DETROIT – Gustav Nyquist did something Wednesday that no other Red Wings’ player has accomplished in the past 20 seasons.
With his tying goal early in the third period of a 3-2 shootout loss to Boston, Nyquist became the first Red Wings’ player to score 35 or more goals in his first 100 career NHL games since Slava Kozlov netted 37 goals for Detroit between the 1991-92 and 1993-94 seasons.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Red Wings’ 25-year-old forward is just the third NHL player in the past five seasons to register at least 35 goals in his first 100 games, joining Carolina’s Jeff Skinner (38) and Edmonton’s Taylor Hall (36).
Nyquist has been a natural goal scorer at every level he’s played, whether it was juniors in Sweden or collegiately at the University of Maine, where he averaged 1.27 points per game and was a two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist.
In the NHL, Nyquist has steadily progressed, netting 35 goals and 64 points. But now it appears he’s found his groove since being recalled from AHL Grand Rapids last November. He has scored a goal in each of the first three games of this season, giving him 26 goals in his past 37 regular-season contests.
While the NHL is the best league in the world, Nyquist has quickly found a comfort level that is allowing him to use his elusive speed and tremendous hockey sense and vision.
“I think with each game you get more comfortable and it gives you more confidence,” Nyquist said. “Just being out there and playing games I remember the first couple of games when I first got called up a few years ago, obviously, I was a little nervous and didn’t know what to expect. I think you grow as a player with the more games that you play and you feel more comfortable.”
The speed of the game has seemingly slowed for Nyquist, who had a remarkable 18.3 shooting percentage last season, which ranked fifth among league players with more than 40 games played. Through three games, he has scored three goals, including two on the power play, on eight shots.
“Real good player, good hockey sense,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s a better shooter than we thought, he scores for us.”
Nyquist has become a proven sniper at this level. He’s dangerous from anywhere on the ice and can score from virtually every angle in the offensive zone. He attributes his early success on the league to feeling at ease with his surroundings.
“You know at what points of the game you have more time with the puck and when you don’t, and for every game you learn something new in different situations like that,” he said. “For sure, in some areas of your game you know you have a little more time than what you thought the first couple of games.”
MAINTENANCE DAY: With Pearl Jam occupying The Joe for a concert Thursday night, the Red Wings headed to suburban Grosse Pointe Woods for practice at University Liggett before departing for Toronto where they will play the first of a home-and-home series with the Maple Leafs on Friday.
Forward Justin Abdelkader did not attend Thursday’s 30-minute practice. According to Babcock, he was given a maintenance day. Abdelkader said he’s expects to play Friday at the Air Canada Centre, though Babcock wasn’t so sure.
“I don’t know we’ll see tomorrow,” Babcock said.
Stephen Weiss, who has been a healthy scratch in each of the first three games, took Abdelkader’s spot at practice on the third line, skating with center Darren Helm and rookie forward Andrej Nestrasil.
RIVALRY REJUVENATION: The Red Wings and Maple Leafs will meet five times this season, all before Christmas. Now that the Original Six foes are together in the same division, Toronto native Brendan Smith thinks the rivalry is intensifying again.
“The HBO 24/7, the Winter Classic, all that stuff, put a little bit of emphasis on it, but I feel there’s been way more of a rivalry or whatever you want to call it,” Smith said. “Back in the day it was huge. Maybe that’s brewing again with everything that’s going on so that’s pretty cool.”
After dropping their first two games, the Maple Leafs have won their last two, knocking off the New York Rangers, 6-3, on Sunday and Colorado in overtime Tuesday.
Detroit has lost its last two games, so this weekend’s series with the Leafs should have huge implications in the Atlantic Division standings.
“They’re big games for us, just like last game,” Babcock said. “Toronto, in the game I saw against Colorado, found a way to win the game in OT. They smoked us in exhibition in there 5-1. It’s a big game (Friday).”
SECOND GUESSING: Babcock was still mad at a decision he made late in overtime Wednesday. After Boston center Patrice Bergeron was whistled for hooking Helm, giving the Red Wings a 4-on-3 power play with 41 seconds remaining, Babcock used his timeout.
Instead of sending out Nyquist, the team’s hottest scorer, the coach deployed Riley Sheahan, Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall.
“It drove me crazy that I did that, even though we worked with those other guys, how the heck was I dumb enough to let that happen?” Babcock asked. “We even talked about it and I still did it.
“I thought it was dumb. Why did I do that?”
MIELE TO GRAND RAPIDS: The Red Wings assigned center Andy Miele to the Griffins on Thursday.
The Detroit area native had been on injured non-roster status since undergoing sports hernia surgery in East Lansing, Mich., on Sept. 3.
The 26-year-old has spent most of his pro career in the American Hockey League, accumulating 179 points in 209 games in the Arizona Coyotes' system. The 2011 Hobey Baker Award winner at Miami University, Miele appeared in 15 NHL games over the past three seasons with the Coyotes.
He signed a free agent contract with the Red Wings last July.