DETROIT – For the second time this season, Xavier Ouellet jumped into his Audi Q5 to make the 2 ½ hour drive up Interstate 96 from Grand Rapids to join the Red Wings’ lineup.
It’s a drive that has been well traveled by many Red Wings’ prospects in the American Hockey League who’ve gotten the call to report to the big leagues.
“I think everybody’s been through this, especially in this organization, just like Nyquist, Sheahan, Mrazek, Tatar, even Smitty have been up and down, up and down for almost two years before being here for regular,” Ouellet said. “I’m just going through what everyone else has been through. I understand that. They support me.”
Ouellet is expected to join Jakub Kindl on the Wings’ third defensive pairing tonight when Detroit welcomes the Florida Panthers back to Joe Louis Arena.
“It feels good. Every time it’s really exciting for me,” Ouellet said. “I’ll be ready to go tonight.”
Ouellet’s latest call up was necessary when defenseman Danny DeKeyser went down with an undisclosed upper-body injury in overtime of Wednesday’s shootout loss to Toronto. While the severity of the injury hasn’t been reporter, team officials expect DeKeyser to also miss Saturday’s game at Toronto.
In order to make room for Ouellet, the Wings placed forward Justin Abdelkader (shoulder) on injured reserve, retroactive to Nov. 30. He could return to the lineup in time for Tuesday’s home game against Columbus.
A solid puck-moving defenseman, Ouellet is quite heady in all three zone, but his shrewdness in the Wings’ zone is what has captivated some veteran players.
“He’s a really good skater, good mobility,” Johan Franzen said. “He’s really skilled at coming out of piles with the puck and making players. It’s something that we really need, so he’s impressed me a lot.”
Ouellet’s intelligence continue to draw rave reviews from Wings coach Mike Babcock, who wanted to keep the 21-year-old defenseman on the team at the start of the regular season, but a numbers game dictated a different roster move.
“I think his brain is his asset, he’s just got good hockey sense,” Babcock said. “He knows how to play, defends, competes, he’s good defensively, he can penalty kill, he can play on the power play, knows how to play. I think when you look at him he wouldn’t necessarily be a combine player or a scout player – 6-foot-4, 240 (pounds), skate like the wind – he’s just a hockey player. He’s got hockey sense and knows how to play.”
Last month, Ouellet spent 11 days with the Red Wings while Brendan Smith recovered from a hand infection. In that stint, which covered five games, Ouellet produced his first two career NHL points, including a goal, with a plus-3 rating while skating nearly 16 minutes per game.
The Red Wings called up Ouellet on four separate occasions last season, including in the playoffs when he played in the series-deciding Game 5 at Boston.
“I felt good last time I was here, went down and had a couple good games,” said Ouellet, who has a goal and seven points in 18 games with the Griffins this season. “I’m back here tonight. I’ve got to be consistent and play the same game I did when I was here last time.”
SHOOT IT, PAV: Pavel Datsyuk
Center - DET
Goals: 12 | Assists: 10 | Pts: 22
Shots: 47- | +/-: 8
continues his torrid assault on NHL goaltenders this season. Through 18 games, the Red Wings’ top-line center leads the league with an astonishing 25.5 shooting percentage, potting 12 goals on 47 shots.
Since returning from a groin injury on Nov. 26, Datsyuk – who was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week on Monday – has scored seven goals on 22 shots, which is a lethal 31.8 percent.
It’s interesting to note, however, that Nashville’s Mike Ribeiro, who is currently second in the league at 25 percent (8-for-32), is the only player in the past 18 years to finish a single season with a shooting accuracy higher than 24 percent.
Then a center with the Dallas Stars, Ribeiro capped the 2007-08 campaign with a 25.2 shooting percentage.
PRAISE FOR NICK:
Defense - FLA
Goals: 5 | Assists: 13 | Pts: 18
Shots: 53 | +/-: 6
Tonight, Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad returns to Joe Louis Arena, where he used to watch his boyhood idol Nicklas Lidstrom
during the twilight of his fabulous Red Wings’ career.
“He’s why I wear the No. 5,” said Ekblad, who grew up in Windsor, Ontario, across the Detroit River from JLA. “It’s who I’ve kind of idolized my whole life as a hockey player. You hear about how kind of person he is off the ice. It’s always nice to have that kind of role model.”
Ekblad, the second youngest player in the NHL this season, is enjoying a magnificent first few months of his career since the Panthers made the 18-year-old the league’s first overall draft pick in June.
“He’s just a kid, but obviously size and skill and skating, but his smarts, his ability to get the puck through from the point. He doesn’t slap shot, he kind of takes a half clacker there and he gets it through all of the time,” Babcock said. “How many D-men have seven points in their last five games? He’s 13th in scoring as a D-man as an 18-year-old. I don’t know, you don’t want to say too much too early, but if he keeps it going he has a chance to be a franchise player.”
Ekblad is tied for the team lead with 18 points and is third in rookie scoring behind Nashville’s Filip Forsberg (29 points) and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (21).
While it’s difficult to compare an untapped talent with a once-in-a-generation player, Lidstrom’s career has definitely influenced Ekblad.
“I admired his ability to play good, strong, reliable, responsible defense and have confidence put in him as a good defender,” Ekblad said. “As well as to be able to jump up in the rush, play good power-play minutes and good penalty-kill minutes, kind of a full-rounded, two-way game. That’s kind of what I always looked at, the ability he had to play so well on both sides of the puck and be such a good player. He was fun to watch and was an inspiration to me.”