– Derek Meech has quietly been the Red Wings’ most versatile player.
Meech is usually the eighth defensemen in a star-studded lineup that includes six-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom
. But when injuries plagued the team’s defensive corps before the Olympic break, Meech stepped up and logged more minutes, recording a season-high 19:42 of ice time on Dec. 23.
Now that all the blue liners are healthy, Meech was again seeing limited ice time, until forward Dan Cleary’s nagging groin injury flared up on March 26. Since recalling someone from Grand Rapids is out of the question, Meech has been asked to play forward, a position he last played full-time as a 16-year-old in juniors.
“It’s a lot different,” Meech admitted. “It’s tough to sort of switch that defensive-mindedness, from defense to forward, but I like it because skating’s always been kind of one of my strong suits. It allows me to get up in the play and really try to use some speed and some tenacity and get up in the forecheck and use the body, which I like to do.”
This is a role he’s been asked to fill in previous seasons with the Wings, seeing ice time as a forward last season as well. He’s a team player and doesn’t complain about the switch, which makes him invaluable to the coaching staff
“He’s been positive all the time, even when he doesn’t play,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s an upbeat guy, the guys really like him, and he competes hard.
“I think obviously that attitude’s everything, you choose it every day. So he’s making the best of a situation that at times hasn’t been very positive for him. Would he like to play 20 minutes a night and play on the ‘D’ every night? He would. Ideally, one day it’ll work out that it works out like that for him. But right now to help us, that’s not his role.”
Meech has taken his temporary switch to forward in stride. He logged 6:46 of ice time on Tuesday paired with Darren Helm
and Patrick Eaves
, which gave the Wings a chance to roll all four lines in what ended up being a tight game against Edmonton.
“I think it’s just getting your mindset in the right spot,” Meech said on how he adjusts to an offensive role. “Personally, it’s just playing on the fourth line usually, to just go out there and try to create some energy, and get some forecheck pressure and some body.”
Jason Williams, a forward who sees time on defense during power plays, understands how tough the transition can be, but said that Meech can use his experience to help him develop as an all-around player.
“You just see the game in a different perspective,” he said. “Sometimes it helps going back there, or moving up on forward, because you see things that kind of develop and happen, and you can use them when you’re in different positions.”