|Rookie forward Gustav Nyquist makes his NHL debut tonight when the Red Wings host Minnesota at JLA (Photo by Gregory Shamus) |
– The last time Gustav Nyquist
was at Joe Louis Arena, he scored twice and added an assist in the Red Wings’ 3-2 preseason finale win over Pittsburgh.
Since sending the first-year pro down to Grand Rapids before the start of the season, the Wings haven’t fared according to plan, posting a 5-4-0 record, while being outscored, 23-22, and only one player has posted a single multi-goal game.
The hope is that Nyquist can add a spark to the Wings’ offense when he skates on the second line tonight against the Minnesota Wild, coach Mike Babcock said.
“When you're in a situation like we're in, when you haven't scored much in four games, it hasn't gone as good as we wanted it to,” Babcock said. “You can continue to go the way you're going or you can change things.”
The 22-year-old Nyquist will skate on a wing with forward Todd Bertuzzi
and center Johan Franzen
– the same pair that he was with in the win over the Penguins.
“It was an exhibition game, and yet I went off that because they played against (Jordan) Staal and (Chris) Kunitz and (Tyler) Kennedy and key NHL D-men, and I thought he played well,” Babcock said. “What I like about him is he generates offense, he seems to be calm with the puck and he doesn't make you scared to death that he's out there.”
Nyquist, who was a two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist as the top U.S. collegiate player at the University of Maine, won’t be scared to make his NHL debut, he said, just anxious.
“It’s a huge day for me,” said Nyquist, who has nine points in nine games with the Griffins. “This is something that I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little kid; looks like today is going to be the day for the first NHL game, so I’m just having fun right now.”
Nyquist has received rave reviews from the Wings’ coaches, who are more than impressed by his immense talent. Babcock even likened his puck-handling skills to that of Pavel Datsyuk
, which is pretty high praise for a young player who a year ago was splitting time between playing college hockey and studying economics in the classroom.
However, last March, once Nyquist finished his junior season, he relinquished his final year of college eligibility to sign a three-year entry-level contract with the Wings, who assigned him to Grand Rapids, where he played in the last few AHL games.
“It was a great experience for me to get those eight games in after my college season was over, and I decided to leave college,” he said. “I got to play eight games with the Griffins, and it was a great experience because I knew a little bit of what to expect coming into this season.”
To make room for Nyquist, Babcock decided to sit Jiri Hudler
as a healthy scratch tonight. Rookie center Cory Emmerton
and defenseman Mike Commodore will also miss tonight’s game.
While he’s not the only Wings’ forward to struggle, Hudler has just one shot on goal with minus-3 rating in the last five games.
“One thing we’ve got to make real clear is Huds isn't the only guy,” Babcock said. “I'm sure he's thinking why me? He might be right because there's some other guys that could join him.”
Hudler blamed himself for his slow start.
“I don't shoot the puck enough,” he said. “I've had chances to shoot the puck, I'm looking for somebody, which is sometimes a good thing. But two shots in five games or whatever it is, it's awful. I'm feeling good all-around but you look after the games I got zero shots, it's disappointing.
“They want me to shoot the puck more. I know I should but when the play comes I still look behind me or all around to who I'm going to pass.”
In the meantime, Nyquist hopes to make the most of his opportunity tonight. And he knows all eyes will be upon him, even back home in Sweden.
“It’s awesome,” said Nyquist about the chance for family and friends to watch the game live back home. “They can stream online, so I think a lot of my friends from back home will be watching tonight. It will be a late night for them, but they’re all excited for me, and I’m super happy.”Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill