

“Hopefully I can start to produce too with them,” Andersson said. “It’s been awhile since I’ve put up some points. … Playing with those guys will give me an opportunity to do that.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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