DETROIT – Undoubtedly, Andrej Nestrasil will combat some nervousness tonight when he plays in his first-ever NHL game in the Red Wings’ season opener at Joe Louis Arena.
But based on how well he slept last night, the 23-year-old rookie forward might be over thinking matters.
“I slept like a baby. I slept so well actually, for real,” Nestrasil said. “It doesn’t make me nervous that I’m playing tonight. If it’s something you expect maybe you’d be nervous, so, because maybe I didn’t expect it all I just didn’t have time to catch up with the whole thing.”
Nestrasil was so impressive during the preseason that when it was determined Pavel Datsyuk (shoulder) wasn’t available against Boston, the Czech Republic native was an obvious choice to make the opening-night roster.
“I thought Nesty played well,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We’re in a situation without Pavel that we need another body. He played well and he earned his right to start today.”
Nestrasil, who produced four points in five preseason games and scored the deciding goal in a shootout win at Boston last Saturday, earned the lineup spot over forwards Daniel Cleary and Stephen Weiss. Both veterans, and defenseman Brian Lashoff, are healthy scratches for tonight.
Nestrasil found out Tuesday that he had made the big club’s 23-man roster, but he wasn’t sure about his status for the opening-night lineup. He was relieved to learn Thursday night that he will skate on Darren Helm’s third line, opposite forward Gustav Nyquist.
“It was a relief,” said Nestrasil, who was a third-round pick in the 2009 NHL draft. “I kind of thought I was going to play based on what line I was practicing with so I was almost sure I would (play). It’s really good I am in because so many people from back home are texting me expecting me to play. I told them all the calm down, it’s day by day.”
Fielding calls and texts has been overwhelming, he said.
“I felt like someone put glue in my hand two days ago and stuck my phone in there because, seriously, the one day I had 100 percent battery and two hours it was all gone. Today, I’m turning off my phone to get a rest and get ready for the game.”
Babcock said he’s thrilled for Nestrasil, who becomes the 14th rookie to make his debut with the Red Wings since the NHL lockout.
“It’s exciting for him, anytime you get to play in the National Hockey League,” Babcock said. “I watched the Boston game last night and what’s the kid (Bobby Robins), 30 years old playing his first game, it’s pretty impressive, pretty exciting for him. No different for Nesty, pretty exciting for him. You want to share that with the people you love and the people that helped you along the way.”
Robins, 32, skated in his first NHL game after playing in a combined 499 games in the AHL, ECHL and Europe.
Nestrasil played in a combined 266 regular season and playoff games in the Red Wings’ system, splitting time over three seasons between AHL Grand Rapids and ECHL Toledo.
“He's been playing great here in camp and obviously he made the team out of camp here,” Nyquist said. “Great player, lot of skill and a big body as well. He's good at protecting the puck in the offensive zone and can make plays so I'm excited to be playing with him.”
Besides Nestrasil, Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco will play in their first home opener tonight. So playing simple will be key, Nestrasil said.
“You have to make the right decision at the right time,” he said. “If there’s a play to be made you have to make it. That’s what makes good hockey players good hockey players. I really have to make good decisions. I’m going to try and enjoy it, play my game and get the most out of it.”
PLAYER MOVES: This week, the Red Wings announced they had sent forward Marek Tvrdon and goalie Jared Coreau from AHL Grand Rapids to ECHL Toledo.
The Red Wings’ fourth-round draft pick in 2011, Tvrdon finished his junior eligibility with Kelowna last season before turning pro in Toledo, where he produced 9 goals and 13 points in 22 games with the Walleyes.
|B. Smith |
EXCITING OPENER: For Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith, the only thing more exciting than preparing for his third career season-opening game, is facing his brother, Reilly, again.
“The strawberry on top of the cake is that I get to play against my little brother in the home opener,” Smith said. “It will be a very memorable night with all of my family and friends coming to town and watching. It’s a pretty cool experience. Everybody’s got the jive and the excitement about the season starting last night and tonight for us getting in our first game, we get to play the Bruins who were a playoff matchup we had. You put all of that together and it will be a pretty cool experience.”
|R. Smith |
Reilly Smith is beginning his second season with the Bruins. The 23-year-old forward scored Boston’s first goal of the season in Wednesday’s 2-1 home win over Philadelphia.
BABS’ TAKE: Following the Red Wings’ morning skate Thursday, Babcock was asked to assess the Bruins’ rough-and-tumble style versus his team’s speed.
“I think the Bruins play right,” Babcock said. “I watch them play, I like how they play. They’re organized. They got good players, they play hard. Philly is playing last night when they probably think is a pretty good game, good teams always find a way to way to win the game, they win it 2-1 and don’t even think anything about it. That’s what they do every night. That’s what good teams do, find a way to win games.”