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Red Wings committed to young veteran

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Justin Abdelkader had 207 hits during 2015-16, becoming the first Red Wings's forward to record 200-plus hits in a season in the past 18 years. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- The Red Wings showed how much they value Justin Abdelkader this season.

In November, the team signed Abdelkader to a seven-year contract extension worth $29.75 million, with a salary cap hit of $4.25 million annually.

"At some point in time we’re going to need some of the younger people in the organization on the team to take a bigger leadership role. He’s one of them," general manager Ken Holland said at the time. "I think it’s a fabulous deal because we’ve found a way to keep him signed and we couldn’t afford to lose him."

In the 2014-15 season, Abdelkader had a career-high 23 goals and 21 assists.

Wings coach Jeff Blashill said before this past season that he believed that player was who Abdelkader truly is.

Abdelkader, 29, proved his coach correct by following that up this past season with 19 goals and 23 assists.

His 42 points were sixth on the team behind Henrik Zetterberg (50), Pavel Datsyuk, (49) Tomas Tatar (45), Dylan Larkin (45) and Gustav Nyquist (43).

"I think I can be a player that can score 20 goals in this league each year," Abdelkader said after the Wings cleaned out their lockers Monday. "That’s what I’m going to try to strive for each and every year, score 20 and try to produce and be a player that can be physical and play in all situations."

Although Abdelkader had another good season, including playing in all 82 games for the first time, he was not satisfied.

"(I want to) try to be more consistent," Abdelkader said. "I think I can be a player that can produce offensively and score. The power play, myself, I can be better."

Abdelkader scored six of his 19 goals on the power play, serving as a valuable net-front presence.

Abdelkader also got a chance to contribute on the other special teams unit.

"This year was my first full duty on the penalty kill," Abdelkader said. "I really enjoyed that role and helping the team out that way. My focus is if you’re not going to be getting points or go through a drought or a stretch where you’re not getting goals, find other ways to help the team. That’s what I try to pride myself on, go out there and do things that help the team, if you’re not producing offensively, no matter if you are or aren’t, you can help the team more."

At 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, Abdelkader is one of the bigger players on the Wings.

Holland has said the Wings are trying to get bigger, despite drafting much later than non-playoff teams.

Abdelkader does not necessarily believe that's what the Wings are missing.

"You look at a team like Tampa, they're really skilled," Abdelkader said. "They have some size, but they're more of a skilled team that gets up and down the ice. Montreal, same way. Ken Holland builds his team how he builds his team. We're just going to have to wait and see. It's not like there's 600 players that are available that you can go get. It's not like you can wave a magic wand and bring in five 6-5 guys, and two tough guys. It's not like this roster is going to completely change, but there's probably going to be some changes."

Abdelkader pointed out that anytime there are additions, there are also subtractions which can affect the team.

"You got to look at everything, your minor league system and see what you're going to do to make moves," Abdelkader said. "It's not like we have to blow this whole thing up and rebuild the whole thing. There's a lot of great pieces in this room."

But as Holland alluded to, some of the pieces are getting older.

Another, Datsyuk, could be returning to Russia.

"You're not going to change his decision," Abdelkader said. "He has in his heart what he's going to do. All we can do is, obviously, thank him for what he's done for this organization for each player."

Abdelkader realizes the onus is on him and some of the up-and-coming young players to help the Wings get back to the level they want to be.

"Each year that goes by they’re getting older, so I don’t know that they’re in decline but we have to try to take some of the weight off their shoulders and with Larkin coming up and having a good year he’s obviously a bright, young star for us," Abdelkader said. "I think (Andreas Athanasiou) has done a terrific job and he’ll take another step next year.

"I think the guys, each and every one of us can raise our game and everyone’s going to look to have a good summer and have plenty of time to rest up and then train and look to have a good year. It’s tough each and every year, it’s not easy to make the playoffs and on any given night any team can beat you. I think that’s still a good accomplishment for this group but we don’t want to be continually losing in the first round either."

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