GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
-- Playing over 4,000 miles away from his hometown of Halmstad, Sweden, Grand Rapids Griffins left winger Gustav Nyquist
has to improvise when he's homesick.
"I think obviously me and Andy [Joakim Andersson
] have been pretty close together," he said of the relationship with his Griffins linemate. "We're both from Sweden and he has a Swedish girlfriend here so it's kind of nice to sometimes go over to their place and be Swedish for a little bit."
His off-ice camaraderie with his fellow transplants has translated to impressive numbers for Nyquist. The 2008 fourth-round draft pick by the Red Wings has blossomed into the AHL's second-best rookie scorer, posting 9 goals and 27 points in 25 games this season.
(For his part, Andersson is no slouch either, ranking fifth among the Griffins in scoring, with 7 goals and 16 points in 25 games.)
Nyquist made his NHL debut with Detroit on Nov. 1 in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild. Though he stayed off the score sheet, the 22-year-old registered over 11 minutes of ice time in his 13 shifts, including an appearance on the power play.
"I was kind of nervous before the game, but once you get out there and get your first shift, it's all good," Nyquist said. "Unfortunately we couldn't win the game, but it was a great experience for me."
Though he said his strategy in his first NHL experience -- especially for a Red Wings club that has had such enormous success finding great European players -- was to relax and just play his game, the significance of the milestone was never far from his mind.
"It only happens once in your life and it's obviously a dream come true," Nyquist said. "It's something you've dreamt about a long time, since you were a kid. It's a special feeling. I had a lot of fun out there."
The next morning, the Red Wings assigned Nyquist back to Grand Rapids, and he returned to his Griffins one day older, one game wiser, and as motivated as ever.
"It's another level," Nyquist said of the NHL. "Everyone's a little bit more skilled, a little faster. You definitely can't turn the puck over, because it's going to be costly if you do. … Everyone's so good up there."
Nyquist spent three years with the Black Bears at the University of Maine, where he was named to the Hockey East conference all-star team two years in a row and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as a sophomore in 2010.
Since joining the Red Wings organization, he said he's keeping it simple.
"I'm just trying to improve every day, just by hard work," he said. "I don't think I've changed my game style that much because that's what my game's about. That's how I want to play hockey, and that's why I think I've been successful so far."
Though he leads his team in scoring by a stalwart seven points, Nyquist remains focused on increasing his production.
"I want to shoot more -- I've been trying to think about stuff like that this year," he said. "I've always been kind of a passer, a set-up man, so I definitely want to try to take the puck to the net more often. And work hard off the ice to get stronger so I can keep those big defensemen off my puck."
"Those big defensemen" populate rosters throughout the AHL, so the 5-foot-11 Nyquist is doing all he can to gain the edge.
"It's a tough league," he said of the AHL. "They're all strong and big up here and a lot of players are skilled and it's tough to get to the net -- they box out hard and the goalies are good. It's a tough league to play in, but it's been a fun experience so far."
As the Griffins sit fourth in the AHL's North Division coming off a three-game losing streak this past weekend, Nyquist and his teammates look to improve their 10-12-1-2 record and 23 points. As the second half of the season approaches, playoffs remain the focus.
"I think we're finding our game more and more, and people are getting comfortable out there," he said. "We're looking to make a run for it this year. We're good enough to do that."