DETROIT – More than two years has passed since Riley Sheahan was runner-up for the CCHA’s best defensive forward award while playing at the University of Notre Dame.
In his time at South Bend, Sheahan never registered double-digits goals in a single season for the Irish. But in fairness, his role was more defensive driven in coach Jeff Jackson’s system.
This season though – his first full NHL campaign with the Red Wings – coach Mike Babcock has asked Sheahan to undergo a role reversal.
“The biggest thing I’m just trying to get the puck to the net a little more,” said Sheahan, who has six goals and 15 points in 29 games. “I’ve got a little more confidence when the puck’s on my stick. I think that’s the biggest thing and playing with some good players, we’ve had kind of a streak going here.”
Kind of a streak?
Since mid-November, Sheahan has produced 10 points in 13 games, while locking down the center position on the Red Wings’ third line. And entering Friday’s home game against the Florida Panthers, Sheahan is riding Mike Babcock’s segmented benchmark for a hot player – with three points in his past five games.
“Just getting better and more confident,” said Babcock, when asked about Sheahan’s recent play. “Obviously, playing with more pace. It’s like anything, the better you play, the more ice time you get, the more rhythm you get, the better you feel you’re playing.”
Sheahan has played well enough to un-seed Darren Helm from the third-line center position. The veteran is now playing right wing on Pavel Datsyuk’s line. Meanwhile, Sheahan is surrounded by two former centers – Johan Franzen and Stephen Weiss.
“He has lots of skill and that’s what we need,” Franzen said.
Franzen knows about expectations lumped on big power forward like the 6-foot-3, 222-pound Sheahan. The Swedish import played more of a defensive role when he first arrived in Detroit in 2005. It took some time, but Franzen eventually developed into an offensive source and he believes Sheahan can have similar success.
“I think he had more offense in him from the start,” Franzen said. “He’s a smart guy and he can make those small, nifty plays. He knows where to find his teammates and he knows where to go.”
Pretty good praise for a guy who wasn’t much on his skates when his current coach first watched him.
“The first time I saw him I didn’t think he could skate,” Babcock said. “He’s a lot better than I thought, obviously. He’s gotten better and better. He’s gotten better in the NHL than he was in the minors. He was good in the minors and he’s starting to skate. He’s a big man who knows how to play without the puck. He makes plays with the puck, but he’s starting to get some pace to his game. As he gets pace he’s going to be more of a handful. It doesn’t matter who he plays with, he seems to help them be good players, so it’s an important spot for us.”
Battling in the corners and using his big frame will continue to produce positive results for the 23-year-old Sheahan, and he knows it.
“Just having confidence is the biggest thing for me,” he said. “It helps when you can put points up and you feel like you’re contributing a little more. … I think right now feeling comfortable with my linemates that’s the biggest factor.”
By the way, who was the college player to beat out Sheahan for the best defensive forward award? That would be Sheahan’s current teammate, former University of Michigan winger Luke Glendening.