DETROIT – At 23-years-old, center Riley Sheahan is still in the early stages of his career but posting career highs in goals, assists and points during his first full season in the NHL is a promising sign of things to come.
Appearing in 79 games, Sheahan tallied 13 goals – four more than his previous career high – and has shown signs of developing into a surprising goal scorer.
A big-bodied forward at 6-foot-3 and 222 pounds, Sheahan was brought in to be a physical presence and pester opposing teams by being heavy on the puck. So when the St. Catharines, Ontario, native dazzled fans and teammates with a highlight reel goal in the Red Wings’ 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames, Sheahan established himself as a flashy goal scorer in addition to his intimidatingly large physique.
“He’s just a real good player,” forward Gustav Nyquist said. “He plays the game the right way, plays two ends of the ice. He’s strong on the puck, big body, can shoot the puck, just an overall real good player. He’s been great for us and means a lot for this team.”
Nyquist has had a front row seat to the development of Sheahan’s abilities. The two forwards spent significant time together playing in the American Hockey League for the Grand Rapids Griffins and were called up to the Wings last season.
“Overall, he does everything right and does everything well,” Nyquist said. “Players like that are always important for you and he is exceptional in each area of the game.”
Behind Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, Sheahan averaged the most ice time among Wings centers at 15:38 per game. That workload increased in spurts throughout the season as Datsyuk missed 16 games due to injury.
“I think Sheahan’s been a real good player for us,” former Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We consider him our second line center. When we play Pav and Hank apart that makes him our third-line center. Just do what he’s doing.”
In November with Datsyuk nursing a groin injury, Sheahan scored three goals – two on the power play – and added two more assists playing among the Red Wings’ top six forwards. Just 17 games into the regular-season schedule, Sheahan had made good on an opportunity to step up when his team needed him.
Down the stretch, he was a consistently productive player with six multi-point games and was seventh on the team with a career-high 23 assists.
“It’s a little more offense, a little more confidence,” Sheahan said. “I’m just trying to do different things on the ice, stuff you learn from Pav and Z.”
Having some offensive success like he did in 2014-15 allowed Sheahan to play a more important role in the lineup on a regular basis. Similar to Justin Abdelkader, Sheahan could occupy the net-front position on the power play setting up camp just outside of the opposing goal crease.
Sheahan also had a career-high five power-play goals this season. With him and Abdelkader on separate units, both power-play groups had a crucial component to the 1-3-1 offensive zone attack and a strong presence down low.
After playing in just 42 games last season, Sheahan fared quite well in his first bout with the 82-game grind of an NHL schedule this season. A first-round draft pick in 2010, the Wings product has a bright future given his combination of speed, size and ability and should be a key component for the team in years to come.