DETROIT -- For Riley Sheahan, it's a new challenge and a new opportunity.
At least to start, Sheahan will play on the wing with rookie Andreas Athanasiou at center and Teemu Pulkkinen on the other wing.
"The reason we originally put him there was to keep Double A in a more natural position coming up and we think with his speed it's a factor," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "Something that Riley and I have talked about is him being more physical, being a little bit more of a physical presence on a nightly basis. As I was walking in yesterday, I thought it's probably easier, it frees you up a little bit when you're on the wing to be first on the forecheck and things like that. He's such a responsible center man that when he's back there, it probably takes away from his ability to be aggressive."
Sheahan said except for the odd shift here or there, he has not played wing much in his career.
"I still got to play the same game, just a little bit different in the D-zone, got to focus on getting the puck out and making smart plays on the walls," Sheahan said. "I feel like the only change is it gives you an advantage to be in there on the forecheck quickly and maybe skate a little more."
Blashill said relieving Sheahan of some of his center duties could help him add more physicality.
Although Sheahan only has 22 shots in 15 games this season, Blashill believes that might be a bit of an overvalued number.
"The one thing Riley's done very well lately that doesn't always show up on the stat sheet but we obviously track is I've talked lots about is he possesses the puck a lot," Blashill said. "He's been a load down low, he's cut back on guys, he's allowed up to keep the puck on the offensive zone for a long time. I think that goes unrecognized in today's statistical world just because it's hard to track but it's something that's extraordinarily important and he's done a good job of that."
The other advantage to having Sheahan with Athanasiou is he will be available if needed to take a face-off.
"My experience with Double A is he’s been good on face-offs at times, but if he’s struggling, when you have two centers on a line it allows you to have the other guy come in and take them and Riley has done a good job at times," Blashill said. "They’re both a little streaky to be honest with you. Both of them, when they’re hot, they’re really good, and then sometimes they can go cold. So hopefully at least one of them is hot tonight."
Sheahan is looking forward to being on a line with someone as fast as Athanasiou.
"Just creates so much space, makes smart decisions with the puck," Sheahan said. "He can get in there quick on the forecheck and he creates a lot more space for his teammates. When you can fly around like that, get in on pucks and pressure the opponent, it definitely helps a lot."
NO. 13 RETURNS ON FRIDAY THE 13TH: It is somehow appropriate that Pavel Datsyuk returns to the lineup on Friday the 13th.
San Jose Sharks coach Pete DeBoer was feeling a little unlucky after the morning skate.
"That’s an early Christmas present for me, eh?" DeBoer joked. "A great player. Changes their team. It slots everybody down in their proper spots and creates mismatches. As much as he brings to the top, it pushes some key guys down for them into mismatch situations. That’s what depth does."
Datsyuk had surgery in late June to repair ruptured tendons in his right ankle and missed all of training camp and the preseason, in addition to the first 15 games.
So the Wings want to be careful not to expect too much from Datsyuk in his first game.
"We need to continue to build and with a real good player coming in sometimes your expectations are what he is when he’s playing all the time," Blashill said. "He hasn’t had a training camp, he hasn’t played for a long, long time. He had a major surgery. We just want Pavel to come in and do a good job. But we need the other 11 forwards to be good as well, and they have been lately. They’ve done a real good job and we’re going to need them to continue to be."
There will be a comfort level for Datsyuk as he'll be on a line with Henrik Zetterberg, his Euro Twin, and Justin Abdelkader.
"Obviously, everyone in here is happy to have him back," Zetterberg said. "He’s been looking good in practice, so it’s going to be fun having him in games. Obviously, he plays a lot of minutes. Just to have his presence in the locker room and on the ice is going to be huge for us."
The Wings have improved in offensive zone time and puck possession and that's sure to improve with Datsyuk back.
"Pav is I think one of the strongest guys on the puck in the league," Tomas Tatar said. "He’s been really good, his skill level is really high and he’s going to help us for sure."
When Mike Green was out with his upper-body injury, he spent a lot of time working with Datsyuk, who was still rehabbing.
"I learned how competitive he is," Green said. "Every drill we did when it was me and him, it was a competition. That’s probably the one thing I learned about him."
Having Datsyuk back is also an opportunity for rookies like Athanasiou and Dylan Larkin to learn from him.
"He's a special player, been a special player for a long time," Gustav Nyquist said. "Pretty much every player can learn from him. He's one of the best out there for sure. But of course, for them it's special to play with him for the first time in their careers. It was special for me and special for a lot of us other guys too because he's been such a dominant player for such a long time, so just seeing what he can do out there is pretty amazing."
LARKIN BACK AT CENTER: With Datsyuk's return, Larkin shifts back to center with Nyquist and Tatar on the wings.
"I think what Larkin's done all year is he brings speed and tenacity on the puck," Blashill said. "He's on the puck all the time so he brings a speed element there. He's obviously been one of our better forwards through most of the early part of the year. We hope it's something that can bring more depth of scoring."
Nyquist said he thought he and Tatar had played pretty well with Sheahan, but they didn't score enough.
"I think we left a lot of them on the table but I did think we created a lot of chances and could have scored a lot more goals than we did," Nyquist said. "But you know, Larks is a player with a lot of speed, he's got skill, he's real smart offensively so hopefully me and Tats can build some chemistry with him and be a good line."
PULKKINEN PUNISHED: The NHL announced that they have fined Pulkkinen $2,000 as supplementary discipline under NHL Rule 64 (diving/embellishment).
Pulkkinen received a warning after the Wings' game in Vancouver Oct. 24.
The league then cited Pulkkinen a second time, which triggered the fine, for an incident at 12:36 of the first period in last Sunday's game against Dallas.
The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.