DETROIT – The call ups from Grand Rapids aren’t the only players trying to take advantage of the Red Wings recent injury hardship. With so many lineup regulars still convalescing, forward Gustav Nyquist is also looking to get on track.
Reunited with center Henrik Zetterberg this month, Nyquist is beginning to feel comfortable again on the Red Wings’ top line opposite of winger Justin Abdelkader.
“It feels great to be able to play with him, it’s a great opportunity for me,” said Nyquist, of playing with the Wings’ captain. “He’s one of the best players in the world and when you play with him you get to have the puck a lot. That’s what he does, keeps the puck away from the opponents and he makes real good plays. Obviously, when you get to play with a player like him it gives you a good confidence boost and I just hope that I can take advantage of it as much as possible.”
For a team that’s struggling to score goals, the Red Wings need Nyquist, and others, to step up soon. He’s produced five goals and 11 points in 23 games with the Wings, but since returning from a groin injury before the league’s Christmas break, Nyquist has struggled, amassing a goal and two assists in the last 10 games.
Thought he was part of the lineup late last season – when the Red Wings needed to win the last four games just to get into the playoffs – and then gained valuable experience in the playoffs, Nyquist was a victim of the salary cap at the start of this season. At the time the Wings were over the cap and needed to be compliant before opening night, and since Nyquist was the only player who could be sent to the minors without having to clear waivers, he was the obvious choice to head to Grand Rapids.
But injuries began to quickly mount for the Red Wings shortly after the puck dropped on the 2013-14 season, and Nyquist was recalled to Detroit, where he has remained since late-November.
Before Zetterberg went down with a sore lower back in early December, Nyquist skated opposite of Johan Franzen on the captain’s line. For the next dozen games, the 24-year-old Swede was paired with a host of different centers from Stephen Weiss to Luke Glendening.
However, since Nyquist has rejoined Zetterberg’s line, he’s playing far more minutes than he was earlier in the season. Nyquist has logged 20-plus minutes of ice time in two of the last three games, including a career-high 22:47 in a 1-0 loss at Anaheim last week.
“We’ve built some chemistry over the games we’ve played and I’m starting to learn more about how to play with him,” Nyquist said. “When he’s got the puck try not to be in the way too much. Just get open and he’ll find you.”
While young guys like Glendeing, Riley Sheahan, Petr Mrazek will gain experience being up with the Wings, the club is in the middle of five-game homestand – their longest home stretch of the season – and need everyone to contribute.
“I know for myself I learned a lot over the last two years when I was up and down, Nyquist said. “When you get the call down there and know you’re going to play up here is just a great feeling for a young guy and you want to make the most of it.
“It’s great to see this guys coming up right now and how well they’ve been playing. It’s great to see that they’re taking advantage of the situation.”
After Monday’s game against St. Louis, the Red Wings have 10 games left before the Winter Olympics. Getting hold of the majority of those available points would put the Wings in the thick of the playoff race.
“Last year we were pushed up against the wall to get into the playoffs and you look at the standings right now, there’s still plenty of games to play,” Nyquist said. “But it’s going to be a race all the way down to the end to get one of those playoff spots.
“We know that these games will be tough battles, tough opponents and it will be a challenge for us but for sure we need, and we want, to get a couple of wins before the Olympic break.”
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