DETROIT – For the past 10 years, Daniel Cleary has mentored many young, up-and-coming players in the Red Wings’ system, but only Jiri Hudler makes him feel as proud as he does.
Hudler spent his first seven NHL seasons in Detroit toiling in the shadows of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm and Valtteri Filppula. Now the 31-year-old Hudler is making his mark in a different hockey city, leading the Calgary Flames with 21 goals and 52 points in 61 games this season.
Needing six points to pass his single-season career high (57) – which he established with the Wings in 2008-09 – Hudler leads the Flames into Joe Louis Arena for the first and only time tonight.
“All these young players will see when they get experience in the league and realize that things they do as young players you eventually reflect on it,” Cleary said. “In order to grow old and wise I’ve always believed that you’ve got to be young and stupid sometimes. Huds is a great example of that.”
Cleary said much of Hudler’s growth on and off the ice has been nurtured by his relationship with his fiancé, Hana Chymcakova.
“He’s just really matured,” Cleary said. “Honestly I attribute it to Hana, that’s his girl. That’s who I attribute it most to, and anyone who is close to him would agree with that.”
Tonight is the first time Hudler will play against his old teammates this season. He was pulled out of pregame warm-ups at the Saddledome Jan. 7 against the Red Wings when his fiancé went into labor with the couple’s first child, daughter Anna.
In hindsight it appears that signing with the Flames in July 2012 has definitely facilitated his advancement as an offensive powerhouse and team leader.
“I think sometimes a change of scenery is good, but he was a real good player for us,” Cleary said. “He was just too expensive. I’m real proud of him with how he’s become a real leader in Calgary there and now he sees what I saw when he was a young player.”
Thursday in Boston, Hudler produced a goal and assist in the Flames’ 3-2 shootout win over the Bruins. It was his 15th multi-point game of the season, which bypassed his previous single-season high of 14 games set in 2008-09 and equaled in ’13-14.
“Huds has played well every since he’s got there. But he played well here too,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Wherever he’s been he’s played great. I don’t know if he’s having a career year or not, I’m sure you know that better than me, but he always plays well for them it seems like, and he’s putting up points, so I’m happy for him.”
Hudler has scored 135 career goals in 10 NHL seasons, but he’s still looking for his first goals against the Wings and the New York Islanders. He has two assists with a plus-2 rating in five games, and the Wings would like to keep it that way.
“You can’t give him too much room,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “As soon as you do he’ll see everything so clearly. You just have to be there to interrupt him when he’s trying to kind of make his plays and shoot the puck.”
Like his other teammates, Ericsson isn’t shocked by Hudler’s season-long success.
“He’s got all the skills a forward would want to have,” Ericsson said. “All they’re talking about is his size (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), but he moves fast, he’s real good at protecting the puck, he’s playing way heavier than what he looks like and he’s got great vision out there. He always makes great passes and sees the ice really well. He’s got a really fast shot, quick release as well. I’m not surprised he’s putting up points. Not at all.”
A Red Wings’ second-round draft pick in 2002, Hudler left Detroit after the 2009 Stanley Cup finals to sign a two-year deal to play in the Kontinental Hockey League with Dynamo Moscow. Following the 2009-10 campaign he was back to honor the last two seasons of his contract with the Red Wings.
“We offered him a contract and he chose to be a bigger part of things somewhere else,” Coach Mike Babcock said. “That’s just part of it, the salary cap world, that’s the way it goes. You make decisions on what things are worth. Usually two years later you say ‘That would be a steal of a deal now’ because the cap grows. But it was one of those decisions. Huds is a good player for them. We’re always happy to see him. His (fiancé) was having a baby last time we were in Calgary so we didn’t have to play against him, so it was nice.”
Defense - DET
Goals: 3 | Assists: 11 | Pts: 14
Shots: 71 | +/-: 1
Injured in the first period of Wednesday’s win over the New York Rangers, Ericsson said he’ll play tonight against the Flames.
“I just hurt my shoulder a little bit,” said Ericsson, who has played in every game this season. “To have a better chance to play today we took yesterday off.”
Ericsson will skate with Kronwall, his regular defensive partner.
REVVING THE POWER-PLAY: The Red Wings’ power play has produced at least one goal in 38 games, which is one game shy of tying last season’s totals.
Detroit continues to own the league’s best rated power play at 25.2 percent, registering 56 goals on 222 chances.
The Wings have a 26-8-4 record – that’s a .737 winning percentage – when they’ve scored on the power play. Their winning percentage jumps to .867 when they’ve scored more than one power-play goal (11-0-4) this season.
FOUR STRAIGHT FOR MARCHENKO:
Defense - DET
Goals: 1 | Assists: 1 | Pts: 2
Shots: 5 | +/-: -1
Recovering from a sore oblique muscle, rookie defenseman Alexey Marchenko
skated for the fourth consecutive day at Joe Louis Arena.
While he still feels some degree of discomfort, the pain isn’t nearly as bad as it was Saturday when he suffered the injury in Nashville.
“Yesterday I felt it pretty good … just tightness,” Marchenko said. “It feels like a huge bruise on my side and today is like yesterday. It feels pretty good.”
Unable to shoot a puck with any velocity earlier this week, Marchenko has been managed to increase on-ice activities every day.
“I do everything like skating wise,” he said. “I can pass it like games passes, so pretty hard. Like shots not there for sure, but it’s getting better.”
As far as a timetable for his return, Marchenko pretty much ruled out Sunday’s game at Boston.
Right Wing - DET
Goals: 7 | Assists: 15 | Pts: 22
Shots: 74 | +/-: -12
Still symptomatic from his latest concussion, Johan Franzen
skated on his own twice this week, including Friday prior to the Red Wings’ optional morning skate, at Joe Louis Arena.
Franzen is still experiencing migraines since he absorbed a blind-side hit to the head by Edmonton’s Rob Klinkhammer on Jan. 6. The Wings' power forward is being treated by Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, an Ann Arbor-based neurologist and consultant for the NHL Players’ Association.
It is estimated that Franzen has had at least 10 concussions throughout his hockey-playing career. Last season, a concussion forced him to miss 22 regular-season games, as well as withdraw from representing Sweden in the Sochi Olympics.
Franzen, who has missed the past 22 games with this latest head injury, remains on injured reserve and is not close to returning to the Wings' lineup, though he continues to work toward a comeback.
THE OTHER SMITH: Brendan Smith’s brother, Reilly, received a new two-year extension worth $3.425 million from the Bruins on Friday.
“I think Boston got a good deal out of it,” the Red Wings’ defenseman said. “If you look at some of the numbers, if you look at comparables, I think Boston found a way to get him for a pretty good price. However you want to look at it, I think it’s a good contract. I’m happy about it. He texted me and he’s happy he got it over with and it’s done with. Now he can focus on just playing.”
The Bruins acquired Smith in a trade that sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas in 2013. Smith has 12 goals and 35 points in 63 games this season while working on the Bruins’ most-productive line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
Boston also announced Friday the one-year extension for former Michigan State defenseman Torey Krug.
“I think Reilly and Krug are going to play much better now,” Brendan Smith said. “It’s a weight off their shoulders and they’ll go and play better and they need that. I’m happy for Reilly, for sure, and I know he’s happy, so that’s good.”