Since breaking in with Detroit during the 2009-10 campaign, Justin Abdelkader’s established himself as a gritty, high-energy guy that can chip in with a bit of offense from the bottom-six forward group.
This year, though, he’s become a heckuva lot more than that.
“He’s a good guy to get energy from, how hard he plays,” Wings center Riley Sheahan said, per MLive. “He does an unbelievable job of getting to those hard areas and he’s tough and strong on the puck.
“He brings some leadership to the team and it’s definitely been pleasant playing with him. He’s a good player to model your game after.”
At 27, Abdelkader seems to have put it all together. He’s scored six times — four off his career-high of 10 — and notched 14 points through 20 games, putting him on pace for a personal bests of 24 goals and 57 points. He sits second on the Wings in scoring and, perhaps most importantly, is utilizing his 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame to provide a net-front presence — much like what the Wings had with Tomas Holmstrom during their glory days.
Abdelkader’s presence was really noticeable on the first two goals in last Tuesday’s 5-0 whipping of Columbus:
Following the game, head coach Mike Babcock was full of praise for Abdelkader’s ability around the blue paint.
“He keeps getting better,” Babcock explained, per the Detroit News. “We had four net-front presences on five goals, which is important playing against that goalie. With Bobrovsky, you have to find a way to get inside.
“You try to do that every night; some nights you get there and some nights you don’t. Good for Abby.”
Abdelkader isn’t just a net-front presence, though — he’s earned Babcock’s trust in a variety of situations. His 17:10 average TOI (another career high) includes a boatload of special teams opportunities; he’s the only Red Wings forward averaging more than a minute of ice time on both the power play (2:16) and the penalty kill (1:39).
It’s not a stretch to say Abdelkader’s been a big reason why Detroit’s fared so well this season. He’s stepped up at a time when the Red Wings’s forward group has needed it: Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen have combined to miss 16 games already, and only Tomas Tatar has more goals at even strength.
Abdelkader acknowledges his growth as a player has been as a long time coming.
“In this league it takes time to become the player you’re capable of being,” he explained. “I felt like I had more to bring.
“Over the past few seasons I think I’ve shown potential, but it’s one thing to show and one thing to do it.”