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Notes: Robbie Russo ready for NHL debut in Toronto

Gustav Nyquist misses practice with stomach bug, is questionable for Tuesday

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

TORONTO - Every NHL player remembers his first game but there's even more excitement when you make your debut in Toronto.

That will be the case for Red Wings defenseman Robbie Russo Tuesday night.

"It there's one place to have your first game it's definitely here, kind of the hockey center of the world," Russo said. "I'm kind of excited to play here."

The Wings called Russo up from the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins after Ryan Sproul suffered a knee sprain early in the second period in Edmonton Saturday.

"I would say he's a real smart, puck-moving type of player," Blashill said. "He doesn't panic. He has a good threshold for that. He can handle pressure, get in on the forecheck. He's been a real big plus-minus guy down in GR for us. I think he has to make sure he does a good job moving his feet. I think he's got good feet, he's got to move them. If he moves them real well I think he'll do a good job. He's one of those guys until he gets an opportunity in the NHL you're not sure."

Blashill has not coached Russo before but has known him for years.

"I actually recruited Robbie when I was at Miami of Ohio, he didn't come and went to Notre Dame, but I recruited him as a 15-year-old," Blashill said. "I've known him for a long time. He's always had great, great poise with the puck. He's real calm under pressure. He just has to make sure he closes on people fast. If he closes on people fast, he'll do a real good job."

Nick Jensen, who made his NHL debut Dec. 20 at Tampa Bay, knows Russo well.

"Down in Grand Rapids, he was a really smart player," Jensen said. "He knows how to move the puck up to the forwards. I think that's his best asset, using his vision. He's good at moving his feet, too. I think those are his two biggest things."

Russo, 24, said he found out when the Griffins were in San Antonio, Tex. and it took a bit of time to get to Toronto.

He made it in plenty of time to practice with his teammates at Air Canada Centre Monday afternoon.

"Practice was fun today," Russo said. "We were really moving. I'm happy to be here. When I got the call, I called my family. I'm very excited to be here. It's cool."

Russo said his parents, Debra and Rob, would be at Tuesday night's game.

Russo had seven goals among 31 points in 56 games with the Griffins and was tied for the team lead in plus-minus at plus-14.

"He's probably made a case," Blashill said. "He's done a real good job down there. We haven't had a chance to see him. Let's see what he can do. Let's see if he can help us be a better hockey team."

Last season, his first as in professional hockey, Russo led the AHL in plus-minus at plus-40.

Seeing Jensen grab hold of a lineup spot with his steady play shows Russo what is possible.

"It gives me a lot of confidence watching him," Russo said. "He's a good player, skates fast. Nice guy, too."

Jensen said the excitement Russo will have from playing in his first game can help keep him on his toes.

Jensen also had a little bit of advice for Russo.

"He's just got to play his game, the same thing that got him up here," Jensen said. "He's here for a reason. There's no need to change anything about his game. I think that's why he's here. He's just got to stick to his game and know these are the best guys you're going to play against."

In practice Monday, Russo was paired with Xavier Ouellet, someone he has played with before.

"All of last year," Russo said. "We have some pretty good chemistry and know each other well so I think that will help."

Sproul has returned to Detroit and will undergo an MRI on Tuesday.

NYQUIST DOES NOT PRACTICE: Gustav Nyquist, who played in his first game Saturday in Edmonton after serving a six-game suspension, did not practice Monday.

Nyquist had some sort of stomach bug.

"He didn't feel great today so you never know how that goes tomorrow so we'll see," Blashill said. "If we had to play today he wouldn't have played so we'll see tomorrow."

LINE CHANGES: With Nyquist out, Mitch Callahan skated with Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Tatar.

Frans Nielsen centered Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha.

The lines of Justin Abdelkader-Darren Helm-Dylan Larkin and Drew Miller-Riley Sheahan-Luke Glendening remained the same.

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