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Notes: Abdelkader excited for fresh start after great offseason work

Ehn enjoying center and wing; Nielsen likely to play this weekend

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- Justin Abdelkader is ready to start the 2019-20 season on a fresh note.

Abdelkader, 32, will play in his first preseason game tonight for the Red Wings in Pittsburgh alongside longtime teammates Darren Helm and Luke Glendening.

Abdelkader played in the Red and White Game at training camp but suffered an undisclosed minor injury that has kept him out of the lineup until now.

"Feeling better now. Had to take a little time off," Abdelkader said. "But just a little minor thing that shouldn't hold me back. I felt really good on the ice. It's unfortunate when you get an injury like that. It was the last day of camp."

The veteran forward and alternate captain made a few changes to his offseason training after going through a rough season last year from an offensive production standpoint.

"Just working on more explosive training," Abdelkader said. "Not as heavy of stuff. More focus on speed and quickness. The game's so fluid, so fast. I'm just making sure I'm giving myself the best opportunity to go out and be the player I know I can be."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "Look forward to getting out there and playing," - Justin Abdelkader, who will play in his first preseason game tonight.#DETvsPIT | #LGRW pic.twitter.com/K8y7hG1klN

Coach Jeff Blashill said he knows that Abdelkader always works hard every offseason.

"I think he made a concerted effort to probably lean out a little bit this year," Blashill said. "He's got a real thick body. When he lifts hard, he tends to put lots of muscle mass on. I think he made a concerted effort to lean out a little bit and to try to get as quick as he possibly could. It'll be fun to watch. Tonight is obviously the first game, so we won't put too much emphasis on one game but it will be good for him to get back out there."

Abdelkader had just six goals and 13 assists in 71 games, compared to 13 goals and 22 assists in 75 games in 2017-18.

"Everyone has off years in their career, right? It's a time that you try to really refocus and look back on the season as a whole, what you can do differently to be better and make sure you can go out and contribute," Abdelkader said. "I feel good. I feel for the most part besides the injury, coming into camp I felt real healthy. I'm just gonna go out and play the way I can play and hopefully contribute this year, whether it's points, penalty kill, power play, being physical and doing all the little things."

Depending on what role Abdelkader is asked to play, Blashill believes he still could find the form that led to him scoring 19 goals in the 2015-16 season and 23 goals the year before that.

"He's a guy who has scored in the past," Blashill said. "If you look around, there's not a long history of a bunch of guys that are goal-scorers, so he's somebody that has, and his role is a bit different, but he still has. After you get past those first few guys, there's not many guys who have scored 20 goals in their careers. It doesn't mean they can't do it this year, it just means they haven't, and he's somebody that has. I'd like to get Abby playing at a super-high level and so would he."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Coach Blashill on Abdelkader, Calumet & more before the team heads off to Pittsburgh. #LGRW pic.twitter.com/cPiRpPAeOV

Abdelkader said he was very motivated to have a great offseason and despite the little injury, feels he's in a good place now.

"I look forward to a new season. It's a clean slate now," Abdelkader said. "Hopefully, individually as guys in there but most importantly as a team, we can be better and get ourselves back in the mix to get into the playoffs. It's no fun when you're getting into February, March and you're out of the race already."

VERSATILE EHN: Blashill has said he wants both Christoffer Ehn and Jacob de la Rose to be able to play both center and wing.

On Wednesday, Ehn skated on the wing with Michael Rasmussen at center and Evgeny Svechnikov on the other wing.

"I know I've been playing center for most of my career, all the time in Sweden, I spent some time on the wing there, too," Ehn said. "I just like switching between the two, I have no problem with it. It's not too big of a change for me, I don't think. I just want to go out and play."

There is a bit of a difference in the two positions in terms of responsibilities.

"Sometimes you have to be a little bit quicker and find danger when you play center a little bit more than if you're the winger because you have a little bit bigger responsibility down low," Ehn said. "I try to play the same way, kind of, maybe as a winger I can get in on the forecheck a little bit more. Bring a lot of skating and a lot of hard work is always the key."

Ehn is a player who always thinks defense first, but knows he has the ability to contribute on offense, at least occasionally.

"I think the key for me is don't try to force it," Ehn said. "It's going to come. When you got the opportunity, just have to try to take advantage of it. That's what I'm trying to do, play the right way on defense and once we get an opportunity, try to get it in the back of the net."

Ehn said he used the same trainer this summer as he had last summer but made a few changes to his routine.

"I like our setup there. I did things a little bit differently," Ehn said. "I started a little bit earlier on the ice this year. I've just been trying to work on my whole game. I've done a lot of shooting and trying to get better at that. But for me, it's about being in top physical shape to be able to be hard to play against and be able to skate a lot out there."

While the top line of Tyler Bertuzzi-Dylan Larkin-Anthony Mantha appears to be pretty set, and Valtteri Filppula and Frans Nielsen are veteran centers expected to play, plus a spot for dynamic forward Andreas Athanasiou, there are a few forward spots available.

"It's fun. It's what drives you even more," Ehn said. "It's fun to see all these guys fighting for jobs because I think that's going to help everybody. You can't really think about the competition yourself, you just want to go out there and play and do your best and hope that's enough."

One player who is no longer competing for the Wings is defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who announced his retirement right after Labor Day.

"It was sad news, I think," Ehn said. "Just look at his career and all he's achieved and what he's done, the kind of person he is, too, how much he helped me coming here last year, him with all the Swedes but just the way he is to everybody here.

"Just a great role model, I think, and it's perfect that he's still here in the building and you get to talk to him. You just listen to what he has to say because there's a lot of good things there."

INJURY UPDATE: Athanasiou, who has been dealing with a tweak, and Frans Nielsen, who left after playing just three shifts in his first preseason game, both practiced Wednesday.

Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson remained off the ice for both sessions.

Blashill believes that Nielsen will be available for Saturday's final preseason game in Toronto.

"I do expect Frans Nielsen," Blashill said. "Ericsson is the only one I anticipate not being available for the weekend as of today."

HEADING TO PITTSBURGH: These are the players who skated in the game group at the BELFOR Training Center Wednesday morning:

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Off to Pittsburgh this afternoon.#LGRW pic.twitter.com/ZtvED4f6GH

Taro Hirose-Valtteri Filppula-Adam Erne

Helm-Glendening-Abdelkader

Givani Smith-de la Rose-Ryan Kuffner

Chris Terry-Turner Elson-Matt Puempel

Trevor Daley-Moritz Seider

Mike Green-Patrik Nemeth

Joe Hicketts-Oliwer Kaski

Jonathan Bernier

Filip Larsson

Blashill said it was possible that one player would play back-to-back in Pittsburgh Wednesday and then in Calumet on Thursday.

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